Early last year a group of forward-looking leaders from the field of journalism, higher education and the foundation sector, including the Democracy Fund and the Prentice Foundation, collaborated on creating a fund that would support news and information organizations and systems in North Carolina.
A similar fund had been established in New Jersey. Research the Democracy Fund had commissioned in 2016 indicated that North Carolina’s news and information landscape could also benefit from this approach to systemic funding through pooled resources.
There were many favorable conditions that made our state a prime beneficiary of this focused support, according to Teresa Gorman, local news associate with the Public Square Program, a division of the Democracy Fund. “There’s such a strong university system here [in NC], with great thinkers and some innovative programs,” she said. “There’s also a deep history of community engagement.” She said that local funder interest and collaboration were also key factors for the national foundation.
When the group looked around for a logical administrator of the new NCLNL Fund, the North Carolina Community Foundation emerged as a good fit, Gorman said. “Your foundation made sense because of its statewide presence,” she said. “We also liked what we saw in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion.” She noted the women’s giving networks NCCF supports at local levels, as well as the statewide Women’s Fund of North Carolina. “We also heard from folks that NCCF is great to work with,” she said.
Jennifer Tolle Whiteside, NCCF’s CEO and president, is proud that NCCF was selected to administer the fund and grants program. “This is such an important endeavor,” she said. “Information is critical to community engagement, and that is what we are all about.”
The program’s premise is simple: “The North Carolina Local News Lab Fund works to ensure that all North Carolinians have access to the local news and information they need to make their communities thrive.”
The NCLNL Fund recently awarded 10 grants totaling $500,000 to support a far-reaching range of programs, including the development of digital tools to simplify research for journalists; a political fact-checking program for major dailies and universities; a Spanish-language digital news startup; and programs that encourage collaboration, engagement and sustainability at many levels among multiple media. Read more about each grant recipient here.
Leslie Ann Jackson, NCCF’s director of grants and scholarships, said she thoroughly enjoyed working with the NCLNL’s advisory group. “I didn’t envy their selection process,” she said. “There were so many important, diverse programs seeking funding.”
NCLNL’s website says if successful, “North Carolinians will have greater access to the news and information they need to participate fully in their communities and our democracy.”
Jackson summed up the initiative: “This is such vital work, and we’re honored to administer the program.”
For more information, visit democracyfund.org.
By Noel McLaughlin