Institutional racism impacts every facet of our society, and the news industry is not immune.  

Establishing diverse and equitable newsrooms is essential to building a sustainable future for local journalism. It’s also critical that our industry recognizes the inequities in the way journalism — especially local journalism — is funded. The past few months have served as a reminder that there is an immense amount of work to be done to reach equitable solutions within news organizations throughout the United States. 

On July 16, the News Philanthropy Network, a community of practice supporting development professionals in journalism, held an open discussion on race and equity in regards to news fundraising and philanthropy. The virtual conversation was led by Sharon Chan, VP of philanthropy at The New York Times, Candice Fortman, executive director at Outlier Media, and Karen Rundlet, director of journalism at Knight Foundation. The discussion focused on identifying gaps and proposing solutions for a collective path forward. 

You can watch a full recording of the conversation here

Here are five main takeaways from this conversation:

1. Recognize inequities and historic failings

News organizations and funders must engage in honest conversations about how their work has impacted marginalized communities. It is time to consider how journalism may have harmed communities of color in the past and the role that philanthropy played in perpetuating these systems.

Fortman explained how Outlier Media’s mission and model is designed to address the challenge of inequality in Detroit and to focus on underserved news audiences. Much of Outlier’s work includes calling out the systems – such as Detroit’s tax foreclosure system — that perpetuate inequality. Outlier’s work is essential, but it also limits who Fortman said she’d feel comfortable accepting funding from. As an example, many potential donors work in the housing industry that is burdening Outlier’s readership. 

“If I am trying to ensure that we remain true to our mission, that also means that there are some folks and some funds that we will have to not take in order for us to be on target with our mission,” Fortman said. “Outlier shouldn’t exist if we can’t be true to the mission of it.” 

2. Empower leaders and grow networks

Organizations must proactively diversify and empower the voices of those throughout their organizations, but especially at the leadership level. We must consider diverse perspectives and acknowledge who holds the power while having meaningful conversations and increasing access to capital. 

Fortman shared a story about securing her first major donor gift from an individual funder that she did not know. This individual had heard Sarah Alvarez, Outlier Media’s founder and executive editor, speak on “The View from Somewhere” podcast and wanted to support the organization’s mission even though they didn’t have a connection to Detroit. 

Fortman immediately followed up with this individual, and they’re now having conversations about how they can continue to support Outlier and introduce Fortman to other contacts. 

Expanding the decision-making network, having a more inclusive room, and examining who is participating in key conversations will help make organizations more equitable.  

3. Funders can drive change

Funders can use their resources to drive change based on how they interact with their grantees as well as in how they invest their funds. 

Requiring demographic data about the diversity of the board, leadership, staff, and members of an organization as part of the funding process can be a catalyst for change for a grantee. 

Chan said that she has noticed an increase in collection of data among organizations.

“I remember six years ago I got a diversity demographic survey from one foundation,” Chan said. “Now I see surveys that go even deeper than race, asking about gender identity, too.” 

How funders invest their resources can also make a difference. Rundlet shared that Knight Foundation has focused on ensuring its asset management investments are more representative of the diversity it aims to support. 

“There’s a  story our CEO tells about looking for the data, trying to see how many women-led and POC-led organizations we had invested in,” Rundlet said. “He was handed a stat for a speech, and it was a number that was low, and then, under his leadership, we started to make considerable change,” Rundlet said.

Knight Foundation has worked to diversify fund managers. It published a study in February 2020 that analyzed $63.95 billion in investment assets for 26 of the 50 largest foundations in the United States. The study found that 10.7% of those funds are invested with women-owned firms and 9.3% is invested with BIPOC-owned firms.

Funders have a responsibility to ensure that their resources are supporting women and BIPOC leaders, who have traditionally been left out of the journalism ecosystem.

4. Be an ally

It is important to note the steps that individuals can take as allies to support our BIPOC colleagues and organizations that serve historically marginalized communities. 

Organizations and individuals often want to be part of the solution, but in many cases they need direction. It shouldn’t always fall to people of color to initiate these discussions. 

If you are someone who can provide this direction and connect with others, please invite people in and show them what this change in the system looks like.

“Be willing to be that person, whether you represent the community that’s at risk or not, because sometimes that’s how you show up as both an ally and as an advocate to amplify other people’s voices,” said attendee Deidra Parrish Williams, Report for America’s manager of local sustainability and development. 

5. The time to start is now

Local journalism matters now more than ever. 

Rundlet emphasized the essential public health role that journalists are playing as communities continue to fight the pandemic. Journalists have worked to provide actionable information to their communities about navigating unemployment, food insecurity, school reopenings, and more.

Philanthropy and fundraising help enable this critical work, and that can be a message that potentially resonates with funders — especially local funders who are committed to supporting the recovery in their community. 

“Short of a vaccine, accurate information is how we’re staying healthy right now,” Rundlet said. 

She continued: “There are so many problems that journalists were solving at the beginning of this crisis because good information was all there was to get you through it.” 

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