Last month, over 150 Black, Indigenous, Asian, Middle Eastern, and Latine journalists, publishers, and media leaders came together on a virtual webinar, co-hosted by the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund and Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, with leading funders of the $500 million Press Forward local news initiative.

Press Forward is a coalition of funders organizing and mobilizing philanthropy to invest in “a local news renaissance that will reshape the local news landscape and re-center local journalism as a force for community cohesion, civic participation, and government accountability.” 

BIPOC journalists have long known that efforts to reshape local news must include BIPOC communities to catalyze change and ensure any semblance of journalistic sustainability. As such, publishers and funders touched on essential questions around collaboration, metrics aimed at BIPOC media organizations, balanced funding opportunities, and funder accountability. In the end, if nothing else, funders and practitioners agreed that to have a multi-racial democracy, we also need a hearty, thick, and robust BIPOC journalism sector. 

It’s no small feat for folks across the philanthropy and journalism sector who’ve never met before to agree in under 90 minutes. So, how did we get to that point last month?

Angel Ellis, director of Mvskoke Media and the first querist, spoke about how collaboration bolstered small media organizations in Oklahoma and alleviated the workload for many of them. She asked funders whether they plan to prioritize efforts to fund BIPOC media organizations working in collaboration. 

Funders like Jim Brady, Vice President of Journalism at the Knight Foundation, said, “The day of independent organizations doing their own thing and not collaborating with anyone is over.” Funder respondents also mentioned that funding collaborative efforts is attractive.

Mazin Sidahmed of Documented asked how funders planned to assess the success of Press Forward. He continued this question by asking about their plans to shape metrics, specifically for BIPOC media organizations, to ensure reduced harm and accuracy.  

“…We have the unique opportunity as we’re bringing [new funders] into these conversations to help them understand how to evaluate organizations in the most proper way,” said Lolly Bowean, Program Officer with the Creativity and Free Expression team at the Ford Foundation. “We can shape how they evaluate early on so we can stop some of the bad habits…” 

While this Q&A was happening live, Kathy Im of the MacArthur Foundation, Angelica Das of the Democracy Fund, and Jenny Montoya Tansey of the Skyline Foundation engaged actively in the open Q&A session via chat, addressing numerous queries from the community.

As our time together continued, MLK50’s Wendi Thomas asked respondents if they would consider a reparative approach to funding in low-wealth areas to address the inequitable access to philanthropy across geographies.

Palfrey mentioned that the fund wants to employ a “reparative style approach.” 

“Help us see what we’re not seeing,” said Bowean, asking publishers on the call to hold funders accountable to avoid replicating past funder mistakes. 

During the last portion of the event, Media 2070’s Joseph Torres asked if funders had considered the historical problem that news institutions have played in upholding anti-Blackness and racial hierarchies. He questioned whether multi-racial democracy is achievable without a robust and well-resourced BIPOC media ecosystem. 

And that brings us back to where we began: any media ecosystem capable of shouldering full multi-racial democracy has to include robust BIPOC media, and the granting for Press Forward needs to reflect that. 

There are still more questions than definitive answers regarding Press Forward and the relationships between foundation staff, individual donors, and the BIPOC journalism ecosystem. This webinar was an opening that marks the beginning of what we hope will be a series of fruitful conversations between Press Forward stakeholders and BIPOC-led and serving journalism practitioners.

We know that power is relational, so if we hope to amplify, catalyze, and multiply the power of our news and information infrastructure, our organizations, and, ultimately, the power of our communities, we’ll have to grow the relationships that make it so.