More journalists of color become newsroom founders

“They’ll be emboldened to start from scratch and build the kind of media ecosystem they want to see.”

In 2021, we’ll see more journalists of color go from being newsroom employees to newsroom founders. That might seem like an unrealistic future to some — but if you look closely at what’s happened across the industry this year, it doesn’t feel too far off.

This summer, as newsrooms deployed reporters to cover protests for racial justice, many were forced to reckon with the inequities within their own houses. Scores of Black and brown journalists took to Twitter to call out former employers, editors, and executives for mistreatment, intimidation, and the outright racism that’s persisted for years in some of America’s most important newsrooms. The nation was engaging in what seemed like a nonstop dialogue about inequality, and the people documenting that discourse had the attention of massive audiences on social media to make their voices and grievances heard. It was the perfect storm to demand change.

What followed was a wave of action that even some of the most seasoned journalists had never seen. Top editors and executives at local and national publications stepped down. Companies put out statements addressing toxic work cultures brought to light by mistreated journalists. All of these things were necessary and should have happened a long time ago. It’s a shame that it took protests around police killings for newsroom executives to take action.

But what comes next?

Next year, more journalists of color will harness the power of their experience, audience, and knowledge to launch their own newsrooms. They’ll be emboldened to start from scratch and build the kind of media ecosystem they want to see. One where people are treated fairly and the stories and experiences of journalists from different backgrounds are celebrated and amplified, not suppressed.

Journalists in most newsrooms see the problems in the coverage of their communities, but many haven’t envisioned themselves as founders who could build something to solve those issues. And why would they? Even if you have a great idea, the same issues around raising capital that hinder Black tech founders arise in conversations around media funding, too. This year, the philanthropic community has also had to face its own tough questions around whether or not organizations led by minorities get the financial support they need. In 2021, more journalists of color will have the opportunity — and funding — to bring their ideas to life and fill information needs that have been ignored for far too long.

It’s not just wishful thinking. This year, we’ve already seen editorial leaders of color leave their newsrooms to start their own organizations. The rise of nonprofit newsrooms and the willingness we’ve seen from some foundations to fund journalism is a recipe for a new media renaissance, led by journalists. We’ll also see those who’ve already taken the leap into entrepreneurship receive more of the funding and support they need and so richly deserve. Founders have in some cases had to work without a salary in order to give their communities the information they so desperately need. It’s high time that we give them their flowers – and our dollars.

In her book Ghosting The News, Margaret Sullivan notes that between 2004 to 2015, 1,800 print outlets in the U.S. disappeared, creating news deserts in some communities across the country. This problem, which can seem insurmountable some days, actually presents opportunities for journalists of color to go into communities, raise funds from foundations, and launch nonprofit newsrooms to fill these gaps. We’ve seen white journalists do it, and it’s time for funders to keep the same energy they had around racial equality in 2020 and help turn journalists of color into entrepreneurs.

Do foundations, companies, and individuals with gobs of money care about the information needs of people of color in communities across the country, and about bringing their stories to light? Or were their words all just a show to let people know they’re “actively engaged” in “conversations” around race and equality? Statements are cool, but putting action — and money — behind your words would go much further.

Beat reporters will become bosses, editors will become founders, and the media landscape as we know it will shift to give these great minds more agency to chart their own path forward and take others with them. The opportunity is there, the money is there, and most importantly, the need is there. Communities across the country are hungry for information, and there’s a new wave of media leaders ready to give it to them.

John Ketchum is an associate on the strategy and startups team at the American Journalism Project.

In 2021, we’ll see more journalists of color go from being newsroom employees to newsroom founders. That might seem like an unrealistic future to some — but if you look closely at what’s happened across the industry this year, it doesn’t feel too far off.

This summer, as newsrooms deployed reporters to cover protests for racial justice, many were forced to reckon with the inequities within their own houses. Scores of Black and brown journalists took to Twitter to call out former employers, editors, and executives for mistreatment, intimidation, and the outright racism that’s persisted for years in some of America’s most important newsrooms. The nation was engaging in what seemed like a nonstop dialogue about inequality, and the people documenting that discourse had the attention of massive audiences on social media to make their voices and grievances heard. It was the perfect storm to demand change.

What followed was a wave of action that even some of the most seasoned journalists had never seen. Top editors and executives at local and national publications stepped down. Companies put out statements addressing toxic work cultures brought to light by mistreated journalists. All of these things were necessary and should have happened a long time ago. It’s a shame that it took protests around police killings for newsroom executives to take action.

But what comes next?

Next year, more journalists of color will harness the power of their experience, audience, and knowledge to launch their own newsrooms. They’ll be emboldened to start from scratch and build the kind of media ecosystem they want to see. One where people are treated fairly and the stories and experiences of journalists from different backgrounds are celebrated and amplified, not suppressed.

Journalists in most newsrooms see the problems in the coverage of their communities, but many haven’t envisioned themselves as founders who could build something to solve those issues. And why would they? Even if you have a great idea, the same issues around raising capital that hinder Black tech founders arise in conversations around media funding, too. This year, the philanthropic community has also had to face its own tough questions around whether or not organizations led by minorities get the financial support they need. In 2021, more journalists of color will have the opportunity — and funding — to bring their ideas to life and fill information needs that have been ignored for far too long.

It’s not just wishful thinking. This year, we’ve already seen editorial leaders of color leave their newsrooms to start their own organizations. The rise of nonprofit newsrooms and the willingness we’ve seen from some foundations to fund journalism is a recipe for a new media renaissance, led by journalists. We’ll also see those who’ve already taken the leap into entrepreneurship receive more of the funding and support they need and so richly deserve. Founders have in some cases had to work without a salary in order to give their communities the information they so desperately need. It’s high time that we give them their flowers – and our dollars.

In her book Ghosting The News, Margaret Sullivan notes that between 2004 to 2015, 1,800 print outlets in the U.S. disappeared, creating news deserts in some communities across the country. This problem, which can seem insurmountable some days, actually presents opportunities for journalists of color to go into communities, raise funds from foundations, and launch nonprofit newsrooms to fill these gaps. We’ve seen white journalists do it, and it’s time for funders to keep the same energy they had around racial equality in 2020 and help turn journalists of color into entrepreneurs.

Do foundations, companies, and individuals with gobs of money care about the information needs of people of color in communities across the country, and about bringing their stories to light? Or were their words all just a show to let people know they’re “actively engaged” in “conversations” around race and equality? Statements are cool, but putting action — and money — behind your words would go much further.

Beat reporters will become bosses, editors will become founders, and the media landscape as we know it will shift to give these great minds more agency to chart their own path forward and take others with them. The opportunity is there, the money is there, and most importantly, the need is there. Communities across the country are hungry for information, and there’s a new wave of media leaders ready to give it to them.

John Ketchum is an associate on the strategy and startups team at the American Journalism Project.

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