In this candid discussion, Sara Lomax and S. Mitra Kalita, co-founders of URL Media, delve into the network's mission to support and empower independent media serving Black and Brown communities. Now in its fourth year, URL Media aims to address the gaps and challenges faced by these media entrepreneurs, focusing on enhancing reach, expanding revenue and building long-term sustainability for BIPOC outlets.
We delve into the unique relationship that ethnic media have with their audiences. The trust inherent in that relationship is a cornerstone in providing nuanced and community-centric journalism. URL Media was founded in the wake of the racial reckoning of 2020, and we discuss the unfulfilled promises from that time and the systemic barriers that persist in various institutions, including the media. They emphasize the importance of trust over scale in journalism and critique the mainstream media's approach to objectivity, which often creates distance and alienation.
(02:27) – Founding URL Media to address gaps experienced by media entrepreneurs serving Black and Brown audiences
(05:38) – Scale is not the answer to solving democracy’s woes; trust is
(09:10) – Addressing the challenges of audience and revenue growth for BIPOC media
(18:28) – URL Media’s structure
(22:05) – We're not just covering a community. We are the community.
(27:09) – How notions of objectivity in mainstream media creates distance and alienation
(29:55) – How mainstream newsrooms can work with ethnic newsrooms in non-extractive ways
(35:01) – Philanthropy, ethnic media and systematic disenfranchisement
Listen to the episode here:
- URL Media: web, LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter/X
- Sara Lomax: LinkedIn, Twitter/X
- S. Mitra Kalita: LinkedIn, Twitter/X
- Local News Matters: web, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn
- Colorado Press Association: web, Twitter, Facebook
- Tim Regan-Porter: bio, Twitter
Co Founder & President
Sara is the President and Co Founder of URL Media and the President and CEO of WURD Radio, LLC, Pennsylvania’s only African-American owned talk radio station. She is credited with transforming WURD Radio from a legacy talk radio station to a multimedia communications company providing cutting edge, original programming on air, online, through video and community events. Prior to her work with WURD Radio and URL, in 1992 Sara co-founded HealthQuest: Total Wellness for Body, Mind & Spirit, a trailblazing African-American consumer health magazine.
S. Mitra Kalita
Co Founder & CEO
Mitra is the CEO and Co Founder of URL Media and the CEO and Publisher of Epicenter-NYC, a community journalism multi platform company. She is an award-winning veteran journalist, media executive, prolific commentator, and author of two books. She’s on the board of the Philadelphia Inquirer and writes a weekly column for Charter. Before launching her companies, Mitra served as SVP at CNN Digital, overseeing the national news, breaking news, programming, opinion, and features teams. Her media background also spans the LA Times, where she was managing editor, Wall Street Journal, Quartz, and the Washington Post.
Mitra Kalita [00:00:00]:
And so you shift from the small mindedness of running your own local news outlet, which—you know, the best thing in some ways about us is that we're small. Our communities know us, they love us. You know, I can put an item in a newsletter for the food bank up the street and they'll call me and say, we got six diaper donations. Well, that's amazing. Like, that's an incredible feeling. But on the Internet, six diaper donations isn't a lot. Right? And we're unfortunately beloved because we're small, but we're penalized because we're small. And so this idea of, like, how can we scale ourselves without sacrificing who we are to our communities is at the corner of what we're doing.
Tim Regan-Porter [00:00:48]:
Welcome to the Local News Matters podcast, where we explore pathways to stronger journalism, better businesses, and healthier communities. I'm Tim Regan-Porter, CEO of the Colorado Press Association. In each episode, I sit down with guests from newsrooms and others in the local news ecosystem to highlight the innovative work of local newsrooms and those that support them, as well as the crucial questions they face.
