Tracie Powell has worked in journalism in pretty much every part of Georgia — in circulation, advertising and reporting.
She moved for work to Texas, Ohio, Washington D.C. and California, and “when I came back, it was really interesting to see the landscape, especially in rural Georgia and how much it had changed.”
Yes, there were news deserts. They’re growing everywhere. But there were also people who’d started covering communities of color in particular, which traditional mainstream media has historically ignored. They were one-or-two-people shops. They were on Facebook, Instagram, TV, print and radio. And they had large and loyal audiences.
“And we found a bunch of oases in these news deserts,” said Powell, founder of The Pivot Fund, a venture philanthropy organization that launched last year with the goal of putting $500 million in independent newsrooms led by people of color.
Here’s the thing: “If you’re not looking hard enough, you might miss them.”
Pivot Fund wants to make those kinds of newsrooms harder to miss, and it started on Tuesday with the announcement of its first award — $2 million to seven organizations in Georgia.
Last week, another big announcement came out that matters to local news. Chicago’s City Bureau won $10 million from the Stronger Democracy Award to expand its Documenters Network, which trains and pays citizens to attend and take notes at public meetings. The project currently has documenters in Chicago, Cleveland and Minneapolis, and plans to start working in Atlanta, Fresno and Omaha.
The Pivot Fund is shifting power (specifically where philanthropy goes), Powell said, and Documenters is sharing it.
Both are things local news desperately needs to remain relevant. And both deal with rebuilding information and access to it.
“We’re growing because we believe that journalism skills are civic skills, that everyone can be equipped to report for their community, and that democracy depends on everyday civic action,” wrote City Bureau co-founder Darryl Holliday last week. “We think we can do something about it — and we’ll continue to document our processes and results in alignment with our values.”
The seven newsrooms awarded The Pivot Fund’s money:
BEE TV Network, in LaGrange, Georgia, is a cable TV station “cited by both Black and white residents as their go-to information source, unifying the demographically divided city around a common set of facts.”
Pasa La Voz Savannah, in Savannah, Georgia, is a Facebook page with nearly 15,000 subscribers aimed at helping “Spanish-speaking immigrants and their children navigate past disinformation and succeed in American society.
Notivision, in Warner Robins, Georgia, publishes on Facebook and Instagram and serves as the “bridge between Georgia’s growing Hispanic population and local businesses, organizations, and local government.”
And in Atlanta, Georgia Asian Times and Tomorrow Pictures “will collaborate to report and produce a documentary on the Burmese immigrant community, who, like many others, settled initially in the Atlanta suburb of Clarkston but are now following chicken processing and warehouse jobs in rural Georgia.”
The grants will help those newsrooms in different ways, including seeding collaborations and hiring staff to expand their work.
The grants from The Pivot Fund and the expansion of Documenters isn’t the only space where the push to support local news is expanding beyond the simple borders of legacy and digital newsrooms, with a focus on journalists and communities of color.
URL Media is a network of 12 media organizations serving Black and Brown communities. Local Media Association created a way to support publishers of color through its Fund for Local Journalism. Emma Carew Grovum, founder of Kimbap Media, created a coaching project, Upward, to help journalists of color in local newsrooms prepare for leadership. And the Diversity Pledge Institute offers resources, free mentorship and training.
What other projects have you seen that are working to rebuild local news beyond the platforms where they’re delivered?
Like Powell said, “If you’re not looking hard enough, you might miss them.”
Let’s look harder.
This piece originally appeared in Local Edition, our newsletter devoted to the telling stories of local journalists