The crisis in Black-owned media-and how to save it

In June, Sara Lomax-Reese told attendees as a keynote speaker of the annual Institute for Nonprofit News conference something that many people intuitively know, but don’t often crystalize into action:

“Black media—and my expertise is in Black media—is an endangered species. If there’s not a wholesale investment in reviving and supporting and providing resources to Black-owned media, it will go away.”

Lomax-Reese is President and CEO of Philadelphia’s WURD Radio, a REJ grantee. She’s been speaking up for Black-owned media for years; but recently, more people outside of Black Media have been listening.

As Lomax-Reese recognizes, the loss of Black-owned media is an unacceptable outcome of the systemic racism and economic turmoil that disproportionately affects BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color). In order for the landscape to change, systems must change—including funding. “There has to be a wholesale investment on all fronts—on the philanthropic front, the corporate front, the individual front—to try and right-size and to ameliorate this system that has really seen Black media, Black businesses and Black people as less than, as not a good investment.”

The for-profit model, she said, is critical to addressing the wealth gaps in the U.S. “Economic empowerment in a capitalist society is fundamental,” Lomax-Resse told INN’s audience of nonprofit news executives and journalists. (Watch the full talk here.)

Want to learn more from Sara Lomax-Reese and how to support Black-owned media? Here are three more appearances that are worth your time:

  • In a panel about Black media hosted by the Center for Community Media at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, Lomax-Reese talked about the critical role WURD and Black media has played in covering the movement for civil rights in Philadelphia, and also the breadth of the Black community. “We don’t have a traditional newsroom but our hosts are very engaged in the community on many different levels,” she said. They are activists, historians and people with expertise in politics and social justice. In two-way talk radio, the station centers the voices of young people in the streets and provides the community a platform to express their range of feelings. “This is our wheelhouse all the time,” Lomax-Reese said.

  • “I never thought I’d see the day where mainstream white-led news organizations were having really thoughtful and deep conversations about anti-Black racism,” said Lomax-Reese in the first episode of “Informed & Engaged” from the Knight Foundation. “It’s a little bit frustrating that there’s this, ‘Oh wow! We need to do something about this!’” Media organizations are just now coming to understand their role in systemic racism. They cannot repair the lack of trust from people of color, she said, because it was never there to begin with. “The ownership of a media organization matters.”

  • In an interview with the BBC  she explained the ways systemic issues have harmed Black-owned media: “There used to be this really powerful legacy of Black talk radio. There were absolutely way more African American talk stations, African American-owned stations in previous years.” Laws passed in 1996 led to many of these stations getting “gobbled up and kind of rolled into these massive, publicly-traded companies,” Lomax-Reese tells viewers.

REJ Program Officer Tracie Powell reports that the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund granted $2.4 million to 19 media organizations so far in 2020; 12 of them are Black-led. It’s a great start, but we can do more. Email Tracie if you want to know how to continue to grow the fund.

What REJ grant partners are doing

Congratulations to Tiffany Walden, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Triibe, for being named one of the Field Foundation’s 2020 Leaders for a New Chicago! Walden and other winners receive cash prizes for themselves and their organizations—and visibility for their work amongst those who might support it further. The Field Foundation citation says of Walden, “Within The TRiiBE, she is rewriting the rules of media & storytelling, proving that the makers can also be the owners.” Want to further support their work in Chicago? Visit The Triibe and see options for sponsorship, advertising and donations at the bottom of their homepage.

Check out the “Guía maestra de recursos para inmigrantes durante la pandemia” from Documented, which provides a list of vital New York pandemic-related services for immigrants in Spanish, and also informs this community via WhatsApp. This kind of work takes time and relationship-building, so you’ll also see ways to support the service on the guide’s homepage.

Mukhtar Ibrahim, editor and executive director of Sahan Journal, appeared on CNN to talk about what’s missing from the news narrative on the killing of George Floyd: “I think the human toll of this is something that I haven’t seen really being covered. The coverage tends to be a little bit disconnected from what people are feeling, their experiences, how they have been through this multiple times, how it’s affecting them, the trauma that this causes, including generational trauma. These kids, their parents, their grandparents, it’s something that has been going on for centuries. I think that hasn’t been explored enough.” Sahan Journal has been offering this kind of coverage in remarkable ways in 2020. Be sure to subscribe to their newsletter

NOISE founder Dawaune Hayes was highlighted by his alma mater Creighton University for his contributions to North Omaha’s civic life. “Our goal is to utilize modern-day journalism techniques and technologies to connect with the people and the community and create a platform rather than waiting for a journalist from the outside to come in and tell our stories for us,” he said. Support NOISE here.