Since joining the Board of Directors for PhillyCAM and earning her MBA, Lauren Settles has spent her career taking opportunities to grow as an entrepreneur and media producer so she can reinvest what she learns into her community.
This was the spirit with which she founded We Talk Weekly, a radio show and online media platform that reports on issues that directly impact the Black community and amplifies the voices of community leaders to help them reach and serve a wider audience. We Talk Weekly promotes crucial information and positive narratives about Black people, which are often overlooked in mainstream media.
Her drive to learn how to further expand her show’s production resources and visibility also led her to join the Philadelphia Media Founders Exchange, a program led by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism and the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund to mentor media entrepreneurs on ways to generate revenue and create sustainable business models. PMFE entrepreneurs received grant funding along with revenue, marketing, and operations training from the Zebras Unite Co-Op and Black and Brown Founders.
We spoke with Settles as part of a series of conversations with PMFE entrepreneurs checking in on the progress they’ve made within their organizations using the skills and connections they gained during the program.
This conversation has been slightly edited and condensed for clarity. Kiara Santos contributed reporting.
Tell us a bit about the project(s) you worked on as part of PMFE.
We worked on expanding our technological capabilities in an effort to produce high-quality content for our targeted audience. We were able to purchase more production equipment that will be used in upcoming film projects and multimedia journalism. The first film project we plan to work on is a voter rights and suppression project. We are working to determine how people are coping with being able to vote under election interference and voter suppression. We will also explore how new legislation, such as the reversal of Roe v. Wade, will weigh on minorities’ decisions to vote.
What problem were you trying to solve initially, and why was solving the problem strategically important for your organization?
The problem we wanted to solve was building a stronger business that has several streams of revenue to make the organization more sustainable and efficient. This was important because it was becoming more difficult to continue bootstrapping the organization amid the pandemic. We believe that our organization is a vital fixture in Philadelphia’s local news ecosystem.
What were your biggest takeaways from the Philadelphia Media Founders Exchange? What did you gain from the formal programming and coaching? What did you learn from your fellow founders?
Some of my biggest takeaways from PMFE involved paying myself, including mental health awareness and self-care in my normal routine as an entrepreneur, creating my ideal day, and revamping our business model to better serve our audience. The programming and coaching gave us the support we needed to work on creating revenue streams for the business and applying for grant funding to help financially support our projects. We learned from our fellow founders that we are a community of entrepreneurs that can help one another as we work on our projects. We also learned that we are all experiencing similar challenges, successes and failures, burnout and loneliness as we try to run our businesses. That was enlightening.
How has this work impacted the community you serve?
The content that we are creating is already improving based on quality and engagement for our audience. As we restructure our business, we’re focusing on putting our community first and providing better solutions-based journalism that will help them. So far, our audience is benefiting from the content and very supportive of the work we are doing. We have seen a huge outpouring of love and support from our community and it is humbling. It’s our driving force to continue to give back to the community.
Were there any unexpected plans or challenges that you had to overcome during the program? What did you learn from it?
We had some challenges with starting our internship program due to one of the interns having to resign early on and not being able to bounce back from that as quickly as possible. We were not operating to full capacity during the summer so we are now working to get back on track with the internship program. We learned that we should have tried to start the program before the summer break for students because many of them had already secured internships with other organizations. We plan to structure the program better going forward.
How did the program contribute to your sense of power and/or self-efficacy in creating change in Philadelphia’s media ecosystem?
The program provided us with professional insight on being structured and business-minded, paying ourselves, and taking care of ourselves. It gave us the empowerment that we needed to be more successful and prevalent in Philadelphia’s media ecosystem. Before this opportunity came about, we were about to give up on the business because we had no financial support and we could no longer afford to continue bootstrapping the company. We decided to apply; we also decided that, if we were not selected, that was a sign that it was time to throw in the towel. PMFE forever changed our lives and our business. It opened our eyes to seeing how much our community needs us and how they value the work that we do.
What’s next? How are you planning to continue this work?
We are currently working on expanding our content into film and documentaries to highlight underserved communities in Philadelphia, criminal justice and politics, voting and election coverage, and expanding our reach within Philadelphia’s media ecosystem. We Talk Weekly has joined the WHYY N.I.C.E. program. We plan to work more closely with N.I.C.E. and fellow program members to better serve the community. We will be working with community advocacy groups to get footage of their involvement in the community and sharing that content with the world. We also plan to submit our documentaries and projects to film festivals to get more recognition of the work we are doing. We will be applying for grant funding to help us continue this work. We are always looking for opportunities to connect with other media entrepreneurs and companies who are doing the same work.