The racial calculation in the news industry that grew stronger in 2020 continues. While some news outlets have investigated and apologized for their racist and dangerous coverage, others continue to grope the ball and keep the promises they made last summer.
But a global pandemic, a falsely contested election and an insurgency have made it clear that the public cannot afford to wait for the news industry to get its act together. At the same time, the dynamic landscape of community media, which are equipped to cope with this moment, has taken a hit during the economic downturn.
S. Mitra Kalita, the former head of digital programming for CNN and a 2021 Nieman Visiting Fellow, and Sara Lomax-Reese, the president and CEO of WURD Radio, the only black-owned talk radio station in Pennsylvania, knew the news industry’s problems would not be solved by a few random diversity initiatives.
Kalita and Lomax-Reese met a few years ago at the Newsgeist conference and have become friends. In 2020, after the murder of George Floyd, they knew they wanted to work on a project together.
“A lot of the mainstream media organizations run by white people were really blowing their noses at the time,” Lomax-Reese said. “There has been this cascade of mainstream media organizations called out for their racist practices by their own journalists and communities. It was just a snowball. We started talking and thought there had to be something we could do collectively and collaboratively, to talk about this moment in a different way.
We come at a pivotal moment in American and world history. We don’t want the next 4 years to be like the last 4 or 400. https://t.co/BJindjTB7N
– S. Mitra Kalita (@mitrakalita) January 25, 2021
They decided to found URL Media, a “decentralized and multiplatform network of high performing black and brown media organizations”. (The URL stands for “uplift, respect, love.” Instead of creating media from scratch, Kalita and Lomax-Reese wanted to give more support to existing media that is often overlooked. They want to help community media develop. their work, reach more audiences and increase their sources of income.
URL Media launched last week with eight inaugural partners, including Lomax-Reese’s WURD and Epicenter-NYC, a weekly newsletter that Kalita has started to inform residents of her neighborhood of Jackson Heights, Queens. The other members are Documented, which covers immigration to New York; Scalawag, which covers movement, dissent and community in the South; The Haitian Times, which covers Haiti and Haitian news from across the diaspora; TBN 24, a Bengali-language television channel for Bangladeshi communities in North America; ScrollStack, an online publishing platform that supports multiple languages and currencies; and Palabra, a site run by independent members of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
While the details are still being worked out, the overall goal of URL Media is to distribute and support content from these outlets through social media, newsletters and partners’ own platforms. to develop their audience. URL Media will also help secure advertising, sponsorship, and syndication and partnership agreements. The benefits of these initiatives will be shared with the members of the network.
These outlets serve highly engaged populations who lack sufficient coverage in mainstream news. Audience engagement has become a major focus for mainstream media organizations over the past few years, said Kalita, but members of the URL Media network have relied on community feedback and must guide their mission since their inception. .
“In creating this network, it has been a privilege to understand what these outlets represent within their communities and how they operate,” said Kalita. “In some ways, this journalism is not what the mainstream media want. But that’s the definition of excellence in media engagement.
The convening of community media is not a new idea. Kalita and Lomax-Reese pointed out that they are “stepping into a flowing river” and include BlackPressUSA, a black news wire produced by the National Newspapers Publishers Association and Howard University, the Jewish News Syndicate; and the Center for Community Media at CUNY’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism.
What makes URL Media different, said Kalita and Lomax-Reese, is how it will leverage technology to improve distribution, amplify stories and generate revenue for participating outlets. During the first few months, they will focus on understanding the individual needs of each member of the network and refine the distribution and sharing of content. They will also develop syndications and partnerships. Ultimately, the mainstream media will be able to pay to repost articles from the network and work with them on reporting projects.
“In a capitalist society like America, you have to have money. Money has to be part of the equation for there to be a way to start leveling the playing field, ”said Lomax-Reese. “An important part of our model is that we want to be able to be revenue additive to network partners. We are not saying that we will become their main source of income. All of these organizations are very successful. They already have great content, they have an audience, they have an income. We want to be part of the return of income to partners through this network. “
This is why it was important for them to start as a for-profit organization. Kalita and Lomax-Reese are aware of the racial wealth gap, and the way to help bridge it is to generate a profit on the job.
“I don’t want the coverage we cover of our partner organizations, which are a mix of nonprofit and for-profit organizations, to have to be in the realm of charity,” Kalita said. “Because it is holding us back. This is part of the problem with media coverage and the mainstream media. The stories about some communities are always from the perspective of that community being subject. “
However, they plan to start a nonprofit branch that will raise dollars through fundraising and grants. Many news organizations operate this way, Kalita said, but being defined only as a nonprofit would limit URL Media’s overall mission.
“It is high time for a radical and radically different approach to diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Lomax-Reese. “In the place of [a mission] centered on diversifying white spaces, let’s create something that will actually help build and grow our voices on our own terms. And instead of always being hungry and barely making our own way – instead of having crumbs and being the partner in name only – we become centers of experimentation and leaders.