This episode I talk to the co-founders of URL Media, Sara Lomax and Mitra Kalita. URL Media describes itself as a “ decentralized, multi-platform network that includes high-performing Black and Brown news media organizations. [They] share content, distribution and other resources to enhance reach, expand revenue and build long-term sustainability.” Sara, in addition to serving as President of URL Media, is the President and CEO of WURD Radio, Pennsylvania’s only African-American owned talk radio station. Sara also co-founded HealthQuest: Total Wellness for Body, Mind & Spirit, an African-American consumer health magazine. Mitra, in addition to serving as CEO of URL Media, is the CEO and Publisher of Epicenter-NYC, a community journalism multi-platform company. She’s on the board of the Philadelphia Inquirer and writes a weekly column for Charter.
What URL Media is doing across editorial collaboration, an ad network, and recruitment and talent development is fascinating, with lessons applicable more broadly. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did.
If you like this episode and what we're doing more generally, never miss an episode by signing up for our newsletter at lnmpod.com.
And now I bring you Sara and Mitra.
Founding URL Media to address gaps experienced by media entrepreneurs serving Black and Brown audiences
Alright. Well, welcome Mitra and Sarah. Thanks for joining me.
Sara Lomax [00:02:32]:
So why don't we start with just a little bit, about URL Media, why you started it, and I I think you're coming up on your, what, three-year anniversary in January?
So what led to the the founding of URL Media?
So Mitra and I met in 2019 at a program, the Media Transformation Challenge program that was at Harvard at the time. And we, it was a program for media executives, media leaders from around the world. And, we got a chance to kind of see each other in action over the course of this one-year program. And, you know, obviously, 2020 was very momentous with the pandemic and the racial justice protests, etcetera. And so after the racial justice protests and a lot of Institutional media organizations were really in the crosshairs. They were really being called on the carpet for their participation and complicity in furthering, promoting, cosigning systemic racism through media. And, I had been a media entrepreneur covering Black, communities and serving Black communities my entire career at the time and still, I was running WURD Radio, which is a Black talk radio station in Philadelphia, which, I've been running for 13 years, and Mitra had been had launched her newsletter called Epicenter during the pandemic. You know, she reached out to me and was like, yo, you know, this is a real moment.
Let's, like, what this is a time when we should really be thinking, “How we can speak into this moment?” And we started talking about, you know, what could we do that would acknowledge that Black and Brown media entrepreneurs and content creators have been doing great work For decades, sometimes centuries, that have been underfunded, overlooked, not properly supported for a very long time, and these were organizations that were doing great content. They had audience. They had revenue models, But they were systematically under-resourced and like my radio station and the other organizations that I have run targeting Black communities, like Mitra's Epicenter. And so we said, you know, what if we created a network of Black and Brown media organizations that would address the gaps that we experienced as media entrepreneurs to whether it's, providing additional revenue, helping to amplify each other's content, you know, like helping to find great talent, so to support the organizations. And so finding ways to address the pain points that we had so personally and directly experienced in our own organizations. How could we be a value add to the BIPOC media ecosystem writ large? And so that's where URL Media was kind of conceived.
Scale is not the answer to solving democracy’s woes; trust is
I mean, I can fact check that everything Sarah just said is true. I think the part that I'll just pick up on from her, it's, like, really important to hear that we're owner creators that we become to this problem running our own small news organizations. And so as we were kinda casting about for what to do, I think at one point maybe Sarah and I both said it, but we're like, if this helps us, it'll help everybody. Right? And now I think wearing my URL hat on, we're a little bit more like, if this helps everybody, it'll help us. Right? And so you shift from the small mindedness of running your own local news outlet, which, you know, the best thing in some ways about us is that we're small. Our communities know us. They love us. You know, I can put an item in a newsletter for the food bank up the street and they'll call me and say, We got six diaper donations.
