Ryan Sorrell, founder and executive editor of The Kansas City Defender, has been named an Innovator of the Year by Local Media Association for his leadership that has helped The Defender reach more than 50 million people and earn 60,000 social media followers since its launch in July of 2021. 

Each year, the Local Media News, Content and Audience Innovator of the Year award recognizes a high achiever in audience and platform development; and has the results to back it up.

Sorrell’s exceptional leadership in digital journalism and his pioneering spirit make him the most deserving candidate for this year’s award.

Since launching The Defender, Sorrell has shown remarkable innovation in local media. The Defender has built a substantial social media following across platforms like TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, making it one of the fastest-growing nonprofit news outlets in the country. The organization’s radically new approach, combining innovative social media tactics with its Community Survival Programs, has enabled it to build an audience of which more than 60% are between the ages of 13 and 30 years old. 

Sorrell’s deep understanding of the future of news and his expertise in reaching Black audiences through social media is truly unparalleled. He has shared his insights and best practices at numerous conferences, inspiring others in the industry to follow in his footsteps.

His impact in just two short years, including being nominated for Startup of the Year and Emerging Leader of the Year by INN and winning the Community Engagement Award from LION Publishers, is nothing short of remarkable.

In a time when local media is facing countless challenges, Sorrell’s innovative spirit and commitment to excellence make him a shining example for others to follow. His work has had a profound impact on both the national and local media landscape and paved the way for a brighter future for all.

Our judges said this about Ryan’s nomination: “Ryan’s unwavering commitment to delivering quality news to the Black community, particularly Gen Z, has made him a thought leader in the industry.” This award salutes his “exceptional leadership in digital journalism and his pioneering spirit.”       

“I am deeply honored and grateful to receive the Innovator of the Year award from the Local Media Association,” Sorrell said. “This recognition is a testament to our radical approach in redefining news and journalism for the digital era, while upholding our Abolitionist principles. By pushing boundaries, challenging racist journalistic traditions and practices, embracing experimentation, and prioritizing engagement with BIPOC and Gen Z audiences, we aim to create a more inclusive and impactful media landscape. The urgency for innovation and connection with Black and young communities has never been greater, and The Defender is privileged to play a role, no matter how small, in shaping the future of media.”

This award is sponsored by United Robots: unitedrobots.ai