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Over the course of three weeks in February, 17 people participated in “The Future of News: Charlotte,” a series News Voices: North Carolina co-hosted with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

A variety of people attended, from pastors and gas-station employees to college students and retired Charlotteans. They came in with various goals, ranging from getting to know fellow residents who care about their community to wanting to make sure local stories are uplifted in local journalism.

There were also people who showed up off of relationship alone, saying, “I came because I know [someone attending] and I trust what they do.”

The structure of the workshop series moved participants from dreaming the future of local news to identifying actions they can take to have a greater voice in local media and transform their role within the local-news ecosystem.

During our first workshop, “What You Pay Attention to Grows: A Local-News Dream Salon,” we spent time talking about what local news looks like in our communities now  and then we pivoted to dreaming the future of local news.

Participants raised a number of concerns about local news:

  • It’s full of ads and caters to people with buying power.

  • It perpetuates myths (like the idea that only Black and Brown people break laws).

  • While mainstream news is accessible, grassroots news isn’t.

  • It feels like a giant commercial designed to bring people to Charlotte, but leaves out native Charlotteans and people who need information to access resources for survival.

  • It’s hard to tell what’s fact and what’s opinion.

People are searching for:

  • Journalism that doesn’t require a degree, but rather an embeddedness in community and skills to support that.

  • Diverse content creators.

  • An inclusive access point to a variety of news sources.

  • Noncommercial news.

  • Local news that holds elected officials accountable without fear of retribution.

  • A Charlotte news collective, with one side of the collective featuring residents who hold local-news organizations accountable and the other side featuring a cooperatively owned newsroom.

In our second workshop, we mapped the various local-news ecosystems that participants and their communities are part of. Everyone chose a community they belong to and sketched a map of their ecosystem. During our group discussion, two paradoxes arose:

  • It’s easier to trust people on the ground or face to face even if they don’t have the most accurate information (à la “Ms. Sara’s always running her mouth, so I know what to expect from Ms. Sara”).

  • People would rather get news and information firsthand, but most people don’t have the bandwidth to be everywhere all the time. This is an information need that local news can (and maybe even should) fill.

We then talked through tactics for transforming local news. Within the News Voices work, those conversations are always rooted in three truths:

  • Power is relational.

  • Relationships build social capital.

  • To transform journalism, you have to transform the relationships that make up the journalistic ecosystem.

We talked through possible tactics to strengthen relationships between community members and local newsrooms. Ideas included organizing newsroom-resident forums, story circles and local-news potlucks. After some discussion, participants decided what they wanted to focus on.

“I feel like I know the community better,” a local artist shared at the end of the three-week series. “I also feel like I understand how local media fits into it better and how it can improve and grow its relationships within the community, [which] also improves representation.”

And now we get to organize together and continue advocating for local news that works for everyone.

Check out some photos from our library series below:

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