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Carolina Public Press
Annual Report 2020
Agility and determination: Public service journalism in an unimaginable year
Our stories continue to hold the powerful accountable and make transparent what some prefer to keep secret.
We are committed to serving the people of North Carolina.
- 100 NC Counties
- 6,500 Facebook followers
- 5,000 Twitter followers
- 12,000 Daily, Weekly and Coronavirus email subscribers combined
- 126,ooo average web sessions per month
- 260,000 avid news readers
From our Founder and Executive Director
If there is anything this year has taught us, it’s that so much of life is uncertain and unpredictable. From the pandemic to civil unrest to a historic presidential election, 2020’s impacts have been far greater than anyone could have anticipated. These impacts have, of course, been felt locally and globally, at an individual level and also organizationally for us here at Carolina Public Press. And yet, one thing is certain: the hunger for news is stronger than ever before.
We believe there is no substitute for the gritty, shoe leather journalism that is at the heart of what we do at Carolina Public Press. Our stories continue to hold the powerful accountable and make transparent what some prefer to keep secret. We have fought for access to public records in court and we’ve won. And we are teaming up with other North Carolina media organizations to continue to do the kind of watchdog reporting North Carolinians deserve.
From day one, it’s been our mission to dismantle barriers and shine a light on the critical, overlooked and under-reported issues facing our state’s 10.2 million residents. We believe strongly that nonpartisan investigative, in-depth, independent journalism is at the heart of an informed public.
We believe that every North Carolinian deserves access to information that helps them stay informed, make decisions and deepen connections to the communities and state we all call home.
In 2020, we published 466 daily and investigative stories and doubled our revenue. But, we are not done. We have big plans for the upcoming year, including an investigative series focused on concerning outcomes for Child Protective Services agencies in North Carolina, as well as virtual events that will feature Q&As with our investigative reporters.
And 2021 is a celebratory year as we honor and reflect on our first decade—looking back, yes, but also looking forward to our vision of being the largest and most impactful nonpartisan, independent nonprofit news organization solely dedicated to public service and investigative journalism in the state. We are just getting started!
While it is important to share the results of our investigations from the past year, because our members made all this possible, we won’t take our successes—or our readers—for granted as we take up the challenge of our next decade.
The Managing Editor’s Perspective
Public-interest journalism is the lifeblood of informed democracy. But news organizations today struggle to survive as technological changes have derailed the industry’s business model. Our nonprofit newsroom at Carolina Public Press performs vital service in an era of growing news deserts, conveying information to our audiences and high-quality news content to other news providers.
Since 2015, I’ve been proud to serve as managing editor as we’ve turned over rocks and shone bright lights wherever someone doesn’t want us looking. We’ve investigated the long-term care industry, government programs and our elections system. But we’ve also written about our neighbors across the state—Cliffside residents with toxic wells, a Hendersonville family whose grandson disappeared, a Fayetteville woman who survived sexual assault and a Wilson man who spent years behind bars for a crime he didn’t do.
Our team was not built with the events of 2020 in mind. But we adjusted, more than doubling our reporting volume during the early months of the pandemic and adding freelancers and news staff. We focused on vital information about outbreaks, protective equipment, absentee ballots and vaccines. We turned up the heat on public officials withholding public records and pushed back against false information. We haven’t just been battling news deserts, hungry for information, but news brownfields, scorched by lying reports and counterfactual propaganda. In February 2021, CPP received 11 awards from the North Carolina Press Association in recognition of these efforts. It’s great to be honored by our peers in the industry. But the little notes we get from readers simply saying, “Thank you for what you are doing,” keep us going.
Our work has impact.
Our reputation for in-depth, investigative and independent reporting was further reinforced in 2020 with reporting on issues that matter most to readers across North Carolina, including:
- Insightful Western NC national forests coverage from Jack Igelman, as the long-awaited federal draft plan was unveiled.
