January 26, 2022

S. Mitra Kalita and Sara Lomax-Reese had this moment when they knew they had to build something with existing newsrooms, not remake them or start new.

“There was yet another piece about a mainstream news outlet and racism it was contending with in its top ranks,” Kalita told Poynter’s Mel Grau last October. “I called Sara. We had seen enough of that at that point. I remember one of us said, ‘We have to do something. And the moment is now.’”

That was July 2020. By January 2021, the former senior vice president for news, opinion and programming for CNN Digital (Kalita), and the CEO/president of WURD Radio in Philadelphia (Lomax-Reese) launched URL Media. URL stands for “uplift, respect and love,” and URL’s homepage describes their work as “a decentralized, multi-platform network of high-performing Black and Brown media organizations. We’ll share content, distribution, and other resources to enhance reach, expand revenue and build long-term sustainability.”

URL Media launched one year ago today. Via email, I asked the founders about the last year, starting with what’s changed since they first gathered eight network member newsrooms.

“In the world: we are seeing deeper, more sophisticated ways of dividing the country along racial lines,” Lomax-Reese said. “The Virginia governor’s race was a blueprint for how to mobilize white voters around the issue of critical race theory. Dog whistles are real. We are seeing increased restrictions on voting rights as we head into the 2022 midterm elections. And COVID fatigue seems to be numbing out the country just when we need to be energized to fight for reproductive rights, voting, health care, education and everything. This is why URL and the work of all of our BIPOC media partners is absolutely critical right now. We need diverse, trusted voices to chronicle the truth of our present reality.”

In URL Media’s first year, it:

  • Held a monthly roundtable, “Meet the BIPOC Press,” on “The Laura Flanders Show,” which airs on 280 public television stations

  • Grew to help its members with coaching and talent development

  • Added two more newsrooms, Sahan Journal and Native News Online

  • Got the network’s newsrooms on Apple News, “which is something mainstream newsrooms have taken for granted for years to reach masses,” Kalita said. “Our BIPOC newsrooms don’t always have the developers or audience managers to enable this so this felt like a real feat.”

Among URL’s 10 newsrooms, there’s also a common thread of generosity and openness, Lomax-Reese said. Kalita, who is the founder and publisher of Epicenter NYC, agreed.

“I often joke that our members are the same because we all grew up with extra relatives living in our basement and strangers showing up at the dinner table,” Kalita said. “I say this because a spirit of generosity runs through every single one of our newsrooms. When I think about what we represent to our communities in this deadly pandemic that has disproportionately sickened us, killed us even, I get choked up. There’s a sameness there but also a singularity and customization by community and platform.”

In its second year, URL Media is hiring, working to grow advertising and sponsorship revenue and to add members. I asked the two founders what we should all learn from the newsrooms URL Media works with.

“I think all of our partners center and prioritize service to their audiences,” Lomax-Reese said. “This is a relatively new trend in mainstream journalism right now, but this is fundamental and foundational for our BIPOC media organizations. And this has been at the center of Black media throughout history, starting as early as 1827 when the first Black newspaper, Freedom’s Journal, was launched to advocate for the humanity of enslaved Africans. Our business models are intimately connected to service, filling gaps that exist not just in the media but in society.”

This piece originally appeared in Local Edition, our newsletter devoted to the telling stories of local journalists

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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