The 17th annual Knight Media Forum, convened by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, gathered in Miami from February 20th to 22nd, 2024. Over three days, seven panels, and eight breakout session offerings, hundreds of journalism practitioners and funders underscored the value of local journalism to a functioning, multiracial democracy and explored critical steps to support and sustain our information ecosystem. The assembly was attended virtually and in-person by the Racial Equity in Journalism team: Alicia Bell, DaLyah Jones, Jessica Nguyen, Manami Kano, Keiona Williamson and Alexa Williams, and several of our grantee and donor partners.

In the opening plenary session moderated by Graciela Mochkofsky, Alicia Bell, Director of the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund, joined S. Mitra Kalita of Epicenter-NYC and URL Media, and John Palfrey of the MacArthur Foundation to distill what it means to empower local journalism in this current moment and beyond. Paving a path forward by resourcing trusted and proximate information sources is “a really good recipe for improving our democracy,” said John Palfrey . 

As the philanthropic formula slowly shifts towards protecting the vital institutions of information sharing, S. Mitra Kalita, “hope[s] this moment is forcing [newsrooms] to redefine ourselves in service to our audiences.” Kalita, invigorated by the shift, emphasized belief, trust, and risk as the essential qualities of the funders that keep the doors open. 

This year’s Forum wrestled deeply with the responsibility of funders to honor the powerful legacies of BIPOC  journalism and to redress historical harm and inequities. “One of the things that we know is that BIPOC journalism is a beacon of financial sustainability, legislative sustainability, and social sustainability,” Alicia Bell remarked. The surge of racial justice dollars has slowed, and in some respects, altogether halted, since the uprisings sparked by the murder of George Floyd, and the already tenuous trust between communities of color and the funders who proclaimed allyship four years ago is quickly fraying. REJ’s focus on news organizations led by and serving communities of color, particularly those boxed out of larger media markets, is sharper than ever. 

Graciela Mochkofsky, John Palfrey of the MacArthur Foundation, S. Mitra Kalita of Epicenter-NYC and URL Media, and Alicia Bell.

Maribel Pérez Wadsworth, The Knight Foundation’s new president and CEO, and John Palfrey announced the tripling of local Press Forward chapters across the country and shared an encouraging forecast for the $500 million local journalism investment initiative helmed by the Foundation. Pérez Wadsworth urged funders and news leaders alike to reach some conclusions about what efforts they can support “to help ensure the reliable flow of information that allows democracy to flourish and communities to thrive.” 

Later in the gathering, in a panel discussion on AI-powered futures in Detroit, Michigan, Cézanne Charles of rootoftwo spoke to the profound consequences of “under imagined futures” given the breakneck pace of technological metamorphoses. Echoing another of the gathering’s themes – the changing pace of information and industry – Charles added, “it’s not just about skilling up for today or tomorrow, but it is about investing in the creative capacity of people.” 

Cézanne Charles of rootoftwo.

We found ourselves heartened by how front and center folks of color and community were at this year’s Knight Media Forum. Inspired by the progressive energy and honest representation on the stage and in the audience and also reminded of the necessity and power of rooted intermediaries, we convened with our grantee partners for an afternoon meetup on the last day of the conference. The conversation stoked excitement about cultivating a multiracial BIPOC journalism affinity space and network, a mantle REJ has carried informally since its founding. 

REJ Senior Program Associate Jessica Nguyen, Consultant Manami Kano, Program Officer DaLyah Jones, Program Director Alicia Bell, Consultant Keiona Williamson.

We understand that honoring the depth and breadth of the steadfast innovation and dutiful dedication our grantee and donor partners bring to the table is a costly and worthwhile endeavor. The exigency and extent of our reparative mission must be primary in how funders allocate resources, abundantly and boldly.