Alicia Bell was hired to lead the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund at Borealis Philanthropy in October 2021, with a goal to distribute resources, lead with compassion, and help build a fairer media industry that serves audiences made up of people of color.
Prior to joining Borealis Philanthropy, Bell worked at the intersection of media and organizing at Free Press for five years, starting as an organizing manager and later founding Media 2070, an initiative to open access to capital for media makers of color.
With four simple questions, we’re asking industry movers and shakers including Bell to share reflections on 2021 and what they are excited about in the year to come.
What is something you were wrong about in 2021?
When Joe Biden was elected president, one of the opportunities that peeked its head out was the ability to do some transformational work regarding the Federal Communications Commission. He’d have a chance to nominate a chair for the FCC and if it was someone who currently sat on the commission, another commissioner. I thought that surely these people would be in place and moving forward the work of the FCC in 2021. Working on media reparations, a new FCC could mean setting in motion a racial equity audit; many had their eyes on what it would mean for net neutrality and broadband access, etc. These issues co-construct the container and conditions that either allow or disallow strong journalism to flourish and reach the communities it needs to.
Instead, I was wrong and the nominations were made Oct. 26. … Jessica Rosenworcel [was confirmed by the Senate Dec. 7] and Gigi Sohn [has] yet to be confirmed, which means that much of the work the FCC can do to co-create a media system where we all thrive is delayed.
What is something you or your company got right or did well this year?
Earlier this year, in partnership with Jenny Choi, [program director, Media Democracy Fund], Roxann Stafford, [managing director, Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund], Mazin Sidahmed, [co-executive director, Documented], and [journalist] Carla Murphy and, on behalf of the Media 2070 team, I helped co-curate strategic visioning conversations about the future journalism culture and economy we need.
In our visions around a future economy, some of the future headlines created included: “The streets are talking for all of us: How mutual aid changed the journalism game,” “Newsroom ownership and leadership finally mirrors the national makeup,” and “Thousands of Black-led community news media organizations exist.”
Now I’m directing the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund at Borealis Philanthropy and I, alongside the folks I’ve been organizing with for a while and people I’m just now meeting, have the chance to help get us closer to some of those future headlines being made real. Staying on the path of making those headlines real will forever be the right move.
What is one opportunity you’re excited about for next year?
Next year will be the first year that the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund has had a dedicated director, program officer, and program associate. Building upon the foundation that folks like Tracie Powell, [founder, The Pivot Fund], Manami Kano [philanthropic advisor and consultant], Angilee Shah, [editor-in-chief, Charlottesville Tomorrow], and so many others have co-created, I’m so excited for the capacity, partnership, and possibilities that growth unlocks. I’m looking forward to the ways we’re able to grow and transform with funders, news organizations, and all of the folks working to transform the structural conditions of media to make it easier for BIPOC media to exist and thrive.
What do you think will be the most significant change to the local media industry in the next 1-3 years?
In the next 1-3 years, we’ll be more clear about who’s really with us on this spaceship to a transformative, community-rooted media free of anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, and xenophobia. Not everyone who’s said they’ll be boarding the spaceship will be there. For some, ego and attachment to the status quo will get in the way. But with the clarity that their choices creates, those of us moving toward a sustainable local media will have strengthened relationships, trust, and creative power to model what’s possible and move toward a local journalism ecosystem that’s just so juicy no one would even want to resist.