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Over the past year, Free Press’ News Voices: North Carolina team has been building relationships and organizing in Rocky Mount to surface better understandings of the local-news landscape and to figure out who will shape the future of local news across Nash & Edgecombe Counties.

Most recently, we’ve been dreaming together so that we have a collective, crowdsourced vision to work toward.

On the evening of Jan. 31, about 20 people from across Rocky Mount gathered at the local Unitarian Universalist Fellowship to dream about the kind of local news that would best represent and inform their communities. Journalists from as far as Raleigh to the west and community organizers from as far as Greenville to the east joined to be a part of this visioning process. There were also researchers, local professionals and local journalists from across Rocky Mount. Some were lifelong residents of the city while others were new.

Our time together started by mapping out the present state of local news in Rocky Mount. The folks in the room broke into small groups and discussed this, guided by questions like: How is local news where you live? How does it function? Who is a part of it? Who does it represent? Who are journalists in relationship with?

People talked about how there is greater diversity than there once was in terms of representation and distribution, but pointed out that there are also frequent examples of fake news in the forms of misinformation, disinformation and malinformation (the sharing of truthful information with the intent to cause harm).

As a result, whole community stories go uncovered.

Developing our collective vision

After finding the overlaps and themes in our understandings of the present state of local news, we dreamed together. Often, people aren't encouraged to dream of a different future where news better represents their needs or communities.

We have to create a local news that reflects the future world we’re trying to build.

Instead of being limited to what is, I encouraged participants to dream their biggest dreams, even if those didn't seem possible to realize right now. By giving people space to dream, we can not only better understand what they want or need, we can also get people invested in the process of co-creating that future.

Participants dreamed up a future of local news where there’s balance between professional/full-time journalism and citizen journalism, where all stories have multiple perspectives represented, where there’s a variety of ways to distribute news and information.

There is a future where community members are organized with the power necessary to ensure ongoing transparency with newsrooms and in the newsgathering process. That future was named in our dream salon.

One of the reflections that arose in our dream work was the fact that local news exists alongside of and woven into other systems and institutions in our communities. To create the local news we need, we’ll also have to shift other systems and institutions, like patriarchy, capitalism and White supremacy, because those systems all intersect with the current landscape of journalism and local news.

The work of shaping the future of local news cannot happen in a silo.

Moving forward, the News Voices team will work with the dream-salon attendees to weave together the dreams that participants spoke and figure out what actions we need to take to arrive at those dreams. Rocky Mount residents will take those actions, and the future of local news in this community will arrive sooner than we realize.

Check out some photos from our dream salon below:

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