Well, that's amazing. Like, that's an incredible feeling. But on the internet, six diaper donations isn't a lot, right? And we're unfortunately beloved because we're small, but we're penalized because we're small. And so this idea of, like, how can we scale ourselves without sacrificing who we are to our communities is at the corner of what we're doing. I think the other piece and, again, like, in hindsight, you can reflect on things a lot clearer or with a little bit of you know, maybe we'll sound smarter than we were in the moment. But, you know, what was happening in the summer of 2020, like, we were seeing the collapse of the scale play that many of us in digital media had been chasing. We had been chasing numbers on Chartbeat or Google Analytics largely competing with ourselves, right, and maybe some other, like, kinda same stories on the Internet all day long. Those are not stories you know, I say this because when Sarah and I started talking, I was at CNN, so I was acutely aware of the scale game.
I think I played a pretty good scale game. That's not really the answer to solving democracy's greatest woes right now. And so I do think that where URL shines is, the trust of direct audiences. We really don't belabor this question of, like, why don't they trust us? Why don't they love us? You know? Like, actually, I can't remember the last time we ever kind of got to that as in one of our member meetings or, you know, anything like that. That's just not how we operate, but the, recognition where I was going with this was the recognition that we were chasing scale for clicks came just as the outlets that were providing that scale, largely Facebook, Twitter, to some extent, you know, like the other social platforms, we're really retrenching their commitment to news and links. And I would argue that because size was always an issue for our partners. Like, if you need a COVID vaccine in Jackson Heights, Epicenter should be one of the first search results, but we're not. Is, right? And I think now the ability to have created this network that leverages direct audiences as opposed to social audiences, meaning you're sacrificing your people to another platform and letting conversations and engagement happen over there. I think that's really helped us because we benefit from that trust and that direct relationship, which helps both the journalism but also the advertising.
Addressing the challenges of audience and revenue growth for BIPOC media
That's right. There's so much to dig into there. So you're I believe you're up to, what, 21 news newsrooms? And what were the—so when you were starting, What were those needs that you were hoping that collaboration could address?
I mean, I'll jump in. So we started with eight network partners, two of which were me and Mitra's WURD and Epicenter. And so we had six additional media outlets. And as Mitra said, we are owner-operators. And so for me, discoverability is always a challenge. Like, how do we grow audience? How do we get the great content that we're producing every day as a radio station, how do we get more ears and eyeballs and communities consuming and and introduced to the work that we're doing? So audience is always—how do we grow audience, I think, is a perennial challenge for local media, BIPOC media, you know, smaller media enterprises. So that, again, as Mitra said, you know, the scale, like, coming together to expose our content to New audiences by sharing content across these different media outlets is one big thing that we were, that I was trying to address.
You know, we're a radio station, so we don't have a lot of written content. So how do we get access to really good quality written content that we can share on our website or, you know, we can share in the written products that we produce. And so, you know, a lot of our network partners do outstanding written content. And so, you know, having access and being able to it's like a win-win. You, you know, create more visibility for other people's content and you also are able to provide greater content for your audience. So that was another thing. And, of course, revenues. You know? Like, how do you create an opportunity for our media outlets. But again, I've been under-resourced and often not been seen as big enough to do, like, direct campaigns with.
So URL is specifically, you know, trying to provide additive revenue to the network partners by, again, combining our audiences so that advertisers can see that they can reach Philadelphia's Black community through WURD, but they can also reach Native American communities, or South Asians, or Latinos through these other outlets and through this one channel. So additive revenue is always valuable and essential for, I think all media outlets, but definitely smaller BIPOC ones.
And how is the collaboration working? So how are you addressing those issues?
I can give you some examples on the content front. And some of these, like, you know, you asked how we selected partners. Like, some of us have had working relationships with each other before URL Media. And that's always helpful just because there's a trust and kind of a, you know, rapport with how you commit your journalism. So I'll give you one example, that's focused on amplification, and maybe Sarah might have some advertising examples. So, when we were in the vaccine rollout, TBN24, is our Bangladeshi live-streaming partner. And so we asked them, we said Epicenter is helping Queens and New York City residents, really, who are eligible to get their vaccine early. So, this is restaurant workers, cab drivers, educators, people in health professions.
