If there’s one thing that Philadelphia is not described as, it is a media desert. Some people have gone so far as to describe it as a media jungle. But gaps in coverage, perspectives, and service exist once you zoom in deeper, past the canopy of what a passing satellite might see. And significantly, some communities have been harmed by years of local media coverage that has underserved them, and they often feel lost while pursuing that service. So I learned when I attended the Lenfest Reimagining Philadelphia Journalism Summit (#ReimaginePHLJournalism).

Though I was invited to share what we’ve learned launching Word In Black as a digital-only national news startup, I was eager to hear for myself what I thought I knew about the Philadelphia landscape from those on the ground — reimaging what journalism could look like with a continued sense of urgency, but also ringing the bell that democracy is in peril.

Tweets from the Lenfest conference.

Sitting next to the other panelists — Mitra Kalita and Sara Lomax-Reese of URL Media and Jos Duncan Asé of Love Now Media — one couldn’t get a better picture of journalism and media. Mitra is a former CNNer who left just before the pandemic to co-found her idea of community-centered and service journalism alongside the second-generation owner of WURD radio. They’ve now built up not only a network of like-minded Black and Brown audiences but also a business that leverages its own value chain to help media companies recruit and change the culture from within. That collaborative fruit financially sustains URL as it continues to expand on its media journey.

And for Jos Duncan Asé of Love Now Media, her realization came during successive uprisings after the #MeToo movement and America’s reawakening on race. While protestors’ fists were raised in the air, she noticed, more importantly, that hands were being held together across communities. Thus the creation of her idea; a place and space where local poets and journalists and are supported through training on multimedia storytelling, community engagement, storytelling workshops, publishing, and distribution.

Tweets from the Lenfest conference.

This discussion stemmed from a question: How does one set up a model that becomes sustainable? The path has distinct and unique characteristics for each of us, given each of our endeavors comes with its legacies and experiences steeped in deep journalism roots and heartfelt community storytelling.

And in the Venn diagram of overlapping priorities comes what we continue to see in our work at Local Media Association, as reflected in our four strategic pillars: business transformation, journalism funded by philanthropy, industry collaboration, and sustainability for publishers of color. The unifying thread is short and sweet: unity of purpose.

Our discussion wasn’t the only one during the two-day conference. As we all begin to return to these types of events, it’s important to truly listen to those on the frontlines, fighting to keep journalism alive while at the same time battling the forces that seek to divide us.

Tweets from the Lenfest conference.