Leaders from the second cohort of the Knight x LMA BloomLab are continuing the legacy of the Black press through their storytelling, community-building and digital evolution. With support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the media companies are immersed in coaching focused on technology upgrades, business transformation consulting and shared learning opportunities.
We asked participants from the BloomLab cohort to share more about their experiences as leaders at Black locally owned and operated media companies, and how they meet the challenges of diversifying revenue streams and growing new audiences.
What is one major challenge facing local news publishers, and how is your news organization getting ahead of it?
Paulette Brown-Hinds, publisher, Black Voice News: “One major challenge facing all news publishers, and especially legacy news publishers, is diversifying revenue and attempting to find more sustainable revenue strategies to support the great journalism the newsroom is producing. For our audience and revenue team at the Black Voice News, that has meant adding grant, donor, and member revenue to our advertising and educational offerings. We’re doing well, but we have more work to do to replace print advertising dollars that we know will never be returning. We landed our first branded content project. So we’re excited about that. We have doubled our list of donors since 2021. So we are looking at building a team to cultivate and grow that part of our business. …”
Walter L. White, publisher, The Cincinnati Herald: “Keeping up with the current newsroom technology. The way the Herald staff is getting ahead of this issue is being involved in tech training. We’re working with BloomLab towards getting a new website [Newspack] up and running by June 2023.”
Mollie Finch Belt, CEO, The Dallas Examiner: “Sufficient revenue to provide pertinent news coverage and information to the community and what it needs to be a healthy city, i.e. in-depth articles on health, education, business, finances, etc.”
Paris Brown, associate publisher, The Baltimore Times: “The major challenge facing The Baltimore Times is the thought that print is going away. While it has its challenges, it is not going away … The print population is a different reader than digital. The totality of our audience consists of both print and digital. … Educating advertisers and agencies about the digital divide has been and is currently a challenge. … ”
What attributes must leaders in business, media and journalism have to be successful in the industry? Do you have any advice for other media executives?
Walter L. White: “Stay calm during downturns. Never fear the worst; keep working towards your yearly goal. Make changes to your plans only if you feel the plan needs to be changed.”
Kurt Oswald, publisher, The Community VOICE: “Know your audience and fulfill their news and information needs.”
Paulette Brown-Hinds: “I believe the most important attribute for any business leader today is adaptability. Technology is continuing to accelerate all aspects of our lives. We will continue to see the disruption of entire industries. And then disruptions of the disruptions. It is important that as leaders we remain agile and adaptable.”
Candice Mays, project director, Black Voice News / Mapping Black California: “They must be nimble, willing to learn, and willing to make big changes. Do the research, plan out a course of action, and then, take the leap.”
What are your thoughts on the role of the Black press in America – both historically and in 2023? How does this impact your work?
Charity C. Chukwu, social media editor, The Dallas Examiner: “I think it is important to have people from our communities tell our stories in compelling ways. So often we see nation news sources reporting on the Black community in a lens that is not reflective of our lived experience. The Black press have gained trust in our often neglected neighborhoods because we bring issues to light that would otherwise be written off to larger networks and publishers. We also show the best of the African American community and give information on resources to help and build within it.”
Glenn Burkins, publisher, QCity Metro: “With the death of George Floyd, it seems America (including the mainstream media) has awakened to the realization that our nation has a race problem. Suddenly, it’s cool — and somewhat profitable — to have reporters assigned to cover “disadvantaged communities.” … As Black publishers, covering Black communities is our raison d’être. We will still be doing the work when the others are gone.”
What excites you about the future of Black locally owned and operated media?
Paris Brown: “We are excited about the future of Black locally owned and operated media because it allows us to control our platforms, to share with ‘our community, our stories told our way.’ It is unfiltered and unbiased. It is “our truth” about how we live and how we support each other. We get excited about sharing stories about how local community residents (whether adults or children) and organizations impact their communities in large ways. We enjoy sharing these stories; we believe that “these residents and/or organizations” can be models for nationwide sustainable change and transformation. Local stories are national and global stories—shared Black experience of arts, history, culture and community.”
Glenn Burkins: “What excites me most are the growing number of opportunities like BloomLab. The Black Press needs training. We know how to cover our communities, but being good journalists is no longer enough. The industry is constantly evolving, and we must keep up. Which brings me to my second point: I’m also excited that some funders are starting to understand that we need unrestricted grant dollars. I wish more funders realized this.”
Mollie Finch Belt: “Black locally owned and operated media covers local news that is relevant to Blacks and about Blacks. It is unfiltered. Moreover, due to modern technology, the Black press has limitless possibilities.”
Paulette Brown-Hinds: “I’m excited that the Black press and Black media is still here almost 200 years later, authentically and unapologetically telling the important stories of our communities. I am excited that some of us are embracing new technologies to better inform our communities. And I’m excited to be part of so many organizations — like Local Media Association’s Bloom Lab — that I believe are improving the sector, helping us transform of our business models so we can be here for another 50 years.”