Do you wanna, like, put the link on your live-stream? Do you wanna mention it in your newscast? And maybe on are, most of their live streaming is through YouTube and Facebook if you wanna put the link. And, the link goes to a place where you could input your name and then someone will call you to help you navigate the bureaucracy that was getting your vaccine, if you were one of these special inquiries. And I kid you not, you can't make this up within, like, two minutes of TBN24 putting this in their, like, network of two million across the world, Epicenter's, Airtable started populating with Bangladeshi names. And our volunteer chat group, which was over WhatsApp. So like multiple platforms. It's like, what's happening? We're suddenly getting all these names. And I was like, oh, that's our network, right? Meaning, I might not have the cab driver who is googling, how do I get my COVID vaccine in Queens, I might not be able to get him. But chances are, he's watching one of three or four Bangladeshi news channels or outlets right now, and I'm partnering with the one that got him to put his information in my Airtable.
So that's, like, a very direct example where I just saw the power of the network. Another example is the morning after the assassination of the president of Haiti. You know, I used to work at CNN, and I'd turn on cable news, and I start seeing, like, the Miami correspondent weighing in on what's happening in Haiti. And I'm like, why is the Miami correspondent doing this work? It should be Garry Pierre-Pierre of The Haitian Times, you know? And so we reached out to a number of partners, and when I say partners, mainstream news outlets like NPR, CNN, NBC, CBS. And we said, you know, this is the URL Media Network. We have the Haitian Times in our midst. They could talk about this. They have reporters on the ground, and actually, what better way to get at implications for America and migration and foreign policy than someone like Garry Pierre-Pierre.
And so we got him everywhere. And so, and Garry got himself everywhere. It's his expertise. Really, all we had to do was just kinda nudge a little bit. So those are two examples where they happened kinda early on in the launch of URL, but were very redeeming because not only did we want amplification, but we wanted it to be different. Right? In some ways, the scale game of media was still being driven by Chartbeat. And the two examples I gave you actually were impact and in some cases earned media. Sarah, do you have any advert—I feel like there's a few advertising examples. I wondered if you might wanna jump in there.
Sure. You know, I mean, definitely, our whole—the core focus on the advertising front is collaboration and network share, like, capitalizing on kind of the power and the opportunity to reach these really diverse dynamic communities in trusted environments. We've done—you know, I think that the collaboration piece is, it goes multiple ways. So we've had partners who've said, hey, we were approached by such and such advertiser, but we think that they'd be a better play for URL because they want more scale. And so we were able to take that lead and come up with a much more, I guess, national and, you know, geographically diverse proposal presentation that benefited not just that individual partner, but a variety of of folks in the network. Similarly, I think that one example that I really love is native news online. We went, we were approached, URL was approached to go in and make a proposal to an advertiser, I won't say which one, to an advertiser. And so we, like it was, like, last minute, had pulled all nighters, and put together this great proposal that went to the advertiser.
And the advertiser turned around and went directly to native news online and tried to cut out URL Media because they just wanted to work exclusively with native news. And we talked about it. We recognized, and they recognized that the only way that they found this client found native news was through URL. And so we, like, locked arms, and Native News went back to this client and said, you know what? You gotta work through URL to get to us. And they did. And so that was to me a really powerful example and moment of trust, solidarity, doing things differently, and recognizing that, you know, we're not gonna allow people to kind of divide and conquer or, you know, try and cut either one of us out of the deal. That was just a really great early example of how we need to make sure that we're operating with integrity and our partners, you know, are operating with integrity, which they are. And by doing that, we make each other stronger.
URL Media’s structure
And nd what's the structure? So how much of this is staff that you've built up for URL directly, and how much of it is the partners contributing, you know, their time?
