Broadband access is essential infrastructure, but North Carolina has a significant digital divide: at least 1.1 million North Carolina households lack access to a broadband connection, cannot afford an internet subscription or do not have an adequate device.

Additionally, many lack experience to use digital services like telehealth, online education or job boards. As a result, digital news is failing to fill gaps in declining print-based media, the primary news source in rural areas. Already, more than half of N.C.’s 100 counties are, or are at risk of becoming, news deserts. More than 40 newspapers closed from 2004 to 2018. Six North Carolina counties have no newspaper. This disproportionately impacts rural communities where affordable and reliable broadband access simply does not exist, leaving residents without essential news and information about their own communities. Selected during the third Google News Initiative North America Innovation Challenge to receive a share of more than $3.2 million to help build ideas that address the need for research in local news, the Carolina Public Press (CPP) project NC Connection: Closing the News Gap, seeks to discover the news needs and distribution preferences of those North Carolinians living beyond the end of the “digital line.”

 The nonprofit, investigative newsroom recently launched a survey designed to help evaluate how folks in rural N.C. receive news and what kinds of news they want and need to receive. An integral part of this evaluation will be determining if a lack of high-speed internet and broadband access contributes to how underserved communities get their news and, if so, how newsrooms like CPP can do a better job of serving these communities with robust, public service journalism. Carolina Public Press is also partnering with the Border Belt Independent, The NC Rural Center and the NC Local News Workshop at Elon University on outreach and audience development activities.

 “We know broadband access and news deserts are already a problem in getting the news across the state, which is why we’re embarking on such a big research project, with support from the Google News Initiative and Dogwood Health Trust,” said Carolina Public Press Executive Director Angie Newsome. “We hope to gather data and feedback on what news people without high-speed broadband access miss, and how they do and want to engage with news organizations. This will help our news product development. And there’s hundreds of uses for this information in this state and beyond.”

 The survey asks respondents to tell CPP about their internet capabilities, use and news consumption, with questions that include:

● Do you have a reliable internet connection?

● How do you get your local news?

● How important specific topics such as health care, local politics, schools information, investigative reporting, etc., are,

● And, what kind of news would respondents like to see more of.

To complete the survey, visit https://bit.ly/cppgni22

Or text survey to 866-716-1266

There will be opportunities for in-person focus groups if respondents are interested, and the opportunity to win a gift card after submitting a response.

 “We are excited to begin this important work to give us a better understanding of how to assist North Carolina’s digitally challenged communities,” Newsome said. “We believe every North Carolinian deserves access to reliable and fact-based local news and information. By designing a rigorous research methodology that combines both low- and no-tech activities, we will build upon our 11 years of experience reaching out and listening to the news needs of people across the state. We’ll use the results to serve rural populations, who are without reliable digital access, with news and valuable community information.”

 Carolina Public Press plans to share all methodology and learnings with industry peers in published case studies and on its website.