UNC Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative aims to strengthen local media in the face of disruption

Eight news organizations in North Carolina — including digital startups, radio stations, TV stations and newspapers — have been selected to participate in a program launched by the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative in partnership with the UNC Center for Innovation & Sustainability in Local Media. This program will kickoff on Monday, May 8, in Chapel Hill. 

Launched with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in 2015, the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative helps advance digital transformation at local news organizations across the country. The Lenfest Institute for Journalism partnered with Knight Foundation to expand the project in February 2017.

The participating organizations, all from North Carolina, include The Daily Dispatch of Henderson; The News Reporter of Whiteville; The Pilot of Moore County; Scalawag magazine of Durham; Star News of Wilmington; UNC-TV of Research Triangle Park; WFAE of Charlotte; and WTVD-ABC11 of the Raleigh-Durham area.

“For nearly 100 years, The Pilot has championed community journalism," said David Woronoff, publisher of the Moore County paper. "We believe that being a small-town newspaper does not make us a small-time one. We’ve used our small-town values to grow successfully into other parts of the state. So, we’re not new to the innovation game. But, we recognize that we need to be even more creative to sustain and expand our journalism into additional platforms. This program offers us the opportunity to learn the key skills and build the partnerships we’ll need to be successful.”

In addition to the year-long program at UNC, the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative will leverage partnerships between the American Press Institute and the Poynter Institute. The Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative features two other key programs in addition to UNC's project. One expands on Year One's work with four metro newsrooms, bringing together five news organizations — The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Houston Chronicle, Seattle Times, Philadelphia Media Network and Bay Area News Group — for a year-long effort to enlarge their digital capacity. The third program, through the Poynter Institute, will work with 21 organizations during their three-year initiative.

"We're thrilled to be a part of this broader initiative and to be working in our local communities with leading organizations across North Carolina," said Susan King, dean of the UNC School of Media and Journalism. "This new project gives us the opportunity to leverage both our faculty as well as outstanding consultants and thought leaders who focus nationwide on these issues. We're building a network to strengthen the landscape of local media and ensure strong and free press into the future."

The center will host its three-day kickoff with representatives from each of the eight organizations convening in Chapel Hill. As the program promotes cross-organization dialogue, representatives will be asked to introduce their organizations — including its mission, the market it serves, challenges and opportunities it faces and current strategies — to give participants a feel for their enterprises and where they stand with regard to audience scope and subscriber trends.

The center is working with Douglas K. Smith, project director for the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative, and independent consultants Charles Baum and Tim Griggs.

In addition to sharing best practices with each other, organizations will also work with coaches to achieve sustainable business models and close the print and digital divide.

The kickoff will conclude on Wednesday, May 10, with each organization identifying a specific performance challenge and creating an action plan for the next two months. When they reconvene in July, representatives will reflect on their progress and share successes and failures with their peers in a joint effort to strengthen local journalism in the digital age. The UNC Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative will conclude in Spring 2018.