It's a good question. So URL Media has grown to 12 full-time staffers. Except for me and Sarah, everyone really is working on URL. There are some examples where, like Sarah mentioned, for example, where an advertiser might come to a partner and they'll turn to us to execute a bigger pitch, a bigger campaign, they'll obviously get their share of it. Like, you could probably tell by the language that we're using that our goal is to make people whole along the way. The other piece that's really important and that really is driving the collaboration is content. And so I have to confess that when we launched URL, we thought we would do more syndication, and we thought we would do more like, you know, the Haitian Times is covering a Census event, Epicenter will run that Census event. And I have to tell you the truth is, that's not what most people need.
Most of our outlets know their communities, and they're not really looking—it's not like you're looking for filler copy, right, like, kind of the old model of newspapers is like, oh, no, I have a hole on page three. Like, what can I put that's not really and thankfully I think the Internet has freed us to some of that thinking? There's two areas that the content collaborations work. One, I would say in a distributed format, sometimes you want to feel represented on a story even when you don't have the story. So for example, on the migration issue in New York City, right, the influx of migrants in New York City. Epicenter has done some stories. We have a civics reporter documented—our partner that covers immigrants for immigrants in New York City or covers immigration for immigrants in New York City has done a number of stories, and we've pulled those in to make our offerings more robust. But that's mostly in newsletters and social. We're not really running their stories on our website because we're worried about cannibalization online and so forth. The other piece is amplifying through social media.
So sometimes, we'll get an email from the editor of an outlet saying, we just spent three months on an investigation into poultry farmers in the South. We think we've found some amazing work. Like we really think this is revolutionary journalism. And so what we're able to do is to lift that up across the partners, more people will see it. We might do a version of the earned media outreach that I described with mainstream partners to perhaps run that or have the writers and reporters on. I think the content ecosystem like, I think that is the future of coverage in many ways. I don't think, or at least for right now, like, I don't think this again, like, the reason our outlets work, just to restate this, the reason our outlets work is because they know their communities and they're in service to their communities. Nobody's gonna do anything that would sacrifice that.
And so I think my original or Sarah and I, like, originally thinking we would syndicate actually, potentially serves mainstream media better than our partners is themselves. I think our story should a 100% be pervading mainstream media. That they aren't, you know, we're here. Mainstream media is welcome to, you know, come and find us and fix that piece of it.
We're not just covering a community. We are the community.
You mentioned a couple times the unique trust you have with your audience, that, you know, the hand wringing that a lot of mainstream outlets do, have been doing for a while now about the loss of community trust, you're saying is not what we're seeing in ethnic media. So can you for those of us who who are, you know, mainly consumers of mainstream news, tell us a little bit about, you know, for a lot of your publications, maybe most of your or all of your publications, describe that unique relationship and the years of service and trust that has been built up.
I'm a big believer that ownership matters. And I think that when you are from the community, you know so I think the big difference with a lot of our outlets is we're not just covering a community. We are the community. We are—you know, like, when we talk about on WURD and in Philadelphia, when we talk about, police brutality or community violence. We're not talking about it from an external perch. We are talking about it because we live in these communities. We are directly affected. You know, our hosts may have been stopped and questioned and frisked or you know, like, we are speaking from a place of deep, deep understanding and experience.
So I think that there's a kind of an organic empathy and just awareness of the lived experience of our community that we that we cover and that we serve. And I think that comes through in the way that we tell our stories. And, like, for my station, it's a talk radio station, so we are in conversation with our community all day long. So, you know, a few years ago, all the rage was engagement and making sure that you are, you know, in touch with the people who you're— you know, like that was kind of the narrative of mainstream media that we've got. And that's something I think that from, you know, from the the origins of and I'll say Black media, it's always been about service, engagement, you know, listening and really making sure that the people who are closest to the the issues are the ones who are helping to come up with the solutions, like, really empowering people and not just saying, oh, unless you have a PhD, unless you have, you know, this kind of lived experience, you're not qualified to speak about about these issues. And so it's really looking at prioritizing and saying that there's expertise at all levels of experience, and not just this very narrow kind of Western perspective of what is valid. So I think that creates trust.
