CPP Research: Serving NC Across the “Digital Divide”


Executive Director’s Note: This week, we’re taking you behind the scenes of a Carolina Public Press special project, NC Connection: Closing the News Gap. We have launched an extensive data-driven research project to identify information gaps in rural communities where high-speed Internet is currently expensive, inaccessible or simply unavailable. Additionally, we want to know how these communities want to get their news and information when jumping online just isn’t an option.

In November 2021, the third GNI North America Innovation Challenge awarded Carolina Public Press a data-driven research grant to help address the need for local news research in North Carolina.

Now, nearly nine months later, we are well underway with the resulting project, NC Connection: Bridging the News Gap.

Carolina Public Press is undertaking the Public Service-Oriented Research Project to uncover where information gaps lie in some rural North Carolina communities, particularly those that lack strong, fast, and reliable Internet service. affordable. The NC Rural Center defines rural as a population density of 250 people per square mile or less. By this definition, 78 of North Carolina’s 100 counties are classified as rural, using 2020 U.S. Census data.

“Broadband internet access can be considered critical infrastructure, especially for people who are used to turning on their internet like they flip a light switch,” said Angie Newsome, executive director of Carolina Public Press. “But not everyone in North Carolina has easy and affordable access to the internet, leaving as many as 4 million North Carolina residents across the ‘digital divide’.”

We want to know what nonprofit news organizations like ours can do to help.

High-speed Internet access can be considered essential infrastructure, but not everyone in North Carolina has access to it, leaving many on the other side of the “digital divide.”

Angie Newsome, executive director of Carolina Public Press

COVID has made us even more aware of a digital divide in North Carolina – the fact that many households, perhaps many of them in communities like yours, lack reliable internet access. , cannot afford an Internet subscription or do not have a suitable device. When there is a crisis like COVID, the lack of internet service becomes a critical need.

We hope this research will help identify trends in the news needs of these communities. We also hope that these trends can align with those of other communities in North Carolina and even those outside the state. CPP would like to use this information as a springboard to develop new ways to serve the public and deliver the news and information people need in a way that is convenient and accessible to everyone.

How you can help and participate

And we want to know what happens when that information is most difficult to receive. We’ve run surveys in English and Spanish to ask, and the results are starting to come in. We strive for statewide participation in order to be as representative of rural North Carolina communities as possible.

Our work will continue until the end of the year and we have designed surveys (in English and Spanish). We convene focus groups within targeted rural communities to gather input and feedback on known news gaps and the ways people want to get news and information today.

The survey can be sent to you by email or SMS, and you can answer it in less than 10 minutes. Go here to grab it now, or text the word investigation at 866-716-1266.

If you would like to help raise awareness of this project in your own communities or among your family, friends, colleagues and faith communities, contact the Rural Engagement Manager. Lindsey Wilson.

Processes, data and results will be shared on the CPP website and in a range of media such as presentations, data visualizations and articles at key touchpoints throughout the life of the project .

Learn more about our methodologies, results and expected results

Search Strategies

Carolina Public Press partners with rural community organizations to conduct research and develop best practices that can be shared with other news organizations serving rural areas and/or organizations wishing to reach low-tech and hard-to-reach communities. reach. In this collaboration, the project uses surveys, focus groups, and other data-driven methods to establish a baseline understanding of community information needs and expectations. We strive to make the survey and related data collection activities statistically significant with a minimal margin of error.

Why focus on rural North Carolina?

  • North Carolina’s rural population is larger than that of any other state except Texas.
  • Rural communities in North Carolina face challenges related to changing demographics, workforce development, access to capital, infrastructure, health, land use and preservation of the environment and the community.
  • According to the NC Rural Center, more than 4 million people live in rural North Carolina. The population of 18 to 64 year olds has been declining over the past 10 years, and the population of adults 65 and older is steadily increasing.

Analysis and impact

We will analyze data and feedback to better understand trends among news needs and preferred ways to access news. It will provide the basis for strategic editorial innovation that will specifically serve the audiences surveyed. This can provide a host of potential innovations.


We hope to ensure that all final information products tell the widest possible range of stories that best meet the needs of the audience.

We hope that the results of the survey and research will reveal other potential innovations. Feedback from these audiences will allow us to interpret the ability of these audiences to voice their community concerns and could be used to inform future PPC reports. It should also help highlight issues that may not occur to editorial staff located in other communities.

Ultimately, this research and analysis can help provide rural North Carolina communities with a greater voice in local and statewide news outlets, better access to journalists, opportunities to help shape the news and options to raise the voices, stories, concerns and challenges needed within their communities. Already, we’re testing an idea with support from the Dogwood Health Trust: a text-based news project about the American Rescue Plan Act for people in western North Carolina.


We work with the NC Rural Center, Border Belt Independent, Elon University’s NC Local News Workshop, Carolina Demography and other partners to deliver investigative messages through social media, media relations, radio and digital advertising, focus groups and listening sessions, and distribution of printed matter and flyers.

Additional outreach will include posters placed in bookmobiles, libraries, grocery stores and one-on-one contact with community organizations. All promotional material will include survey messages and contain the opt-in SMS shortcode. All relevant digital and printed materials are available in English and Spanish.

Comparative analysis

We have created a series of benchmarks designed to illuminate our ongoing activities and the need to pivot these activities, including:

  • First results of the survey.
  • Sharing by partners/collaborators.
  • Challenges encountered with survey distribution.
  • Survey response rate.
  • Geographical areas over or under-represented.

Based on the assessment, we will modify outreach strategies, consider alternative outreach methods, and consider allocating additional resources if needed.

Potential uses in journalism and beyond

The critical information based on the data from this project can be used not only by news entities serving rural communities, but also by other organizations that need to reach residents who do not have access to broadband. Information expected includes:

  • According to rural communities without broadband access, what are the news and information gaps.
  • What news and information do rural communities without broadband access want first, second and third.
  • Specific ways residents of rural communities would like to hear from them.

Selected in the third Google News Initiative North America Innovation Challenge to receive a share of more than $3.2 million to help develop ideas that address the need for local news research, the NC Connection: Closing the News Gap project from Carolina Public Press seeks to uncover the news needs and distribution preferences of North Carolina residents living beyond the “digital line.” For more information, contact Lindsey Wilson, rural engagement manager for Carolina Public Press.


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