- Dogged reporting from Neil Cotiaux and Kate Martin on the state hearings over HCA’s management of the Mission Health hospital chain and the related successful unionization efforts of nurses.
- Imari Scarborough’s excellent news feature looking at Anson County’s economic struggles as the pandemic and the closure of the county’s Wal-Mart hit at once.
- Kate Martin’s leadership on nursing home transparency reporting, which led the state to settle litigation with CPP and its partners and regularly release information on individual outbreaks at long-term care facilities.
- Jordan Wilkie’s persistence in reporting on COVID-19 policy in NC prisons, including the December special investigation, What ails NC prisons?
Our duty to inform.
A pivotal election requires special coverage
If there had been no coronavirus, this high-stakes, closely fought, ridiculously litigious and brutally contentious election year would have been the top story of 2020 hands down.
After smooth primaries in March, the practicalities of conducting an election with a serious health crisis underway hit home. Election workers and voters wore masks for June second primaries in parts of the state, but that was only a taste of what was to come.
Election 2020 coverage led by Jordan Wilkie included a special elections page and ongoing coverage of the election and its aftermath.
Both before and after the election, CPP offered explanations to help voters avoid the sea of misinformation coming from political campaigns, partisan media outlets, rogue politicians, special interest groups and social media trolls. Articles looked at how to obtain an absentee ballot, how to track your ballot and why your voter history didn’t reflect the fact that your ballot had already been counted.
A tiny virus rules the news
From mid-March to year’s end, the novel coronavirus pandemic dominated the year as no other story has done in a long time. It was clear from almost the beginning that getting information—trusted news— into the hands of as many people as possible could be a life or death situation.
So we acted. Quickly.
In addition to continuously updating FAQs, CPP launched a weekly coronavirus newsletter to keep information about vaccine development and distribution at the fore. CPP looked at counties with high risk, how health officials in different parts of the state were responding, how different counties adopted their own policies, the spread of the pandemic in congregate populations like long-term care facilities and prisons, measures put in place to limit the spread of the virus, records of deaths, interviews with survivors, the spread in meatpacking facilities, the resurgence of the virus late in the year and the rollout of the vaccine.
Identifying an immediate need for access across North Carolina to accurate, robust and actionable information about the coronavirus pandemic, we in early March activated the Emergency News Team, a multifaceted initiative to help ensure all North Carolinians have access to information about COVID-19 and its community impact across the state. The Emergency News Team was a nimble enterprise comprised of people and resources that expanded the CPP news team to support North Carolina’s local news organizations in their work to continue and/or expand their production of critical news about COVID-19 at the community level.
We serve Spanish-speaking readers.
When the pandemic became very real to us in early March, it wasn’t hard to guess that some North Carolinians were going to have quick and early access to information, and others weren’t—especially those who speak Spanish. Almost overnight, we reached out to our friends in media organizations that publish or broadcast in Spanish to ask if there were opportunities to combine resources and talent and get trusted information out quickly and frequently. With the help of those professionals, especially those at the Asheville-based broadcaster JMPro, we translated written reporting and voiced our radio-ready broadcast pieces into Spanish. Stephanie Carson managed the effort, making sure that radio stations serving Spanish-speaking audiences had our reporting ready to go. And we kept in touch, hearing and responding to requests and tweaks. Throughout the year, and as the pandemic progressed, we worked to make our website even more accessible to Spanish-speaking North Carolinians, launching a Carolina Public Press En Español section and hiring freelance translators. By the end of the year, we had 72 radio pieces and nearly two dozen stories available in Spanish.
NC media requesting CPP’s Spanish-language news and information in 2020:
- Blue Ridge Public Radio
- Charlotte Journalism Collaborative
- Chatham News + Record
- Community Role
- Descubre Asheville
- El Centro NC
- Elon University
- Enlace Latino Podcasts
- Episcopal Farmworker Ministry
- Información Sobre Coronavirus Robeson County
- JMPRO TV
- La Conexion USA
- La Noticia
- NCLNL Fund
- NC Local News Workshop / Elon School of Communications
- Norsan Media
- Raleigh Convergence
- The News & Observer/McClatchy
- UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media
Our collaborative spirit
Since its inception, Carolina Public Press has prioritized collaboration with other media outlets with like-minded goals. That focus continued in 2020, as Carolina Public Press expanded its offerings of news content to include broadcast scripts and audio content. This addition to our content format has expanded our partnerships with radio and television media partners. Our content is routinely picked up by stations, including the North Carolina News Network, that has an audience reach of 1.5 million people.
In addition, we continue outreach to national media outlets, including CNN, Huffington Post, Al Jazeera, The Marshall Project and more.
Beyond media partnerships, we maintain contact with relevant organizations that may have a topical interest in our reporting areas. For example, when we produce stories related to prisons, we reach out to groups like the Center for Death Penalty Litigation. When we continue projects related to sexual assault, we reach out to NC CASA and Aequitas. As COVID-19 restrictions lift, we’ll restart our in-person events like listening sessions and forums to invite members of the community to participate in our reporting process.
Our passion for the work
Stephanie Carson, Manager, Community and News Partnerships and Broadcast Producer
As the News and Community Partnerships Manager at Carolina Public Press, I thought I’d spend 2020 holding listening sessions and forums related to our reporting.
On March 13, 2020, when I got the call that my daughters’ school system was going virtual, I realized I could just toss my datebook in the bonfire. At CPP, we changed course to adapt to the new and ever-evolving circumstances. Our regular Monday morning meeting birthed the Emergency News Team, an effort we created to offer support to small newsrooms as they covered the pandemic with already limited staff, made more limited by COVID-19 illness. I also dug out my broadcast microphone from my past life, and began creating audio versions of our COVID-19 updates and eventually some of our investigative pieces.
A year later, we have new broadcast partners and small newsrooms taking our free content. We are now members of Content Depot, a public radio powered platform to distribute content to NPR network stations across the country.
Am I glad this last year happened? I’m not there yet, and I’m not sure I ever will be. But the pandemic spurred growth at Carolina Public Press, and I celebrate the way the crisis bonded our team and improved our work.
Jordan Wilkie, Investigative Reporter:
Carolina Public Press brought me on as a contractor, then as a full-time staff member in June, with support from Report for America.
My primary job was to cover the 2020 elections and the threats that foreign interference, domestic misinformation and out of date technology posed to our elections even before the pandemic shifted the way many of us voted.
When we realized what the virus could do to people in congregate settings like jails and prisons, Managing Editor Frank Taylor asked me to use my experience working in and writing about prisons to also cover the pandemic behind bars.
Ultimately, I reported dozens of explanatory and fact-checking stories to keep readers in the loop during a chaotic election year and won an NC Press Award for my coverage of the prison system, keeping an often opaque institution accountable for how it cared for some of the most vulnerable people in the state.
Laura Lee, News Editor
While so much of our important work in 2020 revolved around deep-dive investigative reporting, the pandemic required explanatory efforts on the ins and outs of coronavirus transmission, testing and vaccination. Our analytics quickly revealed our audience’s hunger for information about the virus and what they could do to avoid it.
Through our weekly coronavirus newsletter, we gave readers the latest information not only on how the state was faring in the pandemic, but also how they could find test sites, track vaccine doses and schedule appointments.
We transformed from not only a source of news, but to a help desk of sorts for North Carolinians in crisis. Good journalism shines light in the dark places and holds those in power to account. But in times of crisis, it does something more fundamental: it gives audiences critical information for their own well-being. Some of the most rewarding feedback I’ve received from readers is hearing how our work helped them protect themselves and their families.
Kate Martin, Lead Investigative Reporter:
When other young students obsessed about dinosaurs, I had a different fascination. Volcanic eruptions, rogue waves, tornado outbreaks and earthquakes were the subject of my intense study. I turned page after page of pictures of stoic-looking police officers and nurses who served during the 1918 flu pandemic, and I wondered what it would be like to live through a pandemic or other natural disaster.
