Western NC Research

How do residents of Western North Carolina (WNC) get the news and information they need? Where are the gaps?

What issues matter to different communities? What challenges do they face?

The WNC Research and Community Listening Project is a year-long study aimed at finding answers to those questions and helping local news organizations address community needs.

Geographic Area & Characteristics

The mountain area of the state is variously identified as comprising between 16 and 19 counties. For this study, we have defined the WNC region as including the following 19 counties: Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, McDowell, Madison, Mitchell, Pol, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga and Yancey.

A colorful graphical map of Western North Carolina

All of these counties except two – Buncombe and Henderson – are considered rural, based on population density per square mile. Twelve have a density of less than 100 persons per square mile, and several of those have less than 30.

Most of these 19 counties have significant gaps in broadband infrastructure and accessibility, and several also have high rates of uninsured residents, a low per capita income and a high poverty rate, all factors that pose challenges for reliable access to news and information.

Research Strategies

A critical part of mapping the news and information ecosystem in any region is discovering gaps and areas of need for specific communities. Equally important are identifying the strengths of a community and discovering opportunities for new initiatives or collaborations. In order to gather the information that will help us do both, information that will paint a more nuanced picture of local communities in this region, we are drawing on qualitative as well as quantitative research strategies.

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NC Local News Workshop