During a community outreach event at UNC Pembroke, attendees discussed their news needs, news delivery preferences and what they’d like to see covered in their communities. Photo courtesy UNC Pembroke Department of Mass Communication.

Results of a yearlong Carolina Public Press research project undertaken to learn about the news needs and news delivery preferences of rural North Carolinians found that many still rely on local newspapers for information about  local and statewide issues. Television and radio are also still fairly popular news delivery means, though more people accessed information online at home or elsewhere or on cellphones than any other delivery method. Spanish news media were most likely to be accessed by TV or online.

The NC Connection: Closing the News Gap project, funded by a Google News Initiative research grant, investigated access to local and statewide news and preferences of news delivery in communities with poor or no access to reliable internet. It also uncovered disparities due to the shuttering of many community newspapers in recent years, leading to what are commonly referred to as “news deserts.” 

“Carolina Public Press is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization serving all of North Carolina, focusing on in-depth and investigative reporting in the public interest. The research surveyed more than 1,500 people to put data behind assumptions about what people in communities—especially those in rural areas, who are often overlooked by major metropolitan, for-profit media organizations—want,” said Angie Newsome, founder and executive director of Carolina Public Press. 

Data to inform next steps

In one-on-one interviews, focus groups, text messages and an electronic survey, CPP researchers heard frequent concerns about the scarcity and quality of local news. Carolina Public Press learned also that there is a significant gap in news delivered via Spanish-language media. Results were published in a new findings report, available in English and Spanish, and on the project’s landing page

“We will use  this research to help inform news products and innovations in our news delivery, and to assist us in understanding our readers’ concerns and interests, which will then help shape our future reporting,” Newsome said. “In 2023, we will focus on the process of creating news products to bring nonpartisan, accurate and actionable information to underserved communities. Now we have a better understanding of the kinds of news and information that our audience needs most 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, Newsome said.

Significant findings

  • Only a small percentage of respondents do not have internet at 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 phones. CPP 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.
  • 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%).

What communities want

“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,” said Lindsey Wilson, the rural engagement coordinator for Carolina Public Press, who led much of the project’s community outreach activities. “This feedback gives us a nuanced understanding of the kinds of news and information that matters most to people in small towns and rural communities in North Carolina, and it’s information we can also use to develop public service reporting.”

The project’s primary research tool was a survey, delivered in both English and Spanish. Designed with multiple-choice questions and ranking and narrative responses, the survey returned 1,594 responses with a 48.8% completion rate. 

Visit the NC Connection landing page for more information and data and to view and download the NC Connection Findings Report (English PDF, Spanish PDF). 

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