As we at Carolina Public Press say goodbye (so long, farewell) to 2021, it’s time for me to reflect and take a breath. While masked, of course.
At the top of my Ta-Da list is completing the 10th anniversary year of Carolina Public Press. After several years of research, talking with friends and colleagues and mentors, putting together a business plan and hashing out details, I launched the first wholly independent nonprofit news organization devoted to investigative reporting from my kitchen table in Asheville, N.C. It was March 3, 2011, a beautiful spring day. I was also 8 months pregnant with my second daughter.
People often ask me what I thought would happen, what I had hoped to achieve. I often say that ignorance is bliss, and that I’m furiously, obstinately optimistic at times. I’m joking, of course, but there’s a kernel or two of truth in there.
I couldn’t have guessed that I would be writing this thank you to you–our readers, members, listeners, partners, collaborators, skeptics, mentors, followers and more–a decade later, in the second year of an unprecedented pandemic.
A lot has changed.
I’m no longer by myself at the metaphorical kitchen table. (Though I never was, really. My friends, family, contacts, an amazing advisory board, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina and The Institute for Southern Studies propelled Carolina Public Press into life through funding, donations, organizational help, mentorship, perspective and encouragement.)
At first, Carolina Public Press was an experiment to solve a known community need. Then, I encountered a ton of quizzical looks, skepticism and more. Oh, the people who told me they couldn’t wait until I “got a real job!”
A decade later, there are nonprofit newsrooms popping up across the state. With more than 30 community conversation events, hard points of learning, successes and failures, and thousands of stories published, I’m happy we could help pave the way.
And, now, our nonprofit organization has a staff of six full-time and one part-time employees, with two more joining in January. While still headquartered in Asheville, we work statewide now. Our staff members are across the state, from the mountains to the coast, as are the dozens of freelance and contract journalists who join us on projects and assignments. Plus, we have a growing board of directors who are working to make sure we keep to our mission and grow with sustainability in mind. In 2022, for the first time, we’ll have a benefits package for our employees that includes health insurance.
Our North Star is bright. Our ambitious are beyond what I can dream up. I’ve never worked with a group of people more dedicated to ethical, high-quality journalism. And, most of all, we’ve proven through ten years of grit, innovation and sheer determination, that our news organization fills a void, has true impact, is sustainable and remains founded in and devoted to North Carolina.
That is what hasn’t changed in 10 years. Our mission of nonpartisan in-depth and investigative news in the public interest that’s built on the facts and context we need to know is needed more than ever. News that is free and accessible. There’s plenty of partisanship-driven and corporate paywall-protected news out there. That’s not us.
Thousands of donor members support our work, vision and mission. Local, statewide and national foundations support us, too. Members make up about 30% of our operating budget, depending on the year. That supports in every way, from helping a reporter pay for gas to keeping our website up. Together, we’ve raised several million dollars to support investigative public-interest news in North Carolina. Every single cent has been and still is invested into independent investigative public-service news in this state.
But there’s more to come.
We are working daily to be the go-to sustainable independent, in-depth and investigative news arm for North Carolina. We want to be home to the biggest team of nonpartisan investigative reporters in the state who are working for you, no matter where you live in North Carolina.
We’re close. We know broadband access and news deserts are already a problem in getting the news across the state. In 2022, we’re embarking on a big research project, with support from the Google News Initiative and Dogwood Health Trust. It will gather data on what news people without high-speed broadband access miss and how they do and want to engage with news organizations. This will help our news product development. And there’s hundreds of uses for this information in this state and beyond.
In 2022, we’re also growing our news team. You’ll see us make even more investments into local journalism in Western and Eastern North Carolina on government accountability reporting and more. That’s on top of our stellar local and statewide investigative reporting, which we’ll continue to grow.
You are critical to this. You’ve provided news tips, sent in questions, challenged us when we got it wrong. You’ve cheered when our work helped lead to legislative change, the prosecution of misdeeds by public officials and the release of public records and opened courtrooms. You’ve invited us into your homes and offices. You’ve told us heart-wrenching stories about your lives. Those of you who can have given your charitable dollars to help make this happen. Every member is so important, and a gift at any size makes you a member for a year.
I never take this for granted. It’s a great privilege to be a journalist and work in the independent nonprofit investigative news sector. For me, it’s rooted in public service to my state.
Nonprofit independent investigative and public service news is needed more than ever, whether it’s from us or other trustworthy North Carolina sources. I know that Carolina Public Press is firmly headed into our second decade dedicated to North Carolina and nonpartisan investigative and public-service news, on what goes overlooked and under-reported and to the people who can’t easily access trustworthy local news.
Thank you for an incredible first decade. I don’t know about you, but the end of 2021 can’t come soon enough. It’s been a very hard couple of years, for me personally and for every staff member at Carolina Public Press. And it’s been hard for you, too, we know.
So cheers to 2022 and beyond. And from my kitchen table to yours, I wish you peace, joy and comfort.
Founder and Executive Director