One of the primary goals of the Philadelphia Media Founders Exchange accelerator program is to to support more media entrepreneurs of color to help news businesses grow sustainably on their own terms and serve the community, which in turn, strengthens the media ecosystem as a whole.
The Founders Exchange follows in the footsteps of a number of programs working to increase BIPOC media ownership, including Media 2070, which is a movement focused on addressing and documenting anti-Blackness in journalism and transforming who has the capital to tell their own stories over the next 50 years.
“In 2020 we had this whole ‘racial reckoning’ conversation going on, and we don’t want to be having those same conversations in 2070, so we’re hoping to get to a different place by then,” said Alicia Bell, co-founder of Media 2070 and director of the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund , which is housed at Borealis Philanthropy. “We’ve been in this cycle for at least 150 years — I’m sure longer than that — and it’s unacceptable.”
Bell recently spoke to members of the Philadelphia Media Founders Exchange, which is a program of The Lenfest Institute and The Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund with additional support by the Independence Public Media Foundation.
In 2020, Bell and Media 2070’s co-founders originally planned to write an op-ed advocating for media reparations to the Black community, which would require the media to acknowledge, take accountability for, and and compensate for the harms done to Black Americans, as well as transform media practices to prevent further harm.
They soon realized the issue required more attention, which led to a 100-page essay examining the history of anti-Blackness in U.S. media. This was the start of Media 2070, and as part of its ongoing work it maintains an archive of harms that white-dominant media and tech companies have inflicted upon Black people. It’s documented instances dating back to the 1700s and the media’s role in upholding slavery, to modern transgressions, such as news coverage of the racial justice protests of 2020 that vilified protestors and put them in danger. By ensuring there is data available on these issues, Bell said Media 2070 can hold organizations accountable and prevent them from turning a blind eye to why transformation is needed.
Media 2070 takes an expansive and inclusive approach to partnership. The movement involves organizing a Black-led, multi-racial consortium of not only journalists and media professionals, but also tech workers, artists, activists, scholars, and policymakers. Together, they are advocating for media institutions to make reparations to the Black community and for policymakers and philanthropists to make reparations for their policies that have contributed to media inequity.
Media 2070 is working toward nine goals surrounding media reparations and ownership, with the primary goal of giving Black people the social and financial resources to tell and distribute their own stories in the media.
“One of the things we know, both about Black journalism and Black art, is that usually it has to pass through white hands to have value and to get back to Black people,” Bell said. “We foresee a future where that can happen if people choose it to happen, but that’s not the necessary and only way it happens.”
Bell also began working with the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund to help realize Media 2070’s goals by bringing more resources to Black media makers and transforming philanthropic practices. The Fund invests in news organizations led by and for people of color to help them become more sustainable and to increase civic participation and power in the communities they serve.
When it comes to funding efforts serving racial and ethnic groups, grantmakers tend to be more likely to support specific projects — just 14% of funding went to general operating support, according to a Democracy Fund analysis of Foundation Center Data from 2009-2015. Eight percent of funding supported capacity building and only 2% went toward financial stability. To address these disparities, the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund organized a donor collaborative which pools resources to fund grants for general operating support as well as capacity-building resources and education.
In 2020, the Fund issued $2.3 million in grants to 19 publishers, and in 2021 it awarded $3.6 million in grants to 28 publishers. While its third grantmaking cycle is still in progress, Bell said this year it is beginning to support organizations beyond traditional newsrooms and publishers in order to build a more interdisciplinary approach to media equity that meets the ultimate goal of creating a thriving BIPOC media ecosystem.
It’s important for media professionals and funders alike to be open to different business models as they work toward this goal, since many community media outlets operate differently from traditional organizations.
For media makers like the members of the Founders Exchange, Bell said it’s important to build power alongside the community they are serving. Conversing with community members and gaining their trust are key for informing their organization’s goals, producing relevant, thoughtful stories, and achieving sustainability. This also means embracing partnerships with other organizations, as creating a more equitable media ecosystem requires collective efforts and pooling resources to bring new opportunities.
Bell said journalists and newsrooms might be hesitant to disrupt the status quo, but it’s important to remind them that by failing to advocate for the needs of BIPOC communities, they are, in turn, advocating to maintain harmful practices and limiting the possibilities for growth.
“I’m thinking about that saying: ‘If you keep your boot on someone’s neck, the problem is you’re staying in place too.’ If you take the boot off, then you too can move. You too can transform. You can do something different,” Bell said. “If we invest in a media, in a narrative, in journalism that gets us to having more equity, justice, truth, and more buoyancy or nimbleness when harm or conflict does happen that we’re able to bounce back … and not hide it for 150 years, then we can do everything better.”