Carolina Public Press: A relative newcomer, this online-only site serves 17 counties in western North Carolina, along the spine of the Appalachians in some of the more sparsely populated parts of the state. CPP’s mission includes sharing information about open records laws with its community, and it recently held two seminars on federal Freedom of Information Act procedures and state open records laws. It is “dedicated to in-depth, investigative and independent reporting,” but as a young site, it seems focused on raising the funds to carry out its mission more fully in the future. Special reports have focused on subjects like food policy, autism, and the environment. It often publishes press releases as is, but labels them as such, and CPP’s curation of news from other sources—along with those press releases—provide it with a stream of updates despite a small staff.
CPP is studiously nonpartisan and publishes clear editorial policies. It’s a sponsored project of the Institute for Southern Studies and has received funding from the McCormick Foundation’s New Media Women Entrepreneurs program through J-Lab at American University.
North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation: This group employs a research director, Jonathan Kappler, who keeps track of candidates filing for state elections, collects candidate questionnaires, aggregates news about state candidates from other sources, and provides brief updates on political advertising campaigns. Kappler’s work reads like straight, objective reporting, though the organization represents North Carolina businesses including Pope’s Variety Wholesalers, Inc., and the staff provides in-person political briefings for a nominal fee across the state.
PlanCharlotte: This site is a project of the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, an applied research and community outreach organization. (Full disclosure: I’m doing some contract work for the site.) It’s brand new, in beta, and focuses on regional growth and planning issues around the Charlotte area. The site goes in-depth on issues such as the changing demographics of Charlotte and how those changes affect the national politics of 2012 and the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. With its connections to the Urban Institute, it has a wealth of data about Charlotte communities from which to draw. It also has a fledgling opinion page, where it encourages civil discourse. The director is Mary Newsom, former editorial board member at The Charlotte Observer. Funding comes from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.
More groups likely will emerge. One, thePPL, is forming to provide space and community support for non-traditional media during the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte in September. That group has plans for streaming video and special forums and interviews during the convention, aiming to build an environment like The Big Tent from The Daily Kos. Independent journalists can pay $45 to get access to working space in uptown Charlotte during the convention.
For the contributors and staff at these sites, the challenges are new and ever changing. Ovaska said she feels lucky and more secure at N.C. Policy Watch than she did in a traditional news organization, though she sometimes misses the camaraderie of a newsroom.
“I certainly don’t have a road map in front of me of how to do this,” she says. Just like the readers who seek out political and civic information in a new world, she’s still feeling her way.