I think also, and I'll use Sara's station as an example, like most of our partners are not only the content delivery to their communities. And so, you know, I'll give you one anecdote. Sarah's radio station had an event, WURD had an event right outside of Philadelphia. I happened to be visiting my parents who were not that far away, so I took my dad, who's older and walks with a cane, into this event for a panel discussion. It was on something he's very interested in. But the minute we got there, two Black women just, like, went up to my dad, and, you know, they don't know him, they don't know me, they don't even work for WURD, but there is this camaraderie among community where the community is an outreach of the outlet that's putting on that function. Right? And I think newsrooms kind of ceased being that glue, quite frankly.
And our partners, I marvel at this. Like any event I go to like, that's thrown on by our partners, like, I know that's the type of welcome I'll get, and that's not coincidental. Right? That's not coincidental. It's not accidental. It really comes from fostering a relationship, that, as Sarah said, is two ways. Right? And so, I think that's, like, something I've just learned about profoundly as we're, like we're looking for trust, but we're largely talking to each other. We're not creating conditions that visibly uplift our communities, right? I'm talking we as in the mainstream sense. And so, therefore, there isn't necessarily this affection. Like, literally, those women went up to my dad, and it was an affectionate embrace. Right? And I think that's, like, that's trust. Right? So I think we need to examine some of the infrastructure beyond just content creation.
How notions of objectivity in mainstream media creates distance and alienation
Yeah. And I—but I think that the media, mainstream media has created that distance. I mean, that that distance is intentional. It's a distance because, you know, there is, this need for creating accountability, for not being, quote unquote, in bed with, you know, the powers that be so that you can cover them, so that you can have some, quote, unquote, objectivity. You know? And I think that that is the way that traditional mainstream media has estab—has set itself up to be disconnected intentionally from the personal relationships that that exist in, in cities and communities. And so, I mean, I think that there are benefits to that because you do need some of that distance in order to hold people that may be in your community accountable. But I also think that it alienates people. And I think that what has happened, particularly in Black communities, is that that distance and that sense of objectivity has been colored literally by kind of a lack of understanding, a lack of nuance and context, and, you know, the realities of not knowing people in the communities that you're covering.
And so you default to caricatures. You default to stereotypes. You default to, you know, kind of this, these narratives that you might not even know are a part of your psyche, that you are projecting onto situations. And so, you know, I think that there's, there's such there's an important role That that quote, unquote objectivity plays, but there's an a very important role of being able to tell stories From and within communities authentically and be able to hold community leaders within your community To account. And and what that does is, like, when you, as a trusted media outlet, hold an an a stakeholder and elected official accountable, then there's a different way, that that is consumed, that that's perceived, Because it's not colored by this assumption that mainstream media is out to get this community. And so they—it is, it's trusted. The information is trusted in a different way. So I think context really matters in terms of these stories and how they're told and who's telling them.
How mainstream newsrooms can work with ethnic newsrooms in non-extractive ways
Absolutely. And, you know, you were formed in the wake of the racial protests and racial reckoning, which we still have a lot of reckoning left to do. But I think you saw some mainstream outlets wake up a little bit and self reflect. You saw apologies for past coverage. Even, you know, a small weekly here did that. And it was mostly AP coverage, but, you know, that's still their newspaper that they're choosing to put those stories up. And so you see that sort of thing, and, of course, diversifying newsrooms has been something that's been talked about for a long time, and I don't think we made a lot of progress. So one of the things I think, I've been encouraging mainstream outlets to do is really partner more with the community and also with ethnic media. Give me some of your thoughts on how you and your partners and ethnic media in general can work with mainstream outlets and how mainstream outlets can work with them In ways that aren't extractive. But the—and they're authentic and really in a spirit of partnership.
