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News Voices officially kicked off in North Carolina this past week, with launch parties in Charlotte and Durham that brought together journalists and community members interested in shaping the future of news in the Tar Heel State.

The community-building events drew a mix of people who know each other as well as those meeting for the first time: journalists, both current and former. Entrepreneurs and nonprofit workers. Young people and retirees. Journalism professors and community-based activists. Freelancers and philanthropists. Reporters came from print news, public radio, local TV and online outlets.

Despite the rain for both events, more than 30 people attended our Charlotte event at the coworking space Hygge in West Charlotte. And over 50 attended our Triangle-area event at downtown Durham’s Beyu Caffe.

And  just as many reached out, from Asheville to Winston-Salem to Wilmington, asking to connect and find out more.

For the next two years, News Voices will hosts public conversations and foster collaborations between newsrooms and community members they serve across North Carolina.

Listening and laying the groundwork

We decided to launch in both Charlotte and the Triangle simultaneously so we could begin to spread the word about News Voices, and link networks of journalists and civically engaged people across the state’s two largest urban areas.

As we start our work in a new state, these types of events — intimate, interactive, collaborative — are crucial to building the network that will power News Voices: North Carolina. We presented our ideas for the project and engaged people with activities to give them a taste of how News Voices approaches collaboration between the community and local journalists.

We did a photo-booth exercise, providing whiteboards that read “My name is __ and I’m committed to lifting up the voices of __.” We invited people to fill in the blanks and pose for photos, some of which are included below.

We also posted questions about local media on large sheets of paper and invited people to share their own responses. Here’s what we heard:

Where do you get news and information about your local community?

In Charlotte:

  • Local: WFAE, The Charlotte Observer, Charlotte Magazine, Charlotte Agenda, Creative Loafing
  • State: NC Policy Watch, The News and Observer
  • National: PBS, NPR, The New York Times
  • Word of mouth

In the Triangle:

  • Local: WUNC, WRAL, The News & Observer, IndyWeek, Chatham Line, Chatham Herald, The Durham News, Triangle Free Press, Clarion Content, Triangle Tribune
  • State: NC Health News, NC Policy Watch
  • Regional: Facing South

In both places, people listed digital media — social media, email newsletters, listservs, news apps and blogs — as their go-to sources for news. We also heard that local news coverage is getting harder to find.

How does news impact your life?

  • “Gives us neutral ground in a desperately divided time.”
  • “It frames the issue, but forgets things outside the frame.”
  • “Stories told about us shape policy/rules that govern our lives.”
  • “It stresses me out.”
  • “How else do we find out what impacts our lives in our town?”
  • “If we don’t hear about things that are being done well and getting results, we end up with the same old tired ‘solutions’ to problems.”
  • “It’s the only way democracy can work.”

What stories need to be told about your local community?

  • “Gentrification and land grabs using code to push families from homes”
  • “Community-organizing challenges”
  • “Lack of transportation”
  • “Militarized police”
  • “Immigration and its contribution to farming communities and other North Carolina industries”
  • “Connections between rural poverty/environmental problems and urban wealth”
  • “Racial division”
  • “How folks with mental-health problems keep getting screwed. First we need to tell their stories so they’re not ‘other.’”
  • “Urban youth telling their hopes and dreams and struggles to achieve them”

These responses provide a range of perspectives from people who care about news and information and want it to serve them better. Taken together, they give us input on what kinds of conversations we should have and whose voices we should include.

Our plans for North Carolina

News Voices is about engagement: engaging the public to think about the news, engaging journalists to talk to community members they don’t often hear from, engaging everyone in thinking about the news and information they need to vote, navigate the world, support one another and live.

We all contribute to the information ecosystem, and we can all have a voice in shaping the news.

The News Voices project is rooted in the idea that not only does democracy need journalism, but journalism needs democracy if it’s going to survive. We believe people power is the way toward stronger, better, more sustainable local media.

We’ll hold public forums, some large and some small, where we talk about the news and information that relate to issues people care about.

Questions we’ll consider:

How is that topic being reported? Whose voices and experiences need to be brought into the conversation to understand what’s really happening? What stories need to be told? What stories are being reported, and how can journalists and the public work together to keep the pressure on?

We’re doing outreach and listening to people across these communities. We hope to build off these launch events and begin hosting public forums later this year — in Charlotte this summer and in the Triangle this fall.

Our work, though, goes beyond these two areas. We’re also talking to folks in Asheville, Wilmington and the Triad about hosting activities there.

Where we’ll work and which issues we’ll take on depend on what we hear from people and organizations in North Carolina. So we’re putting out this call to folks in the Tar Heel State:

First, please take our survey. This will give us valuable input on how people in North Carolina experience local news. 

If you work for a news organization, let’s talk about how News Voices can help you do engagement or try out new ways of talking to the people you produce news for. If you want to increase people’s awareness of the journalism you do, or ensure that work has a strong impact, let’s talk.

If you want to see accurate, meaningful news coverage of a cause you care about so we can have a substantive, fact-based conversation about that issue, let’s talk.

If you come from a community — geographic or otherwise — that isn’t getting coverage or is being misrepresented, let’s talk.

If you simply care about the place where you live and want to better understand how the media works and what journalists do, let’s talk.

Check out some photos from our launch events.

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