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North Carolina project fills gap between journalists and citizens

A new series of surveys, interviews, and community meetings reveals that some North Carolinians distrust the news media and want it to do a better job of prioritizing community and political issues to create the news they need.

A national organization called Free Press created the program “New Voices” to strengthen the relationship between newsrooms and North Carolinians.

“Recognizing that wherever you are reporting you are part of that community is really important,” said Alicia Bell, Charlotte organizer for New Voices. “The criteria that makes a good journalist is somebody who recognizes the struggles that might come with reporting and being in a community, but also recognizes the power they have as a gatekeeper to information. You can’t really do good grounded journalism without being a part of the community. Because if not, what is the point of what you’re doing?”

Free Press focuses on addressing the gap that separates communities from the media who report on them. The organization gathered residents together in various North Carolina communities, facilitating discussions where citizens could talk with journalists about what they want covered.

On Saturday, Aug. 26, Charlotte residents and journalists gathered in Johnson C. Smith University’s student union to discuss coverage desired by the community. The discussion forums are one of many ways the project engages the public to take part in the local journalistic community, Bell said. The forum focused on economic mobility in Charlotte, and the topic of education came up often. Many citizens agreed that there should be more stories in the media about economic growth that connect the city’s past, current, and future states.

Free Press wants to expand the New Voices project to include more North Carolina communities. Bell said they hope to launch several more small engagement events in other locations and continue to grow the project in Charlotte.

“There’s a history of civically engaged journalism, but I think there’s a conversation about what the balance is between community engagement and then how much of that is is pandering to the public,” Bell said. “There’s been kind of a back-and-forth between how much to have community engagement be a part of the journalistic process, but always and forever, the public are the consumers of any journalism organization.”

Juliana Amos and Jayda Brown are students in the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte.