If you live in the western part of the state, you have probably read articles published by Carolina Public Press, even if you don’t know it. You’ve come across one of their articles on coal ash in your Facebook feed, or you read the fruits of their journalistic labor when it was picked up by a national syndicate, such as their recent article on an ill-named mental health business, Nutz R Us.
News that matters; news that reports unbiased and thoroughly researched stories; news that listens to the voices of the communities that it serves. I thought it was a thing of the past.
Thanks to Angie Newsome and Carolina Public Press, stories that matter are being told.
It’s “mission-driven journalism,” says Newsome, the founder and Executive Director of Carolina Public Press. And that mission is to “produce unique and impactful public interest news” in western North Carolina. Carolina Public Press emphasizes in-depth, non-partisan reporting.
Newsome is Western Carolina born and bred. She was born in Davie County, and spent her undergraduate years at Warren Wilson College. After graduate school in Journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill, Newsome set out to establish herself as a journalist, working at a regional daily in the western part of the state. But small dailies—indeed, even the larger news outlets as of late—have been curtailing their investigative reporting operations due to budgetary constraints. Many no longer do the long-term, public records digging, in-depth reporting that tells some of the most important stories; the kind of stories that can effect real change.
Newsome, spotting a need in the market, saw an opportunity to create an in-depth reporting organization, and, in March 2011, established Carolina Public Press.
“We formed Carolina Public Press to be one solution to the reduction in investigative reporting,” says Newsome, for which there is a “real need in western North Carolina.” She continues, “[our] mission is just that: to be a non-profit online news service providing in-depth and investigative reporting to North Carolina.”
Carolina Public Press, with Newsome at the helm, is in the community and for the community. They focus on issues that other news outlets simply do not have the time and the resources to track down. “We really try to provide news that is non-repetitive…to not to go where other news organizations already are,” Newsome explains. “We want to offer an additional media option to people in their communities.”
How do they do this? Two key strategies include listening and research. Carolina Public Press’ mission emphasizes transparency and dialogue: their stories come from the community. To foster this connection, CPP regularly holds Newsmaker forums, which Newsome describes as “opportunities for people to get together in a non-advocacy environment to discuss top public policy issues that are facing western North Carolina.” So far this year, they’ve held forums on gun policy, public lands, the national forests in North Carolina, water systems, transportation policies, open meeting laws, and they are holding one this month on mental health in western North Carolina.
“We’ve focused on those issues in the forums because we are also reporting on those issues,” says Newsome.
The reason why Carolina Public Press has found such a powerful niche in a seemingly saturated news market is their commitment to research. CPP reporters take the time to do in-depth and, often, tedious public records dives As a result, they are able to uncover stories that aren’t being told. For example, a very thorough investigation into multiple counties in western North Carolina revealed a pattern of county commissioner meetings going into closed session to enact local law—basically making policy behind closed doors. The archival data took several months to sift through and track the patterns. But this diligence paid off in an article that yielded fruit not only in terms of passing on knowledge, but in effecting change. CPP reported that, in light of the story and their requests, both Watauga and Graham counties released closed records sessions.
And it is this kind of investigative reporting that differentiates Carolina Public Press, and the way in which they serve their community, however rough the road. “Sometimes it takes years to see the results of your reporting,” says Newsome. “It’s a rare instance where you can write one single story and have an immediate result.”
Newsome continues, “Because of that…traditional legacy media organizations have decided they’re not going to invest in this type of reporting. Their return on their investment is difficult to predict. It’s time-intensive, it’s resource-intensive, and the results aren’t always there. It’s our belief that just because others won’t pay for it or can’t pay for it that the necessity for that type of reporting disappears. In fact, I think it increases, because there are fewer people interested in doing it.”
And people need to know what’s going on in western North Carolina. I asked Newsome what she thought were key issues for women there, and she had almost too many to list. Domestic violence, mental health, education, health care, children living in poverty—more than 30% of children in some counties in western North Carolina are living in poverty.
“Women are really important to the economy in western North Carolina. They are small-business owners. They are highly involved in education and education policy. They’re working hard to bring jobs here. At the same time, they are the victims of a tremendous amount of domestic violence that’s happening here in western North Carolina,” Newsome commented as she recalled statistics from and article they ran on Buncombe county and their efforts to curtail domestic violence there.
Newsome tells me of a woman in Jackson County who came to one of CPP’s listening sessions. She was trying to build a domestic violence shelter there. Newsome explains, “She said to me, ‘It’s hard to convince people that they need to support the development of these types of shelters when they don’t have any information about it to begin with. They don’t know what the problems are. They don’t have the facts or the context for the issues.’”
And that is where Carolina Public Press comes in. “That’s what we really try to do, provide the facts and the context, so people can take action in their community, whatever that action may be.”
The facts and the context. Information is power. Angie Newsome and Carolina Public Press bring those facts to the people of western North Carolina, and then empower the people to speak for themselves.