The third GNI North America Innovation Challenge has this week selected 25 projects out of 190 proposals from Canada and the U.S. to receive a share of more than $3.2 million to help build their ideas that address the need for research in local news.

Carolina Public Press’s (CPP) project seeks to discover the news needs and distribution preferences of those North Carolinians living beyond the end of the “digital line.” Studies show that 1.1 million North Carolina households lack access to either high-speed broadband or the digital tools and skills needed to access this essential service. Most of these households are in rural communities, leaving N.C. with a significant digital divide as many residents exist without vital and freely accessible local news and information. Studies have shown that at least half of NC’s 100 counties are at risk of becoming news deserts. 

CPP will design surveys and convene focus groups, within affected rural communities, to research known news gaps and preferred delivery methods for critical news and information. CPP will also test delivery methods such as SMS (texting) and direct mail and flyer distribution, among others, to determine the value of each method’s reach. The processes, data and results will be shared on the CPP website and in a series of materials such as presentations, data visualizations and articles during major touchpoints along the project’s lifetime. 

“We are excited to begin this important work to give us a better understanding of how to assist North Carolina’s digitally challenged communities,” said Carolina Public Press Executive Director Angie Newsome. “We believe every North Carolinian deserves access to reliable and fact-based local news and information. By designing a rigorous research methodology that combines both low- and no-tech activities, we will build upon our decade of experience reaching out and listening to the news needs of people across the state. We’ll use the results to serve rural populations, who are without reliable digital access, with news and valuable community information.”

As a part of the Google News Initiative’s $300 million commitment to help journalism thrive in the digital age, GNI Innovation Challenges support projects that drive digital innovation, help publishers understand their communities and develop new business models. GNI’s investment will be added to support CPP has also received from Dogwood Health Trust for additional specialized efforts to reach the same communities in Western North Carolina.

“We are delighted to be considered among the ‘news innovators’ in this cohort and look forward to learning how we can better understand the local communities we serve,” Newsome said. “Kudos to our team for moving our project through the GNI’s rigorous selection process and thank you to Google for the funding and support. We look forward to sharing our learnings with our readers and peers.”

Director of Audience and Engagement Ellen Acconcia will serve as project manager for the yearlong effort. For more information, to learn how you can participate, and to help do this research in your own community, email her or call 910-390-1800.

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