Actually, one arm of our business which we haven't talked about is recruitment, executive placement, and really working with outlets. It started in media, but we've done a number of nonprofits, some financial institutions, and this has been a growing part of our business. It slowed down a little bit this year because of the labor market, but still a really vital part of our business, but also importantly a part of our mission, to your point exactly, Tim, of how do we uplift our people. Right? And so, in 2020, you couldn't find diverse talent fast enough for all these positions. And so URL Media comes along, we work with mainstream institutions on their searches, and it went well or it's been going well, but last year, I would say a few things happened. One, we started to see that our own outlets had a talent crunch, right, where everyone's looking for Black talent. Well, what does that mean for Sarah, who's been hiring Black talent all along? Right? And so there was a little bit of a squeeze there. And so we started to help our partners at steeply discounted, sometimes even free, rates.
There's a few things to your question about being extractive. One thing is inevitably our recruitment team and myself I work on a lot of these searches find that the willingness to redefine a journalist, to redefine a role to fit the right candidate—ethnic media, community media, they just get it. Right? They're like, I'm gonna give this person a chance. They lit—to Sarah's early—what's one of the first things she said? If you're from here, you're gonna get it. Right? And so there's a willingness to work with talent. That unfortunately has not been matched in mainstream newsrooms. The second thing is that our partnerships are inherently extractive because what happens when you partner with ethnic media, you might have failed to make community ties with one group of people. You're relying on another.
And so there's something just inherently extractive about that relationship. Now, how can you fix it? One, money. Right? I've never met someone who says, “Well, I don't want your money, in exchange for the services I'm providing, the value, the expertise.” So I think that's one thing. The second is to recognize that community ties are decades into Sara's earlier phrasing centuries in the making. And so even within our own recruitment practice we rely on community ties in Memphis or Philadelphia or, you know, the Inland Empire in California. And so if somebody gives us a candidate, that ends up getting the job or is a finalist for a role, we'll often send them a $500 gift card. Now that's—it's not gonna sound like a lot, but I don't wanna put people in the role of committing invisible labor, that for so long we've all been exploited because we did the work when others failed to do the work. Right? And, I don't want to do that to other people.
So I think one thing that's created a lot of goodwill is when people get those gift cards, they're like, I didn't know I was gonna be paid for this. You know? And it changes how people see you, because then they understand, like, oh, it's not that I'm extract—like, this was not necessarily transactional or extractive, this was a recognition of what I brought to the table, right? And I think if we spin these to be a recognition of expertise and, you know, redeeming and validating as opposed to talking about what's wrong with everybody all the time, I think that would be a much better way to change the composition of our newsrooms.
Philanthropy, ethnic media and systematic disenfranchisement
What's the evolution you're seeing of ethnic media in the ecosystem? So I know, there's been a lot more conversations among, you know, philanthropy and funders. I think ethnic media was largely left out of the conversation, as money has poured into the ecosystem. I think that's changing, but I wonder if that's your experience.
Which ecosystem are you referring to?
News. Local news.
A lot has changed in the last two years, the last three years. You know, when we launched URL, it was right at the height of the racial justice protests. And the outpouring of acknowledgment, of recognition that systemic racism actually exists, you know, after all this time. Yeah. Actually, it does exist. And, a lot of corporations, banks, philanthropies pledged a lot of, made a lot of promises to put resources against this huge racial gap, financial gap that had been in existence and still continues. And so, you know, there was this major, like, surge of interest in Black and Brown media, Black and Brown community organizations, nonprofits, etcetera. Businesses. And, you know, two years later, 2023, we are seeing a huge reversal.
We're seeing a huge, you know, I think of Michael Jackson moonwalking, you know, or give me— we are seeing a major retrenchment from these… I mean, you don't hear anything about the pledges, anymore. And in fact, we are seeing those monies dry up. We are seeing those monies coming under attack. You know, we saw the first shoe drop with affirmative action being overturned. And now we see other industries, other organizations being attacked for privileging or prioritizing Black and Brown funding and organizations. And so a lot of there's a serious chilling effect that is happening. DEI is, you know, under attack. Diverse contracting is under attack.
