Pursing accountability while recognizing humanity: Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund announces support for URL Media

Scholar, activist, and author bell hooks once said, “For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?” 

Journalism can play an important role in helping us answer that prescient question as we navigate this unique time of re-invention and re-imagination. However, to be effective journalism also needs to examine its own relationship to accountability and humanity. 

This assessment is central to the work of URL Media, an organization exploring new ways to create journalism that is responsive to the needs of our communities. URL Media’s mission is embedded in its name. The goal of the new decentralized network of Black-and-Brown-owned media organizations is to Uplift, Respect, and Love [URL] the communities it serves. The inaugural URL Media network members committed to this goal are Documented, Scalawag, The Haitian Times, TBN24, Scroll Stack, Palabra, WURD Radio, and Epicenter NYC. URL Media and its partners share content as well as revenue across its growing network.

The Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund is supporting URL Media with a $100,000 grant to accelerate the network’s continued growth and expansion nationally and in Philadelphia. The Knight-Lenfest Fund is an independent joint venture of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and The Lenfest Institute for Journalism.

Created by Epicenter NYC founder S. Mitra Kalita and WURD Radio CEO Sara Lomax-Reese, URL Media is showcasing what is possible by empowering Black and Brown audiences with practical information and by placing an economic lens on racial and social justice issues oriented toward joy and enlightenment. At the same time, they are building new revenue models that are in line with their editorial values of centering community and ensuring equitable access to news and information. 

The Knight-Lenfest Fund grant will help URL Media build out new multi-platform experiences to encourage conversation and community. In addition, the funding will specifically build upon WURD Radio’s Lively-HOOD work and wealth initiative. Launched in 2019, Lively-HOOD was created to address the high unemployment and poverty rates in Philadelphia’s Black community by connecting WURD’s audiences to job opportunities, reskilling information, entrepreneurship resources, and financial literacy. This grant will allow URL to continue to tell these important Philadelphia stories while finding relevant storylines that can resonate nationally and be shared across URL’s diverse BIPOC-owned media network.   

Telling authentic stories that are grounded in service and solutions are at the heart of the URL Media collaboration. In the spirit of the relationship between accountability and humanity, WURD this week published a nuanced story, which expanded the conversation around Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating when enslaved people in Texas first learned about the Emancipation Proclamation. (President Joe Biden signed a law recognizing Juneteenth as a federal holiday yesterday.) With a focus on reconciliation, repair, and rights, WURD’s story, “Are You Ready for the Juneteenth Mattress Sale?,” reported how Black business owners in Philadelphia are demanding better: “Using hashtags and changing fonts doesn’t change anything if corporations don’t have Black executives in their boardrooms,” Justin Moore of Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books told URL Media. “Let’s make this about empowering Black communities and ending the inequalities that enslaved us.”

Additional coverage is also already being shared with URL Media’s partners. The network plans a series on reskilling and the post-pandemic economy, such as workers at higher risk for COVID looking for new jobs. Epicenter NYC will host a virtual event on immigrant small businesses, inspired by the documentary “The Donut King,” which tells the story of a Cambodian refugee who built a multi-million dollar doughnut chain. 

URL Media’s community-focused journalism fits the Knight-Lenfest Fund’s broader strategy. That strategy approaches journalism as mutual aid rooted in deep personal relationships that uplifts the lived experience of community members to address inequities, create a just world, and to position news and information as a vehicle for equity, justice, and solidarity. The Fund’s work is to support sustainable journalism that serves communities and meets information needs. 

Upliftment, Respect and Love don’t just extend to reporting, but also extends to journalism revenue models. To achieve this the Knight-Lenfest Fund seeks to help build revenue approaches that support journalists, news and information providers while enabling organizational sustainability with operational models that align with each organization’s values and mission. Because business and revenue models can reflect bias, it is important to examine and interrogate these models to ensure equitable access to capital and resources; as well as to ensure organizations are justly managed. URL Media assumes this role by generating revenue through philanthropy, sponsorships, advertising, and partnerships. The next step involves sharing those revenues with network members with an eye toward financial sustainability and diversification.

URL Media is actively building the future it wants to see. The Knight-Lenfest Fund is proud to be part of that journey to create a more equitable, just, and joyful journalism industry. 

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