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July 12, 2022, 6:47 a.m.

Seven Georgia news outlets led by people of color get $2 million in funding

“You can call these rural parts of the state news deserts. But in these deserts are oases.”

Seven nonpartisan news outlets in Georgia, all led by people of color and targeted at Black, Hispanic, or Asian-American audiences, are receiving a combined $2 million from The Pivot Fund — a new venture philanthropy organization, led by Tracie Powell, that aims to invest in news outlets that funders have traditionally ignored.

“We spent six months looking across the state, identifying what assets were out there, how people consumed information, where they got it from, what they did with it once they had it,” said Powell, who previously led the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund and is board chair of LION Publishers (and who has been thinking about underserved communities in journalism for a long time). “That’s a little different from what most other funders and intermediaries do. They tend to find people they know, or they do open calls. A better way, I think, is asking communities how and where they get information from.”

Here are the seven grantees, which will receive a combination of direct grants and consulting support:

  • BEE TV Network, LaGrange, GA. CEO April Ross started out reporting and streaming community news on Facebook and ended up owning a cable TV station that can be accessed by 600,000 Spectrum cable customers. In LaGrange, it’s cited by both Black and white residents as their go-to information source, unifying the demographically divided city around a common set of facts.
  • Pása La Voz Savannah, Savannah, GA. A Facebook page with close to 15,000 followers, founder Elizabeth Glarza covers everything from crime to community events to practical information aimed to help Spanish-speaking immigrants and their children navigate past disinformation and succeed in American society.
  • Notivision, Warner Robins, GA. A bridge between Georgia’s growing Hispanic population and local business, organizations and local government. CEO Monica Pirela — a former journalist in Venezuela — and Jay Cruz, editor and cameramen, primarily publish on Facebook and Instagram, then syndicate on Spanish-language radio, sharing news information with radio stations in Atlanta, Augusta, and south of Georgia.
  • Davis Broadcasting and The Courier Eco Latino, Columbus, GA. Georgia’s largest and 36 year old Black-owned radio network, with stations in Columbus and Atlanta serving predominantly African American and Hispanic audiences with music, culture, community news, and sports. The Courier Eco Latino launched as a bilingual newspaper in 2005 to serve the African-American and Latino communities in Columbus, the Courier Eco Latino became a one-man, online-only operation during the pandemic. Yet president and publisher Wane Hailes made the most of it, launching a streaming channel called CEL TV on YouTube and collaborating with Davis Broadcasting on political forums and events. That news collaboration will expand as part of the grant.
  • Georgia Asian Times and Tomorrow Pictures, Atlanta, GA. The digital publisher and the award-winning video production company will collaborate to report and produce a documentary on the Burmese immigrant community, who like many others settled initially in the Atlanta suburb of Clarkston but are now following chicken processing and warehouse jobs into rural Georgia.

The Pivot Fund plans to invest a total of $6 million in Georgia over the next three years, but its broader goal is to raise and invest $500 million nationwide in independent news organizations led by people of color.

These organizations are in communities that “a lot of people would tag news deserts,” Powell said. “There might have been a weekly newspaper in these communities. There might be a daily newspaper that used to be able to serve them, but there there’s been so much contraction that [it] no longer can. Or, even when the daily newspaper was flourishing, it wasn’t covering these communities. But the different thing now is, not only are these organizations covering communities — BIPOC communities, communities that look like them — their news and information is filling information holes. They’re lifting the entire information system.”

Often, these organizations have been reliant on Facebook. “They’re bootstrapping,” Powell said. “They’re not resourced, like a lot of journalism organizations that we’re used to talking about. They have to use what’s at their disposal. Social media is easily accessible, in most cases free. That’s why Facebook plays an outsized role.”

The outlets are somewhat protected from Facebook’s algorithm changes, Powell said, “because their audiences are actively seeking them out. It’s difficult for Facebook to disrupt that connection with the community because [readers] actively go and look for, you know, BEE TV or Notivision. It hasn’t been as much of a negative as it might have been.” Still, the Pivot Fund plans to work with Facebook-dependent grantees to make sure that their content is available through their own platforms, like newsletters.

“You can call these rural parts of the state news deserts. But in these deserts are oases,” Powell said. “And those are the organizations that we’re funding.”

Vintage postcard of Athens, Georgia, at night, from the Boston Public Library’s collection.

POSTED     July 12, 2022, 6:47 a.m.
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