“I’ve used it before to cover statehouse issues that were of local interest to us,”
said David Boraks, publisher of DavidsonNews.net and CorneliusNews.net, local news websites in suburban Charlotte. The town of Davidson owns part of a municipal broadband service and faced dramatic changes in 2011 during legislative discussion banning cities from owning municipal broadband. It was an issue important to Boraks and his readers, he said, but he was too busy to make the two-hour-plus drive to the state capitol.

But archives at Voter Radio are labeled only by time. The vision for the new service calls for it to be searchable, which would make the information far more accessible—and it would have video as well, to allow watchdogs to see what’s going on in the legislature. In Morgan’s dream world, she said, there would be even more: a mix of video programming, public affairs content, interviews, streaming coverage of the General Assembly, and government and civic information.

The challenge now, of course, is turning the enthusiasm into something concrete. Morgan said the workshop and report have spurred discussions among cable providers, news organizations, and others. And UNC has given the project its imprimatur. The webpage for the university’s report features a video of Susan King, dean of the journalism school and a television news veteran, describing the vision for the state public access network. “That was her setting the priority,” Morgan said.

The UNC report made other recommendations, many of which apply nationally: encouraging the FCC to relax media cross-ownership rules, calling on the FCC to help resolve uncertainty in IRS policies that affect media nonprofits, and urging more partnerships between working journalists and journalism schools. But here in the Tar Heel State, the top priority remains the C-SPAN-style project.

“If nothing comes out of this except a state public affairs network,” Morgan said, “that’s a lot.”

Andria Krewson is an independent journalist in Charlotte and a student in the University of North Carolina's master of arts in technology and digital communication. She worked at The Charlotte Observer for many years. Find her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/underoak or http://twitter.com/akrewson.