I never expected to find out.
As March 2020 dawned, and we realized COVID-19 would upend our carefully planned schedule, I found myself in a mad dash to find any solid information. It seemed like the ground shifted under our feet every week, while at the same time I felt the weight of duty on my shoulders to find the facts our North Carolina readers rely on so they can make decisions for their families.
It became clear early in the coronavirus pandemic that nursing home residents faced a dire fight against this cruel virus. At the time more than half of the state’s deaths were from congregate care facilities. We wanted to know where people were dying. The state wouldn’t tell us, so we wrote about it. Through dogged reporting and pestering public officials, the state started releasing updated lists containing this information twice per week. We wrote about that, too.
I am proud to be part of Carolina Public Press, an organization that supports tenacious journalism.
CPP wins firsts in public service journalism, investigative reporting and general excellence, among 14 awards from the NC Press Association
Carolina Public Press received 14 N.C. Press Association awards, including first place in public service reporting, first place in investigative reporting, first place in news enterprise reporting and one of the night’s top prizes, first place in general excellence among online-only publications.
Martin honored for reporting on needs of vulnerable during pandemic
Award is second for Carolina Public Press from Friends of Residents in Long Term Care
Kate Martin, lead investigative reporter for Carolina Public Press, received the 2020 Media Award from Friends of Residents in Long Term Care for her body of work writing about nursing homes and pressing government agencies for answers during the coronavirus pandemic. Bill Lamb, Chairman of Friends of Residents, presented the award to Martin, “in recognition for your total effort and body of work this year in calling attention to the needs of long-term care residents most vulnerable to the impacts of this pandemic.”
Our audience engagement
Social media helps us make connections
We ended 2020 on a high note as our social media engagement continued to increase. In addition to interest in our justice, environmental and election-related reporting, social activities were fueled by readers’ thirst to learn, discuss and ask questions about everything related to COVID-19.
an increase of 11% over 2019
reactions, shares, and comments total
an increase of 20% 2019
reactions, shares, and comments total
an increase of 22% over 2019
likes and comments total
Our website: Portal to our public service journalism
2020 web analytics
average website sessions per month
“avid news readers”
We’re just getting started
2021 is an auspicious year for us. It’s the 10th anniversary of our launch, and we have a lot to celebrate! Moving from a one-person, kitchen table-based news organization to a statewide one has been a journey. But we’re just getting started, and 2021 promises no less. Much of what we’ll do is what we’ve devoted ourselves to nearly every day of the past 10 years—producing critical and impactful independent investigative and public interest journalism. We believe EVERY North Carolinian deserves it, and we’ll invest in getting our news into the eyes, ears and hearts of as many people as possible.
We’ll report on the well being of children—especially those most vulnerable among us, on the justice system, on questions about who can actually access critical health care services, and more. We’ll keep moving toward our vision of becoming the largest independent nonprofit news organization devoted to investigative reporting by hiring our second Report For America fellow who will focus on labor and economic reporting across the state. And we’ll stay in touch with you through technology (texting, virtual events and emails) but also—dare we hope and dream—hopefully IN PERSON (we’re all crossing our fingers). Here’s to a great 2021, everyone!
We can’t do it without you. We’re just getting started!
Who We Are
Ellen Acconcia, Director of Audience and Engagement
Stephanie Carson, News and Community Partnerships Manager and Broadcast Producer
Tara George, Administrator
Laura Lee, News Editor
Lisa Lopez, Director of Development
Kate Martin, Lead Investigative Reporter
Angie Newsome, Founder and Executive Director
Frank Taylor, Managing Editor
Jordan Wilkie, staff reporter and Report for America corps member
Board of Directors
Scott Barnwell, President
Patrick Doran, Vice President
Bob Lewis, Treasurer
For more information about our financial picture in 2020, visit the following section: