Give all citizens a voice. Give them the in-depth information they need to make informed decisions. Give them a news source they can trust: A nonprofit that accepts no money from advertisers, the government or political campaigns.
That’s the mission of Carolina Public Press: breaking important stories, tackling tough assignments, and collaborating with readers in ways most news outlets don’t.
“We really wanted to engage with our readers,” says Angie Newsome, CPP’s founder, director and editor. “The conversation can go two ways instead of one way. Sometimes it feels like you’re just telling people what the news is. … We want to have a different relationship with our readers.”
To that end, Newsome and her team have launched The News Exchange, which aims to give the 18 westernmost North Carolina counties a chance to voice the issues within their own communities, get questions answered and problems solved.
“Let’s talk unbiased, in-depth and investigative journalism in Western North Carolina — from Asheville to Murphy, from Boone to Brevard,” urges the announcement on carolinapublicpress.org. The inaugural free, public meetings were held MAY 27 AND 28 in Watauga and Avery counties, where residents TOLD CPP staffers about problems with everything from water rights to animal welfare to potholes to county government.
“It was really fascinating,” says Newsome. “I really appreciated everybody — just their investment in talking with us and voicing their concerns. And they have a lot of critique about news in general, so that was interesting to hear.”
A different model
Carolina Public Press was founded in 2011 to meet the need for more investigative journalism in the western counties. In April, the organization received its official nonprofit certification from the IRS.
“We chose to be a nonprofit for philosophic and business reasons,” Newsome explains. “The philosophical reason is we do believe we are providing a public service to the community; we do have an educational mission.”
At the same time, she continues, “We are fundamentally different because we don’t accept advertising; we don’t accept government funding. … We’re doing a lot with very little, in terms of our budget and how much money we’re raising. The people who fund us are foundations and individuals who believe in our mission and in our journalism. Our individual donors span the political spectrum, which is how they should be. It’s a challenge to tell people about a new way to get their news. It’s a challenge to show them that we’re committed to this mission long term.”
Carolina Public Press is not the region’s first nonprofit, investigative news source, however. The Fund for Investigative Reporting and Editing was founded in the early ’90s, says Calvin Allen, who ran it for about seven years before handing over the reins to Mark Goldstein. FIRE disbanded in 2004, and Goldstein now serves on CPP’s board of directors.
“We wanted to be a resource for local reporters and also for local organizations,” says Goldstein. “My passion was to keep investigative reporting alive and well.
CPP, he continues, “comes from a similar place, where you have folks who are either journalists or who have a great interest in journalism, who understand the resources it takes to do good investigative reporting and who recognize the need to really foster that work.”
But whereas FIRE withered when the money dried up, CPP is gaining readership and expanding its coverage and reach, says Newsome. “We’re definitely on a growth plan; we get more and more readers every day. More and more people are talking about us, and it’s really encouraging to be a part of a growing news organization, or a company that’s not laying off reporters or shrinking in size. We’re really optimistic and having a lot of fun doing it.”
Goldstein, meanwhile, notes that “CPP is, to my knowledge, the only media outlet in WNC that has a reporter on the ground at the state capitol. The media is so key to understanding what’s happening with local politics and acting as a sort of watchdog in the community, and media outlets are … not as sustainable as they used to be.
“Some might say, ‘Well, you have social media: Everyone can be their own reporter nowadays,’” he continues. “And I love social media, but there isn’t the sort of diligence that goes into a very well-reported story. To me, we need reporting all the more, because it’s so much easier than it used to be to express an uninformed opinion. I think it’s really important to have CPP to objectively report the news in a reliable way.”
Amid continuing uncertainty about the future of print journalism, notes Goldstein, CPP is “striving to answer” the question of what happens next.
Board President Allen Shaklan agrees. “CPP is an experiment in journalism,” he says. “Traditionally, in-depth, investigative-type reporting on the local level has been done by local newspapers, but that model is broken. Newspapers, on a financial basis, have eroded. It’s happening all over.
“In order to succeed, CPP has to find out what the needs are in the community,” he maintains. “What type of reporting people want, what areas people want to hear about — and that’s what Angie is doing.”
It’s an ambitious mission — and one that necessarily requires selectivity. “We’re not going to be the ones that report about a restaurant opening,” Newsome explains. “We’re not going to be the ones that report about a car crash. There are other organizations that are doing that and doing it really well.
“In general, in-depth and investigative news takes a long time to produce. It’s labor-intensive, it’s expensive and it’s risky — you might spend a long time on a story and not get anything. … But that doesn’t mean the community doesn’t need and deserve that type of reporting. And that’s where we come in.”
The next two News Exchange meetings are set for Wednesday, June 25, in Burnsville (Yancey County) and Spruce Pine (Mitchell County). Other future meetups are being planned for Graham, Cherokee and Clay counties (in September) and Buncombe County (also in the fall). For details, check carolinapublicpress.org.