Driving sustainability for Black-owned local media through technology, business transformation

BloomLab on social media

Technology is a roadblock for many local media companies as they work to transform to a digital future. The Knight x LMA BloomLab tackles that obstacle head-on during a three-year immersive experience with 26 Black-owned local media outlets, with funding of $3.2 million from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The publications will receive technology grants of $50,000, with additional funding expected to increase those amounts. 

The Knight x LMA BloomLab is an extension of LMA’s Digital Transformation Lab for Black publishers that launched in early 2019. That lab helped drive digital revenue and audience growth, along with new product launches such as newsletters, for five Black publishers. 

The lab includes three full-time dedicated staff members who work with the publishers every day. 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. 

The lab started with the 10 publishers that make up Word In Black, including The Atlanta Voice, New York Amsterdam News, Houston Defender, Washington Informer, St. Louis American, AFRO News, Seattle Medium, Sacramento Observer, Michigan Chronicle and Dallas Weekly. Two other cohorts of eight publications each have since joined the lab.

Additional funding is expected, allowing us to increase the technology stipends, provide additional consulting and subject-matter expertise, and add more cohorts of Black-owned local media organizations. Interested funders should contact Nancy Lane, LMA/LMF CEO, at nancy.lane@localmedia.org.

Lab focus areas:

  • Technology upgrades: Identify and implement technologies to accelerate publishers’ local business transformations. The Lab team will work with the individual publishers to vet local needs and technology projects; negotiate with providers; approve and distribute stipends; and assist with implementation, onboarding and optimization.
  • Business transformation consulting: The Lab team will provide one-on-one and group consulting and training, including digital revenue and product strategies for newsletters, memberships, branded content, events, philanthropic funding, advertising and marketing services. The Lab team will serve as an extension of each publisher’s staff and will provide onsite training and implementation of new technology. 
  • Shared learning opportunities: The Lab will provide outside expertise on relevant subjects as well in-person experiences.

Sonny Messiah Jiles

“The LMA Digital Transformation Lab [2018-2020] introduced me to a whole new world of digital strategies, tactics, resources, and tools. The hands-on customized training recognized my limitations yet challenged me to experiment and embrace new technology taking calculated risks.  The result was the construction of a new Defender on multiple platforms providing better service to our readers, advertisers, and community. With the Knight x LMA BloomLab, we can invest in the infrastructure necessary to help train our staff, purchase new equipment, and fine-tune our strategies ensuring our sustainability.”

Sonny Messiah Jiles, CEO and Publisher, Defender Media Group, Houston

The Knight x LMA BloomLab team

Dedicated lab directors

Robert Walker-Smith
Digital Revenue Director

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.

Apryl Pilolli

Apryl Pilolli
Technology Director

Apryl Pilolli is a neurodivergent technology, 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.

John Celestand
Program Director

John Celestand, former NBA champion, brings a wide range of experience including journalism, public broadcasting, program management, community engagement, business development and much more. He previously was the director of engagement at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in Washington, D.C., where he oversaw community engagement initiatives. He led a cohort of 11 public media stations that participated in the American Graduate Initiative, whose long-term commitment is to help young people succeed in school, career, and life. He also managed 15 stations participating in CPB’s Coming Home Collaboration, which provided grant funding, resources, and training to rural public media television and radio stations.

Supporting LMA leaders

Jay Small

Jay Small
Chief Operating Officer

Nancy Lane

Nancy Lane
Chief Executive Officer

Peter Lamb

Peter Lamb
Strategy and Revenue Consultant

Julia Campbell

Julia Campbell
Chief Business Transformation Officer

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