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Feb. 15, 2023, 2:26 p.m.

Indiana lands new support for local news — and Capital B’s next newsroom

The nonprofit news startup announced its second newsroom — in Gary, Indiana — as part of the newly launched Indiana Local News Initiative.

Capital B, the one-year-old nonprofit news startup for Black Americans, has announced plans to launch its second local newsroom in Gary, Indiana.

Gary is a small city on Lake Michigan where 78% of the 68,000 residents are Black. Local news coverage there, residents have told Capital B, is often dominated by journalism from and about the much-larger city of Chicago just 25 miles away.

At first glance, Gary is a far cry from Capital B’s first pick for a local newsroom (Atlanta, Georgia, with a population just under 500,000) but co-founders Akoto Ofori-Atta and Lauren Williams said the choice is not quite the swerve it looks like.

“When we were thinking about what would make a Capital B market, we wanted to be really sure that we weren’t just looking at the biggest media markets where there were also Black people,” said Williams, who left the editor-in-chief role at Vox to become co-founder and CEO of Capital B. “Which you might think we were doing when our first market is Atlanta, right? But we want to go into markets where we see a real opportunity and a real need for us to reach Black audiences with the Capital B mission of serving folks who are underserved with high-quality news and information.”

“We’ve always had the Atlantas of the world on our list, but also Buffalos and Garys and smaller cities that had sizable Black populations,” Williams added. “So when this Indiana News Initiative started, and they called us up about coming to Gary, it’s not like Gary was coming out of nowhere.”

Capital B’s announcement comes as part of a larger effort to expand local news in Indiana. The Indiana Local News Initiative, announced Wednesday, launches with more than $10 million in funding from the American Journalism Project, Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, Herbert Simon Family Foundation, and others.

As part of the partnership, a 25-person news organization will launch in Central Indiana. (The job listing for the editor-in-chief role is online.) Existing outlets TheStatehouseFile.com, The Indiana Citizen, The Indianapolis Recorder, and Indiana News Service are also receiving support.

Six people currently staff Capital B’s local newsroom in Atlanta, according to the Capital B website, including a state and local politics reporter, community engagement editor, health reporter, general assignment reporter, criminal justice reporter, and an editor. For the Gary newsroom, Capital B said they would hire an editor and community engagement editor before deciding on specific beats or committing to a number of new jobs created.

“Giving an editor space to map out the ways in which Capital B will serve their city is an important part of what we do,” Ofori-Atta said. “Community engagement and community listening and fostering a sense of doing this journalism alongside and with the residents that we are serving — that’s part of our DNA and it’s something that we are going to absolutely do in Gary.”

(The Capital B Gary editor job listing — $95,000 to $110,000 — reflects that approach.)

Around their launch this time last year, the co-founders told me that in addition to maintaining a national news operation, they planned to add another local newsroom before the end of 2022 and another two local newsrooms before the end of 2023.

“We’re growing our newsrooms much slower than we had anticipated,” Williams acknowledged. “That’s a factor of doing it in real life versus planning it out on a spreadsheet.”

“We are not trying to flip a house to sell it really quickly,” she added. “We’re trying to live in the house — long term.”

Being a nonprofit newsroom helps, the co-founders said. Capital B nearly doubled its number of small donors (to 1,000) in its first year and has raised a total of $12 million. The full staff now includes 24 people, including The Atlantic’s former managing editor, Gillian White, who was recently promoted to chief revenue officer of Capital B.

“Being a nonprofit puts us in a good position of not having to be our own worst enemy,” Williams said. “We’re not in a race against anything but the deadlines we set for ourselves.”

A Capital B piece on Kanye West not being able to sell “White Lives Matter” apparel because two Black men own the trademark reached a wide audience and this eye-opening interview with the founder of the Kansas City Defender was a can’t-miss for the Nieman Lab crowd. I asked the co-founders what other stories stood out to them from Capital B’s first year.

Ofori-Atta, who serves as chief audience officer, first pointed to the outlet’s Jackson, Miss. water crisis coverage. She was particularly proud to note that though it was a national story, a large share of the traffic came from Jackson itself.

“It was a signal that, yes, the story was good, but also that it was filling a specific need for the people that we were covering,” Ofori-Atta said.

Williams mentioned on-the-fly reporting on Hurricane Ian by national health reporter Margo Snipe that resulted in a FEMA response and the Atlanta newsroom’s coverage on monkeypox, which focused on the virus’s impact on the Black, gay male population in Atlanta.

“I think that was really important because — for whatever reason — the mainstream media did not want to cover who monkey pox was affecting,” Williams said. “So while there were stories about monkeypox last summer, they weren’t specific and the coverage didn’t get specific for quite some time. We were kind of on an island of covering that for a few weeks before other people caught up.”

Williams — who had mentioned that, as she once did as editor-in-chief of Vox,  Capital B is “constantly talking” about who they are as an organization — said those stories marked moments where she said to herself, “Okay. We’re really figuring out our mission and hitting it.”

The team is also taking some pride in seeing other news organizations run near-identical stories in their wake.

“I feel like this is us pushing the industry forward,” Williams said of the follow-up coverage in other outlets. “Here is us centering Black voices in the conversation. We’re not sure they would have been centered in the conversation if we hadn’t done it first.”

Sarah Scire is deputy editor of Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email (sarah_scire@harvard.edu), Twitter DM (@SarahScire), or Signal (+1 617-299-1821).
POSTED     Feb. 15, 2023, 2:26 p.m.
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