Media reparations now

“Our prediction is a vision for an end to this cycle, beginning with envisioning the urgent redistribution of $1 billion of the Knight Foundation’s wealth to media justice initiatives.”

Slavery is a cornerstone of the modern American economy, and no industry is unblemished. But the media’s role is unique.

It sets agendas and amplifies. It normalizes and condemns. News outlets co-create and perpetuate the narratives that undergird every lie at the underbelly of any form of oppression. And as facilitators of American commerce, corporate media has benefited greatly from the wealth generated by slavery and the exploitation of labor in every industry.

When a Black man enslaved by Jacob W. Bason escaped from his central Georgia property in 1849, Bason took out an advertisement in The Georgia Telegraph.

“Jefferson is forty or forty-five years old, light brown complexion, and very intelligent. He can read and write, and will doubtless attempt to pass himself off as a freeman…A liberal reward will be paid for his apprehension and delivery to me, or his confinement in any Jail so that I get him again.”

In its terms of service, the newspaper advised slave traders that “sales of Negroes must be made at a public auction on the first Tuesday of the month” and that aspiring slave traders must publish a notice four months in advance of court approval.

The Georgia Telegraph would eventually become the Macon Telegraph and, in 1969, be purchased by what would become Knight Ridder, the national TV and newspaper chain. In 2006, it was sold to McClatchy for $6.5 billion, which allowed Knight Ridder to profit off a paper that has a history of profiting off the enslavement of Black people.

Knight Ridder’s financial success spun off the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, journalism’s preeminent philanthropic funder.

As of 2019, the Knight Foundation’s amassed wealth stands at $2.4 billion. It’s enough to fund a journalist’s salary for hundreds of lifetimes. Or 2,400 journalist salaries for a decade. It could launch 120 newsrooms with $20 million endowments. Or invest over half of a million dollars in every county in the country.

Today, that money is invested in Wall Street. It helps fuel the industries built on slavery and the exploitation of labor. And it continues to make journalism the beneficiary of historic and ongoing injustice.

In alignment with Media 2070’s call for media reparations, our prediction is a vision for an end to this cycle, beginning with envisioning the urgent redistribution of $1 billion of the Knight Foundation’s wealth to media justice initiatives.

Not only should these efforts be conducted by and with the people most impacted by anti-Blackness and anti-Indigeneity, but they should also be determined by them. Some of those people exist within the Knight Foundation and other funding partners across the country, but more people would need to be invited in.

Our vision calls for the distribution of these funds through a democratic process shepherded by a coalition of organizations dedicated to using media to achieve full freedom and democracy for all people.

To that end, we prioritized Black, Indigenous, and other people of color and reached out to journalists, community organizers, small business owners, researchers, artists, and others who carry none of these titles but throw down for their people every day. Here’s how they would prioritize $1 billion for media justice.

In the end, these possibilities are about the things that the Knight Foundation’s wealth can fund — but they’re also much more than that.

Any donor, funder, or philanthropist can take up this helm in an effort to create a world we’ve never known. One where there is no de facto media apartheid; where Black and Indigenous people steward stories from ideation to distribution; where working-class people feel themselves in the print or digital pages of a news publication; where Queer and Trans people are valued with dignity across a variety of storytelling and journalistic platforms; and any person in any community can identify local and national funders with whom they can advocate and collaborate to make this vision real.

There is a world where we win and we’re all better for it. Let 2021 be a year that moves us closer to getting there.

So much gratitude and thanks to the following people for contributing to this prediction: Carla Murphy, Antionette Kerr, JuJu Holton, Clarissa Brooks, Sean Brown, Brit Harley, Christina Noble, Collette Watson, Diamond Hardiman, Isaiah J. Poole, Tina Vasquez, Vanessa Maria Graber, Anita Varma, Joseph Torres, Sachi Kobayashi, Anna Simonton, Adrian Fernandez Baumann, Mike Rispoli, Matt DeRienzo, Molly de Aguiar, Nation Hahn, Jennifer Brandel, Chris Horne, Peter Green, and other unnamed contributors.

