About the project

Today we’re again taking you behind the scenes of a special Carolina Public Press project, N.C. Connection: Closing the News Gap. We’re wrapping up this data-driven research project that we launched to learn about the news gaps in rural North Carolina communities where high-speed internet is expensive, inaccessible or not available. In the coming year, we’ll make all our results available and begin to plan our next steps.

Carolina Public Press’ N.C. Connection project is in its final stages, after a year of research to better understand the news and internet needs of rural North Carolinians. We will post a detailed findings report on our N.C. Connection landing page once it is published. This project has made it possible for us to hear about the kinds of news stories that are most important to diverse audiences. 

Consistently, communities told us that they wanted more local news at the state and county level; they wanted to hear about their local government at work; and they wanted investigative reporting that exposed corruption within their local jurisdictions. With this feedback, we now have a more nuanced understanding of the kinds of news and information that matters most to people in small towns and rural communities in North Carolina.  

We now have a more nuanced understanding of the kinds of news and information that matters most to people in small towns and rural communities in North Carolina.  

Carolina Public Press hopes this research will help to inform news products and innovations in our news delivery. The results of the research will help us better understand our readers’ concerns and interests, which will then inform our future reporting

The digital divide

North Carolina has a significant digital divide; at least 1.1 million North Carolina households lack access to a broadband connection, cannot afford an internet subscription or do not have an adequate device.

“High-speed internet access may be thought of as essential infrastructure — especially to people who are used to turning on their internet like they turn on a light switch,” said Angie Newsome, executive director of Carolina Public Press. “But not every North Carolinian has easy and affordable access to the internet, which leaves up to 4 million North Carolinians across the ‘digital divide.’”

Though the majority of survey respondents had access to reliable internet at home (93.5%), this varied by race/ethnicity, with Latino respondents having significantly lower rates of internet access.

News deserts

More than 40 North Carolina  newspapers closed from 2004-18. Six counties have no newspaper. And more than half of North Carolina’s 100 counties are, or are at risk of becoming, news deserts. “A news desert is an area in which there are no journalistic organizations that have the means to survive,” states News Media Alliance, “News deserts are found particularly in rural and economically distressed areas of the country, where for so long local newspapers were the main source of news for small communities and which now are disappearing at an alarming rate.”

The ability of digital news to fill gaps in declining print-based media is hampered by this increasing digital divide. This disproportionately impacts rural communities where broadband access simply does not exist, leaving residents without essential news and information.

Survey respondents want to receive their news through a variety of delivery methods, including television, radio, newspaper and online at home or on a cell phone. 

Conducting the research

The project’s primary research tool was a survey, delivered in both English and Spanish. It was designed with multiple-choice questions and ranking and narrative responses. It was impossible to survey every adult living in the targeted rural areas in North Carolina (over 4.5 million in 2019). To make it statistically significant, with a minimal margin of error, a sample of the population was employed. The survey returned 1,594 responses with a 48.8% completion rate. 

Significant findings

  • Only a small percentage of respondents do not have internet at home. Additional outreach will target libraries and other places where people use the internet while away from home. Most respondents use their phones to access the internet, so we can trial additional outreach through text message campaigns.
  • People use a variety of methods to access news information, but in almost all categories, the internet was the most common. This may indicate that those who have internet access are more likely to use it to get their news and information. The second-most-used method was on phones. We followed-up with questions about how people get their news on phones, including social media, apps, news feeds and news organization websites.
  • Traditional newspapers, whether online or in print, prove very valuable in informing people about local politics, social and entertainment news, and public interest stories.

N.C. Latinos: A news and information gap, feeling invisible

Our outreach activities to this audience included one-on-one interviews, virtual focus groups and engaging with partner organizations to amplify our messaging and the survey. The data indicated that the gap in news and internet access for rural Latinos is large:  

  • Only 84% of Latino respondents had access to reliable internet in their homes, compared with 94% of the total survey population. 
  • When asked why they did not have internet at home, Latino respondents said that the internet was not available (39.7%), that it was not reliable (49.2%) and that it was too expensive (36.5%).

During a bilingual Spanish/English focus group of more than 50 attendees, participants stated they felt invisible and underrepresented in local news across the state. Despite making up more than 10% of the population of North Carolina, Latinos have few news outlets delivering news in their language. 

The CPP newsroom is being more inclusive of Spanish speakers by publishing articles translated into Spanish and translating social media posts. Much of the content from the N.C. Connection project is also translated to Spanish. 

Research will inform novel news products

As we wrap up this research and turn toward future efforts, CPP remains committed to bridging information gaps for all rural and small-town residents, particularly those in threatened or current news deserts. 

In 2023, we will focus on the process of creating news products to bring nonpartisan, accurate and actionable information to underserved communities. While we are still deciding what this will look like, we feel that we now have a better understanding of the kinds of news and information that our audience most needs and, importantly, how they’d like that news delivered. 

This research and analysis may also help provide North Carolina’s rural communities with a more prominent voice in local and statewide news organizations, greater access to journalists, opportunities to help shape the news and options to elevate needed voices, stories, concerns and challenges within their communities.

Our research suggests that rural readers want more news stories about topics such as the environment, local government and local economy, as well as more investigative stories.

Reach out to us

To comment on the kind of news that you would like to see or to suggest a news delivery option that you want us to pursue, please get in touch with our Rural Engagement Manager Lindsey Wilson.

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This release, story or event was developed through multiple sources and/or is from the staff of Carolina Public Press.

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