rji insclusive media and economies project

 The new pilot project will help publishers of color tap into community development, development, revitalization and reinvestment funds and use those investments to test new revenue strategies and build more sustainable business models. 

The Community Voice is one of three minority news publications selected to participate in a new Inclusive Media and Economies Project sponsored by the Reynolds Journalism Initiative at the University of Missouri. For the pilot project, RJI is teaming up with Multicultural Media and Correspondents Association (MMCA) and Dynasty Consulting to help publishers of color tap into community development, revitalization and reinvestment funds, and then use those investments to test new revenue strategies and build more sustainable business models.

RJI will provide seed money and administrative support to the partnership, and MMCA and Dynasty will develop the engagement strategies and facilitate pilot projects with individual publishers.

The collaboration is built on the premise that publishers of color are catalysts for equitable community development and that a robust, resilient and diverse media ecosystem is as essential to a community’s well-being as affordable housing, reliable transportation and accessible capital.  Despite the important role minority media plays in their community, RJI found institutions they often turned to for funding critical infrastructure — banks, community development finance institutions (CDFIs), socially responsible businesses, and government agencies — largely ignored community media as an essential building block.

This pilot project is aimed at addressing this unmet need.

“Multicultural media have long played a critical role in the civic, social and economic health of communities,” said MMCA co-founder David Morgan. “They are connectors and conveners. They create jobs. They are trusted sources of relevant, actionable and often life-saving information for the very populations that community-centered financing was created to serve.

“By connecting the dots between community media and community development, we hope to create an entirely new funding source for media outlets serving communities of color, positioning them to advance a more inclusive narrative of the economy — and to compete in that economy.”

 “When you look at this project it’s hard not to see a virtuous cycle,” added Randy Picht, RJI’s executive director. “Funding that’s already earmarked to bolster opportunity and make a community stronger is used to revitalize an important community resource — a news organization — and that news organization uses the funding to improve its own infrastructure and build more capacity to better serve the community.”

Sustaining journalism that sustains communities

Recently, some philanthropic support for community media has become available, but the funding tends to be temporary, project-based or too small to justify the effort required to pursue it. “In many cases, it’s a distraction for what media outlets so desperately need: a sustainable business model and the capacity to implement it,” wrote Linda Miller, manager of RJI’s Inclusive Economies and Media Project.

A 2020 study by Transform Finance and the Ford Foundation found investors reluctant to invest in minority media citing an absence of a reliable revenue model for news media in general and a lack of business acumen, especially among early-stage media entrepreneurs. 

“It’s a cruel paradox: news outlets need capital to develop infrastructure and robust revenue strategies, yet investors are reluctant to provide it because media lack a strong business model,” wrote Miller.

This is one problem RJI, MMCA and Dynasty are working to address.

“It is nearly impossible to actualize a strategic growth plan without capital investment and people power. The strategies require planning, personnel, time commitment, creativity, and access to technology and resources which may not exist in a daily operational budget,” said David Beckford, Dynasty Consulting owner operator and advisor to more than 100 African American multi-media platforms including radio, print and OTT platforms.

“I think the best way to describe our approach is sustainability journalism,” Morgan says, referring both to journalism’s role in sustaining communities and the need for communities to sustain journalism.

Changing the narrative

Investing in community media as an economic development strategy is a force multiplier, Morgan says. More diverse media ownership gives communities power and resources to control their own narrative, and part of that narrative is the transformational impact that community development and revitalization can have on closing the racial wealth gap — and boosting the economy overall. As that story is told more broadly, the CDFI world attracts more funding.

Investing in community media as an economic development strategy is a force multiplier, Morgan says. More diverse media ownership gives communities power and resources to control their own narrative, and part of that narrative is the transformational impact that community development and revitalization can have on closing the racial wealth gap — and boosting the economy overall. As that story is told more broadly, the CDFI world attracts more funding.

Maurice Jones, LISC’s former CEO, spoke to RJI in May 2020 about the difficulty of getting the news media to shine a light on the people, assets, history and challenges of low- and moderate-income communities as well as the work of organizations like LISC that are doing something about it.

“How do we show people the power of this work? How do we reach a wider audience? How can we interest the media in coming to places where we’re not cutting ribbons but places where we think miraculous work is going on and get the word out, and hopefully by getting the word out, persuade people of the efficacy of this work and convert people to invest in it?” Jones asked.

CDFIs aren’t the only institutions that would benefit from investments in community media. Banks and other lenders, under the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 (CRA), are required to meet the credit needs of the communities where they do business, including low- and moderate-income communities. The Act was a response to redlining — the discriminatory practice of denying loans to residents and business owners based on their race or ethnicity. Every two to five years, banks have to undergo an audit by federal banking regulators to see how well they are meeting the terms of the CRA. Banks that do not meet the requirements face heavy regulatory scrutiny and can have difficulty getting approval for mergers or expansions.

Josh Silver, a senior analyst for the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC), believes that providing loans, grants and other financial support to minority-owned community media would help banks meet their CRA obligations.

NCRC is a nonprofit that works to close the wealth gap and end discrimination in lending, housing and business. When a bank seeks to merge with or acquire a competitor, NCRC leverages the rights of community groups to testify about the bank’s CRA performance and to press banks to commit to increasing their lending and investment in low-income communities and communities of color. In April, for example, NCRC and its local allies finalized a “community benefits” agreement with PNC Bank, in which the bank committed $88 billion in lending to low-to-moderate income communities in exchange for community support of its effort to acquire USA Bancshares. Most of the money will go toward home, small business and community development loans. But the agreement also includes at least $500 million in grants and philanthropic support.

Silver, during a panel discussion in May, said you could make a strong case that a portion of that $88 billion could be used to support local journalism because meeting information needs is critical to the survival of communities.

And it’s not just banks. Corporations, too, are opening their eyes and wallets and pledging to confront discrimination and reverse chronic underinvestment in Black and Brown communities, many spurred to action by rallies for racial justice and an increasing body of research about the economic toll of White supremacy. Many are doing so as part of their Environment, Social and Governance strategies, also known as corporate social responsibility. Directing some of that support to community media could help corporations engage with and build stronger and more trusted relationships with BIPOC customers.

“Trusted local information and the people and systems that gather and distribute it are critical infrastructure for communities, just like the people and systems necessary to provide housing, roads, electricity, clean air and water, healthy food, reliable broadband data networks, schools, healthcare and cultural institutions,” Nachison says.

“Any institutions that control and invest capital for economic and community development need to recognize that strong and diverse local information systems need to be part of their formula for impact. That includes banks that lend and invest in local communities to satisfy Community Reinvestment Act requirements, community foundations and the web of local, state and federal economic development agencies and programs. It’s time for new relationships and new investments in local journalism — especially journalism by, for and with BIPOC communities — not because it’s nice to have but because it’s necessary for vibrant communities.”

In addition to The Community Voice, other media outlets participating in the pilot program are: the Times Weekly, serving Joliet, IL; and Elevate Dayton, serving Dayton, OH.

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