Border Belt Independent wins $50,000 grant to add reporter

The Border Belt Independent has received a $50,000 grant to hire a third reporter to cover the four-county Border Belt region of Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and Scotland counties.

“As a nonprofit newsroom, we rely on grants and contributions to fund the kind of quality journalism people have come to expect from us,” said Publisher Les High. “The four-county region has more than 225,000 residents, so increasing our ability to report on more issues that matter to people is a priority. There are so many stories to tell.”

The grant comes from the North Carolina Local News Lab Fund through the North Carolina Community Foundation, which awarded more than $1.5 million to 31 local news and community organizations.

“Thanks to this grant, we can hire another reporter to cover important issues in the communities we serve, from health care and education to public safety and government accountability,” said Editor Sarah Nagem. “We are proud of the work we’ve done since the launch of the Border Belt Independent, and we’re looking forward to bringing on an additional team member.” 

The Border Belt Independent, founded in April 2021, is an online newsroom that focuses on in-depth stories that impact the region.

“Because we don’t have daily deadlines, we’re able to devote days or weeks to a story if that’s what is required to fully understand its implications,” High said, “but with only two reporters, there are only so many stories we can publish. A third reporter will significantly increase our reach and impact.”

The Border Belt Independent publishes stories at no cost to readers and also provides them to local newspapers that serve the region.

“We tend to take a deeper look at issues while local newspapers cover a variety of topics and breaking news,” High said. “We work in partnership with these papers and encourage residents to support the work they’re doing. Someone has to cover those long school board and town council meetings. Our hope is that what we’re doing together will serve as a model for other rural areas like ours.”

“When we launched the NC Local News Lab Fund in 2017, our mission was to transform the news and information infrastructure in North Carolina to reach communities that mainstream media have never consistently served,” said Lizzy Hazeltine, director of the NC Local News Lab Fund. “Five years later, we are thrilled to reach this funding milestone and scale our support of organizations who provide local North Carolina residents with the vital information they need to make decisions about their health and democracy.”

The NC Local News Lab Fund’s grantees are selected by a group of national and state experts with deep ties to North Carolina communities, expertise in evolving models of journalism, and a shared vision for accessible, inclusive news and information.

The Border Belt Independent is primarily funded by the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust with a $495,000 grant over three years. The trust primarily funds health initiatives in the state but has begun to look at other ways to enhance its mission.

“The partnership with the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust came about when both parties understood that it’s difficult to find solutions to challenges when people don’t know what they are or misunderstand them because of disinformation,” High said. “Funding trusted journalism is one way to get the word out and tell the truth. It’s also critical in our increasingly fragile democracy.

“The N.C. Local News Lab Fund grant supports the same mission and values,” High added, “and we’re grateful it will strengthen and sustain the work our staff is doing.”

Read the Border Belt Independent at

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