Alicia Bell is co-founder of Media 2070 and organizing manager for Free Press. Simon Galperin is director of the Community Info Coop.

Slavery is a cornerstone of the modern American economy, and no industry is unblemished. But the media’s role is unique.

It sets agendas and amplifies. It normalizes and condemns. News outlets co-create and perpetuate the narratives that undergird every lie at the underbelly of any form of oppression. And as facilitators of American commerce, corporate media has benefited greatly from the wealth generated by slavery and the exploitation of labor in every industry.

When a Black man enslaved by Jacob W. Bason escaped from his central Georgia property in 1849, Bason took out an advertisement in The Georgia Telegraph.

“Jefferson is forty or forty-five years old, light brown complexion, and very intelligent. He can read and write, and will doubtless attempt to pass himself off as a freeman…A liberal reward will be paid for his apprehension and delivery to me, or his confinement in any Jail so that I get him again.”

In its terms of service, the newspaper advised slave traders that “sales of Negroes must be made at a public auction on the first Tuesday of the month” and that aspiring slave traders must publish a notice four months in advance of court approval.

The Georgia Telegraph would eventually become the Macon Telegraph and, in 1969, be purchased by what would become Knight Ridder, the national TV and newspaper chain. In 2006, it was sold to McClatchy for $6.5 billion, which allowed Knight Ridder to profit off a paper that has a history of profiting off the enslavement of Black people.

Knight Ridder’s financial success spun off the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, journalism’s preeminent philanthropic funder.

As of 2019, the Knight Foundation’s amassed wealth stands at $2.4 billion. It’s enough to fund a journalist’s salary for hundreds of lifetimes. Or 2,400 journalist salaries for a decade. It could launch 120 newsrooms with $20 million endowments. Or invest over half of a million dollars in every county in the country.

Today, that money is invested in Wall Street. It helps fuel the industries built on slavery and the exploitation of labor. And it continues to make journalism the beneficiary of historic and ongoing injustice.

In alignment with Media 2070’s call for media reparations, our prediction is a vision for an end to this cycle, beginning with envisioning the urgent redistribution of $1 billion of the Knight Foundation’s wealth to media justice initiatives.

Not only should these efforts be conducted by and with the people most impacted by anti-Blackness and anti-Indigeneity, but they should also be determined by them. Some of those people exist within the Knight Foundation and other funding partners across the country, but more people would need to be invited in.

Our vision calls for the distribution of these funds through a democratic process shepherded by a coalition of organizations dedicated to using media to achieve full freedom and democracy for all people.

To that end, we prioritized Black, Indigenous, and other people of color and reached out to journalists, community organizers, small business owners, researchers, artists, and others who carry none of these titles but throw down for their people every day. Here’s how they would prioritize $1 billion for media justice.

In the end, these possibilities are about the things that the Knight Foundation’s wealth can fund — but they’re also much more than that.

Any donor, funder, or philanthropist can take up this helm in an effort to create a world we’ve never known. One where there is no de facto media apartheid; where Black and Indigenous people steward stories from ideation to distribution; where working-class people feel themselves in the print or digital pages of a news publication; where Queer and Trans people are valued with dignity across a variety of storytelling and journalistic platforms; and any person in any community can identify local and national funders with whom they can advocate and collaborate to make this vision real.

There is a world where we win and we’re all better for it. Let 2021 be a year that moves us closer to getting there.

So much gratitude and thanks to the following people for contributing to this prediction: Carla Murphy, Antionette Kerr, JuJu Holton, Clarissa Brooks, Sean Brown, Brit Harley, Christina Noble, Collette Watson, Diamond Hardiman, Isaiah J. Poole, Tina Vasquez, Vanessa Maria Graber, Anita Varma, Joseph Torres, Sachi Kobayashi, Anna Simonton, Adrian Fernandez Baumann, Mike Rispoli, Matt DeRienzo, Molly de Aguiar, Nation Hahn, Jennifer Brandel, Chris Horne, Peter Green, and other unnamed contributors.

Alicia Bell is co-founder of Media 2070 and organizing manager for Free Press. Simon Galperin is director of the Community Info Coop.

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