Editor’s Note: This week we’re taking you behind the scenes of a special Carolina Public Press project, NC Connection: Closing the News Gap. We have launched a comprehensive, data-driven research project to identify where the news gaps lie in rural communities where high-speed internet is currently expensive, inaccessible, or simply unavailable. Also, we want to know how these communities would like to get their news and information when hopping online just isn’t an option.
In November 2021 the third ESD North America Innovation Challenge has awarded Carolina Public Press a data-driven research grant to meet research needs in local news in North Carolina.
Now, almost nine months later, we are well on our way with the resulting project, NC Connection: Closing the message gap.
Carolina Public Press is conducting the public service research project to find out where news gaps lie in certain rural North Carolina communities — particularly those without strong, fast, and affordable internet service. That NC Rural Center defined rural as having a population density of 250 people per square mile or less. According to this definition, 78 of North Carolina’s 100 counties are classified as rural, using 2020 United States Census data.
“High-speed Internet access can be considered an essential infrastructure – especially for people who are used to turning on their Internet as if to flick a light switch,” he said Angie Newsome, executive director of Carolina Public Press. “But not every North Carolina resident has easy and affordable access to the Internet, pushing up to 4 million North Carolina residents off the ‘digital divide.'”
We want to know what nonprofit news organizations like ours can do to help.
COVID has made us even more aware of a digital divide in North Carolina – the fact that many households, perhaps a large number of them in communities like yours, do not have reliable Internet access, cannot afford an Internet subscription, or do not have an adequate device. When there is a crisis like COVID, the lack of internet services becomes a critical need.
We hope this study will help identify trends in the news needs of these communities. We also hope these trends will align with those in other communities in North Carolina and even those outside of the state. CPP aims to use this information as a springboard to develop new ways to serve the public and deliver the news and information people need in a way that is convenient and accessible to all.
How you can help and get involved
And we want to know what happens when that information is at its most difficult to obtain. We launched surveys in English and Spanish to ask questions and the first results are in. We are working to get participation from across the state to make North Carolina’s rural communities as representative as possible.
Our work will continue until the end of the year and we have designed surveys (both in English and Spanish). We convene focus groups in target rural communities to gather input and feedback on known news gaps and the ways people choose to receive news and information today.
The survey can be delivered to you by email or SMS and you can answer it in less than 10 minutes. Go here to take it nowor send the word via SMS opinion poll at 866-716-1266.
If you would like to help spread the word about this project in your own communities or among your family, friends, colleagues and church congregations, contact the Rural Engagement Manager Lindsey Wilson.
The processes, data and results will be shared on the CPP website and in a range of materials such as presentations, data visualizations and articles at key touchpoints throughout the life of the project.
Learn more about our methods, results and expected results
Carolina Public Press works with rural community organizations to conduct research and develop best practices that can be shared with other rural news organizations and/or organizations looking to reach low-tech and hard-to-reach communities. In this collaboration, the project uses surveys, focus groups, and other data-driven methods to create a fundamental understanding of the community’s information needs and expectations. We strive to make the survey and associated data collection activities statistically significant with a minimal margin of error.
Why focus on rural North Carolina?
- North Carolina’s rural population is larger than that of any other state except Texas.
- Rural communities in North Carolina face challenges related to changing demographics, workforce development, access to capital, infrastructure, health, land use, and environmental and community preservation.
- More than 4 million people live in rural North Carolina, according to the NC Rural Center. The population of 18-64 year olds has been declining over the past 10 years and the adult population aged 65 and over is steadily increasing.
analysis and impact
We analyze data and feedback to provide insights into trends in news needs and preferred ways of accessing the news. It will lay the groundwork for strategic editorial innovations that specifically serve the targeted audiences surveyed. This can offer a wealth of potential innovations.
We hope to ensure that all of the final news products tell the widest possible range of stories that best fit the audience’s needs.
We hope that the survey results and research will reveal further potential innovations. Feedback from these audiences will allow us to interpret the ability of these audiences to voice their concerns in the community and may serve to inform future CPP reporting. It should also help uncover issues that editorial staff in other communities may not encounter.
Ultimately, this research and analysis can help give North Carolina’s rural communities a more prominent voice in local and statewide news organizations, better access to journalists, opportunities to help shape the news, and options to bring the voices, stories, concerns, and challenges they need in them to exalt communities. We’re already testing an idea with the support of Dogwood Health Trust: a news-to-text project about the American Rescue Plan Act for Western North Carolinaians.
We work with the NC Rural Centerthe Boundary belt independentthe NC Local News Workshop at Elon University, Carolina demographics and other partners to disseminate survey news through social media, media relations, radio and digital advertising, focus groups and listening sessions, and print and flyer distribution.
Additional outreach includes posters in book trolleys, libraries, grocery stores, and individual outreach to community organizations. All promotional materials will include messages about the survey and SMS opt-in shortcode. All relevant digital and printed materials are available in both English and Spanish.
We have created a number of benchmarks designed to inform our ongoing activities and the need to align those activities, including:
- First survey results.
- Sharing by partners/employees.
- Challenges in distributing surveys.
- Survey response rate.
- Over- or under-represented geographic areas.
Based on the assessment, we will change outreach strategies, consider other outreach methods, and consider additional resource allocations as needed.
Opportunities in journalism and beyond
The critical, data-driven insights from this project can be used not only by news outlets serving rural communities, but also by other organizations that need to reach residents who don’t have broadband access. Expected insights include:
- What rural communities without broadband access believe are the news and information gaps.
- What news and information do rural communities without broadband access want first, second and third.
- Specific ways in which residents of rural communities wish to receive news.
Carolina Public Press’s NC Connection: Closing the News Gap project was selected during the third Google News Initiative North America Innovation Challenge to receive a share of more than $3.2 million to develop ideas that… Need for local news research Addressing the news needs and distribution preferences of North Carolinars living beyond the “digital line.” For more information, please contact Carolina Public Press Rural Engagement Manager Lindsey Wilson.