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N.C. News Cooperative: Infrastructure approach to supporting local journalism

by: Amy Gahran |

Can providing a workspace, support, and collegiality for local journalists foster more, and better, local coverage? In North Carolina, a fledgling newsroom cooperative is testing this premise.

Launched just a few months ago, in a coworking facility in Research Triangle Park, the North Carolina Newsroom Cooperative provides a common space and other resources to support the work and collaboration of independent writers, editors, photographers, bloggers, documentarians and podcasters.

According to its founding documentation, a key part of NCNC's mission is to support local independent journalists who are "taking on enterprise reporting and focusing on local issues that the diminishing mainstream media largely ignore. This emerging community of soloists and ensembles need technical support, opportunities to collaborate, and access to a variety of clients and audiences to further the reach and value of their work."

"Part of what we're doing is looking for ways to serve news deserts," said Seth Effron, manager of the Cooperative. These could be defined in a lot of ways: geographically (urban or rural), topics such as state government coverage, and more.

While many people involved in community news and engagement focus on creating their own publishing channels (website, podcasts, social media, etc.), NCNC is attempting to help local journalists develop financially viable markets for their work.

This is not limited to freelancing opportunities with mainstream media. "We want to be a facility that enables that enables all kinds of journalism and nonfiction storytelling," said Effron.

Many types of companies and organizations seek original content to publish, and NCNC is working to identify and develop these opportunities. For instance, coverage of energy, arts and literature are especially hot topics in N.C. Effron noted that event venues, arts organizations, and independent booksellers can be willing to purchase artist interviews, reviews, and similar content. Similarly, local governments or other organizations might be interested in explainers about the state's current renewable energy boom.

"It might be that no single small organization might be able to pay entirely for the creation of original content, but several might be able to pool their funds to engage a writer who could create a few pieces per month that they could use," said Effron. "If you can aggregate those markets, you've found support for work that is not very different from what journalists might be doing in a conventional news organization."

Aside from helping journalists find markets, NCNC is also creating infrastructure and opportunities for collaboration, mentoring, and education for independent journalists. As more professionals with various skills get involved, it's hoped that a newsroom-like atmosphere will emerge. "They may need help with graphics or databases, or they may have a question," said Effron. "In a collegial environment, you can just turn around and ask your neighbors: Who do I call about this?"

Journalists often thrive in collegiality -- which can be harder to come by when you're independent. "We want to provide and atmosphere and environment where people engaged in journalism can help each other figure out opportunities, share successes and challenges," said Effron. "If the folks are fortunate and find something that works, they might outgrow what we can offer. But we can help them get started."

A key component of this package is workspace. NCNC is currently operating from a small coworking space that any member can use. This includes amenities such as meeting space and WiFi. Soon, they'll be expanding into a 5500 square foot coworking space, provided by the Research Triangle Foundation.

The Research Triangle Foundation is providing the central support for NCNC. This nonprofit brings together the University of North Carolina and the local business community, and oversees the original Research Triangle Park development area. Effron explained that RTF has been purchasing and renovating several buildings in the area, one of which is The Frontier, which offers coworking and office space for local businesses and organizations, as well as community space.

In 2015, Effron was approached by RTF. They were looking for innovative ways to use space at The Frontier. Mary Miller, a journalist with ties to RTF, suggested creating a space for local journalists.

This fits with the business development priorities of RTF. "Leasing space to our members is just a small element of what we do," he said. "A big part of our mission is helping these people develop businesses and provide opportunities to thrive. This is why we chose to incorporate as a cooperative; it's important that we be are self governing, and exist for the benefit of our members."

In addition to being open to individual journalists, NCNC also can accommodate independent news outlets. North Carolina Health News and The Carolina Mercury are already working with NCNC, and NCNC is currently in discussions with the Asheville-based Carolina Public Press initiative.

NCNC has been hosting community events at The Frontier -- such as a special screening of Spotlight,, with an expert commentator from The Washington Post. Also, the Cooperative recently hosted a panel discussion on the N.C. Science Festival, a major two-week statewide event. These events are generally open to the community, and help foster stronger ties between local journalists and the community.

"All of this is embryonic," said Effron, "but if we don't start it we don't get it done."

Amy Gahran

Amy Gahran is a journalist, editor, trainer, entrepreneur, strategist, and media consultant based in Boulder, Colorado. In addition to writing
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