After months of conversations and planning, the Knight x LMA BloomLab: Sustainability for Black Locally Owned & Operated Media was announced in late February, with $3.2 million in funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to cover the first three years of Lab effort.
In the BloomLab, key leaders of 26 Black-owned local media outlets will immerse in technology and business transformation work intended to advance the organizations on a path to long-term sustainability and financial independence.
The 26 outlets will each receive a technology stipend of $50,000, along with consulting and training from Lab directors and other subject-matter experts to accomplish key business objectives starting with those funds.
The Lab’s three full-time directors will work with the publishers in small groups and one-on-one. The entire Local Media Association/Local Media Foundation team will also be involved in the BloomLab as subject-matter experts in areas such as reader revenue, branded content, philanthropic funding and more.
“Sustainability for publishers of color has been one of our core pillars since 2018,” said Nancy Lane, CEO of LMA/LMF. “Since then, we have worked with dozens of publishers to drive revenue and audience growth through programs such as the Digital Transformation Lab for Publishers of Color, the branded content BIPOC boot camp and the launch of Word In Black. This lab takes all of these efforts to a whole new level. It will truly be game changing for the 26 publishers. We are very grateful to the Knight Foundation for funding this important work.”
When LMA/LMF executives began discussions with the Journalism Program team at Knight Foundation about this wide-ranging initiative, everyone quickly agreed the Lab needed some of the most capable, experienced and innovative specialists in media as dedicated leaders. Fortunately, the Lab will launch with three such experts.
Apryl Pilolli joins the Lab as technology director, coming from a role as head of innovation for Social News Desk. Robert Walker-Smith, most recently general sales manager for Beasley Media Group, joins the Lab as digital revenue director. And the Lab’s program director, John Celestand, most recently was the director of engagement for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
The directors will work closely with the LMA/LMF co-leads for the BloomLab, Andrew Ramsammy and Jay Small. Ramsammy is the chief content and collaboration officer, and Small is the chief operating officer.
“I couldn’t think of a better team to be leading off this inaugural initiative. The combined leadership of Apryl, Robert, and John came with a level of excitement that had some publishers already in cohort one of the Lab jump for joy” Ramsammy said. “Each of them brings years of experience, leadership, and impact to this program at a time when access to resources for Black publishers is paramount. We’re anticipating great things coming from this team and our publishers stand ready to receive them.”
Here’s a bit more about the Lab’s new directors:
Apryl Pilolli is a neurodivergent content and marketing expert who started at age 16 in the local media industry. Her career has included serving as the director of innovation at Social News Desk; numerous product roles in sales, content and marketing at Cox Media Group; and serving as an industry consultant, technology investor and on-air entertainment journalist. She has won numerous awards from The Associated Press and American Advertising Federation.
“I am thrilled to be a part of this lab. It is an incredible opportunity to support and nurture a fantastic community of local media brands. Throughout my career in media, I have embraced technology and focused on building solutions to support all aspects of broadcasting and publishing. My goal is to bring those varied experiences to the table to learn how we can grow audience, profitability, and sustainability for this group.”
Robert Walker-Smith is an accomplished sales executive with a strong background in audio, digital and print solutions. He previously served as general sales manager for Beasley Media Group, where he managed sales teams to drive revenue growth across audio, digital, events and social in Central and Coastal Carolina; and digital sales manager for Urban One, where he was managed sales teams in Charlotte and Raleigh to drive double-digit digital revenue growth and new business acquisition. He also served with Thryv, Vivial and Haines Local Search.
“First, let me say thank you to the leadership team at LMA for the opportunity to join the team at this important moment. With sustainability of publishers of color as one of the four strategic pillars, I am very excited about the formation of the BLOOM Lab that focuses on digital revenue growth as a key strategy for long-term success. As someone who has worked in traditional media spaces (audio & print) to drive digital revenue strategies and growth, I welcome the opportunity to work with each lab participant to assess and identify digital revenue streams that creates sustainability for their respective organizations. I expect our collective work will serve as a basis to develop a blueprint that can be replicated by other publishers.”
Before joining Local Media Association, John Celestand was the director of engagement at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in Washington, D.C., where he oversaw community engagement initiatives. John led a cohort of 11 public media stations that participated in the American Graduate Initiative, public media’s long-term commitment to help young people succeed in school, career, and life. He also managed 15 stations participating in CPB’s Coming Home Collaboration, an initiative that provided grant funding, resources, and training to rural public media television and radio stations. Previously, he was a program manager at Goodwill Industries International in Rockville, Maryland, where he oversaw a group of Goodwill sites participating in the Careers in Technology program, which assisted young adults with training and career advancement in the information technology field. John was a member of the 2000 Los Angeles Lakers NBA Championship team, playing alongside Shaquille O’Neal and the late, great Kobe Bryant, in addition to Derek Fisher, Rick Fox, Rob Horry, and Tyron Lue. He was coached by legendary Basketball Hall of Fame Coach Phil Jackson.
“I am so excited to join the Team Knight x LMA BloomLab! To be African-American and participate in an initiative that helps support and advance black-owned local news organizations gives me a sense of pride. To know that I can be part of a mission to help stimulate meaningful change for black-owned publishers and the communities they serve is inspiring. My goals are to foster community engagement, increase readership, build revenue, promote collaboration and help the participating publishers share learnings.”
About Local Media Association / Local Media Foundation
Local Media Association brings all media together to share, network, collaborate and more. More than 3,000 newspapers, TV stations, radio stations, digital-only publications, and research and development partners engage with LMA as members or constituents of our programs. As a 501(c)(6) trade association, LMA is focused on the business side of local media. Its programs and labs focus on revenue growth and new business models. LMA helps local media companies develop their strategies via cutting-edge programs, conferences, webinars, research and training.
Local Media Foundation serves as the innovation and transformation affiliate of LMA. Incorporating our four strategic pillars — business transformation, journalism funded by philanthropy, industry collaboration, and sustainability for publishers of color — LMF helps provide local media companies the strategies and resources for meaningful innovation and impactful journalism projects.
About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
We are social investors who support democracy by funding free expression and journalism, arts and culture in community, research in areas of media and democracy, and in the success of American cities and towns where the Knight brothers once had newspapers. Learn more at kf.org and follow @knightfdn on social media.