Two UNC Table Stakes participants take part in innovative Charlotte news collaboration

This can be a scary time to be in local news, as the economic effects of COVID-19 are exacerbating the challenging circumstances that are already stripping newsrooms of employees and resources around the country.

Courtesy Charlotte Journalism Collaborative

However, it’s those very challenges that are inspiring innovative practices like the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative, one of the many news collaboratives forming across the country that pool media organizations’ resources, talent and time.

“The challenges are making us think outside the box,” said Chris Rudisill, director of the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative. “How do we do this differently? How do we evolve?”

WFAE and QCity Metro, which have previously participated in the UNC-Knight Foundation Table Stakes Newsroom Initiative at the UNC Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media (CISLM), are part of the Collaborative. The Table Stakes Initiative is a year-long program that seeks to help media organizations identify and overcome challenges to succeed the new world of digital media.

Launched by the Solutions Journalism Network in 2019, the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative focuses on affordable housing coverage, a major issue in the rapidly growing Charlotte region, where gentrification has pushed many longtime residents further from work, schools and community centers.

The Collaborative has also provided COVID-19 coverage during the pandemic.

Courtesy Charlotte Journalism Collaborative

For Glenn Burkins, publisher and founder of QCity Metro, an independent, for-profit website that provides news and content for Charlotte’s African American community, taking part in the collaborative, which also receives funding from the Knight Foundation, was a no-brainer.

“Few people have the resources that they did 25 years ago, but the news gets bigger and bigger,” Burkins said.

News collaboratives are an example of the Table Stakes essentials taught in the UNC Table Stakes program, said Tim Griggs, a UNC Table Stakes coach.

“Collaborative work fits squarely in Table Stake No. 6, which is to ‘Partner to expand your capacity and capabilities at lower and more flexible cost,’” Griggs said.

The Collaborative’s members represent a diversity of platforms, size and profit models, as well as non-media community members. This diversity enriches the Collaborative’s coverage, Rudisill said.

Collaborative members QCity Metro and La Noticia both cover racial minority communities in the city, while Collaborative member QNotes serves Charlotte’s LGBTQ community

“Another one of our great strengths is having community partners in the Collaborative,” Rudisill said. Along with the Collaborative’s six media organizations — The Charlotte Observer, La Noticia, QCity Metro, QNotes, WCNC-TV, and WFAE — three community organizations round out the roster: the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, and Free Press, a community-engagement organization.

Courtesy Charlotte Journalism Collaborative

The community organizations provide on-the-ground support — for example, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library hosts the collaborative’s website and the Queens University provides mentoring and interns — and provide a level of trust and connection to the community the media organizations couldn’t give on their own, Rudisill said.

“The problem of affordable housing needed the attention of the entire community,” Rudisill said.

The attention comes in the form of articles and projects led by individual organizations in the Collaborative with support from other groups in the Collaborative, or Collaborative-led projects that feature work from all members, such as the piece “From Brooklyn to Ballantyne: The story behind Charlotte’s affordable housing crisis,” which took a deep dive into the history of Charlotte’s affordable housing issues.

Funded through 2022, the Collaborative would like to add at least one more media partner and one more community partner to its roster this year, Rudisill said.

In the long-term, the Collaborative is hopeful for long-term funding, whatever form that takes, Rudisill said.

As for the future of collaboratives themselves, Griggs sees vast potential and points to other collaborative groups like Resolve Philly doing great work around the country.

Griggs would like to see more news collaboration focused on assets, such as technology, data, marketing and revenue, as well as news gathering, and more systematic partnerships between national and local news organizations.

At the end of the day, it’s all about best serving the community’s needs, Rudisill said.