All of these things that were just the beginnings of trying to address this centuries old racial wealth gap that was created from, you know, the origins of this country where, you know, free labor for 250 years that Black people, enslaved Black people contributed to the wealth of this country. You know, the acknowledgement that and then, you know, all of the things, Jim Crow, redlining, all of it. The disenfranchisement, the systemic disenfranchisement that created this this yawning racial wealth gap that cons—that exists and persists to this day, and so there was just a little nibble at trying to acknowledge and and rectify that, which now we're getting the backlash of that. And so it's even harder now, I think, in this moment to do this work. And that is very disconcerting. It's—you know, I'm used to fighting uphill, but it's just… you know, we had this little teeny weeny two year window where it looked like there was gonna be some actual progress and momentum, and now we're actually going backwards. And, you know, it's, it’s…
Yeah. I think, what Sarah like, relating that to your local news and philanthropy question, you know, what have we learned from the last few years, but also just, you know, kind of the post-World War II journalism ecosystem. During economic contractions is when we lose our most diverse voices in the newsroom. Right? It's kind of you could look back at, when do journalists of color leave? I think it's actually heartening that philanthropy is getting involved in the local news ecosystem, and, you know, certainly, we and our partners expect to benefit from that interest. The challenge is that we still need to solve, to Sarah's point, for a number of systemic issues that are clearly not going to be solved by cosmetic diversity. Right? So the last few years making a pledge doesn't mean that you spent the money. Right? Coming up with a supplier diversity program and saying you're gonna favor vendors of color, as we do, is still going to contend with the affirmative action climate and the ban against DEI programs and that leg up essentially.
Right? For a small business, and, you know, I say this with a lot of knowledge because I've launched two companies in the last three years, if you wanna be qualified as a minority or women's business, you need two years of tax returns. Eight out of 10 Black businesses fail in the first 18 months. You don't even get to the two years of tax returns. Right? So what I just rattled off are all literally systemic factors against the uplift of our people. It's actually just against, like, status quo survival of our people. My hope is that these efforts around local news and philanthropy don't separate that ecosystem, that kind of system that they're trying to operate within from what we have to surmount because at the end of the day, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars thrown at some of these organizations without accounting for that, I fear isn't actually doing much in the realm of saving democracy.
And, you know, we've been working with an ethnic media, trying to build an ethnic media ad network, here in Colorado. I'd love to talk with you later maybe about, you know, tips you have or ways we could work together. But, you know, it's not just the backlash or the pledges that go unfulfilled, but how sincere is the pledge and how who—do you understand the communities, and are you doing the work? Because, you know, you can throw money at Univision, and no offense to them, but that's very different than going to local you know, the local newspaper, the local radio station that has those relationships.
Yeah. I always say, Tim, like, unless you know your neighbors on both sides' names, don't launch a local news outlet. Meaning, you gotta live the life that is embodied in community media, and I fear that there's a lot of people jumping on a bandwagon. And, you know, it's just like a good screener. Like, hey, do you know both of your neighbors on both sides? Okay. Now we can talk. Right? So I think, I think that idea of kind of the ground up as you're doing in Colorado is really smart.
We wanna be respectful of your time. Conversation, I appreciate it. If people wanna learn more or, follow you, how can they find out more about URL Media?
Yeah. Our website is url-media.com.
You can follow us on twitter at url_media. And then Sara and I are off of the URL Media website. You could find us and our contact information there. We're very easy to find on the Internet, both of us, actually. And don't forget our respective news organizations, WURD and epicenter-nyc.com.
Yeah, WURDRadio.com. So, yeah, thanks so much, Tim. This was great, and let us know if we can be helpful, at any time in the future.
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