The long-anticipated day has finally arrived for 10 of the nation’s most trusted and innovative Black publishers, who have worked hard over the past three years to grow Word In Black into a national news site focused on solutions to racial inequities in America. As of Jan. 1, Word In Black has officially incorporated as a public benefit company.
Word In Black is the only media startup of its kind and serves as a future model for the industry. It was incubated inside Local Media Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization affiliated with Local Media Association. The incubation period allowed for significant testing and experimentation which in turn led to rapid growth. The 10 publishers and the LMF team worked hand-in-hand throughout the last three years to drive this growth. As part of this transition envisioned in the original 2020 business plan, LMF sold the assets to Word In Black, PBC, and will continue to provide support as a shareholder in the new company.
What makes it so successful is combining the large and loyal audience of the 10 publishers with the new national brand, along with third-party management services that don’t drain local resources. Almost all of the support, both commercial and philanthropic, includes all 10 publishers and the national brand, reaching a combined audience of more than 1 million. All 10 publishers have been able to add mini-beats to their newsrooms focused on health and education, along with access to content developed by the national reporting team. It’s a winning formula that has not been tested anywhere else.
“In the transformative journey of creating Word In Black, we’ve not just reported news and addressed issues; we’ve forged a narrative for change,” says Hiram E. Jackson, Word in Black shareholder and publisher of the Michigan Chronicle. This launch represents three years of dedication from 10 visionary Black publishers, united to create a national news platform that doesn’t just speak about racial inequities but actively seeks solutions. But more so, it solidifies our commitment to shaping a future model for the industry. Word In Black is not just a media startup; it’s a testament to the strength of collaboration in sustaining the credible media ecosystem essential to a healthy democracy.”
The public benefit corporation will be supported by the Word In Black Racial Equity Fund, a component fund of LMF. This support will ensure the great journalism funded by philanthropy continues to grow. Word In Black employs a newsroom of 10 FTEs along with contracted freelancers. The staff includes reporters and data journalists focused on health, education, finance, climate justice, religion and more. Read the 2023 Impact Report to learn more.
The new corporation’s shareholders include the 10 publishers, their companies, LMF, and LMA/LMF CEO Nancy Lane. All shareholders contributed to a capital raise to strengthen the infrastructure on the business side. The company will continue to be managed by LMA and LMF for at least the next three years to ensure a smooth transition and manage the growth.
The shareholders elected the first board of directors, as follows: Dr. Frances Toni Draper, CEO, The AFRO American, board chair; Elinor Tatum, CEO, New York Amsterdam News, first vice chair; Patrick Washington, publisher, Dallas Weekly, second vice chair; Denise Rolark Barnes, CEO, The Washington Informer, treasurer; and Nancy Lane, secretary.
“This is a day to celebrate an important step in the evolution of Word In Black,” said Dr. Draper. “Launching a digital news site focused on racial inequities in America, in collaboration with nine other leading Black publishers, has been game changing for all of us. The transition to a public benefit corporation allows us to take Word In Black out of the pilot phase and develop it into a much larger national brand that is unapologetically Black.”
In the future, the group believes there will be opportunities to include more of the nation’s leading Black publishers. “We are already working with other like-minded local Black publishers on content campaigns involving large brands,” said Dr. Draper. “We look forward to casting a wider net as opportunities arise. Publishers that want to be involved are encouraged to contact us.”
“As chair of the board for Local Media Foundation, I could not be more proud of the work that has been done over the past three years,” said Larry Lee, publisher, The Sacramento Observer, and a shareholder in Word In Black. “We have been sharing our learnings with many others in the industry which has led to the formation of several new collaborations including News Is Out, a queer media collaborative. We believe this model is scalable and important to the long-term sustainability of local media.”
As part of the transition, Word In Black is hiring a director of business development to cultivate sponsorships, events, reader revenue and branded content opportunities.
Without the support of corporations, foundations and individuals, Word In Black would not exist. The board of directors would especially like to thank Google News Initiative, Conrad Hilton Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Comcast Foundation, Commonwealth Fund, Deloitte, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, McKinsey, Henry Luce Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, Wells Fargo, AARP, Biogen, Meta Journalism Project and many others.
About Word In Black
Amsterdam News Publisher Elinor R. Tatum conceived what is today known as Word in Black, the acclaimed and historic collaboration of Black newspaper publishers to collectively address racial inequity in partnership with the Local Media Association, after the murder of George Floyd.
Since its launch in late 2020, Word In Black’s reporting team has relentlessly confronted inequities, elevated solutions, and amplified the Black experience by collecting and sharing stories that inform, inspire, and center truth.
Through this collaboration, Word In Black aims to accurately frame how the nation understands and addresses systemic issues of race, justice, and equity. Collective understanding leads to collective impact.
The 10 publishers that make up Word In Black are: AFRO News, The Atlanta Voice, Dallas Weekly, Houston Defender, Michigan Chronicle, New York Amsterdam News, The Sacramento Observer, The Seattle Medium, The St. Louis American, and The Washington Informer. Cumulatively, these publishers have operated for more than 800 years.
About Word in Black Racial Equity Fund
The Word In Black Racial Equity Fund, a component fund of Local Media Foundation, supports the work of Black-owned and operated local news media by providing critical journalism resources for Word In Black, a collaborative effort of 10 of the leading Black publishers.
The Fund supports journalism projects focused on solutions to racial inequities. Funding generally supports journalists who work for Word In Black, as well as journalists working for the 10 publishers. The Fund currently covers costs of 10 Word In Black journalists: an education reporter, education data journalist, health reporter, health data journalist, newsletter editor, climate justice reporter, community and audience engagement manager, finance reporter, religion reporter and the managing editor. The 10 publishers work with the WIB team to localize the stories in their markets, as well as producing their own original reporting.
About Local Media Foundation
Local Media Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization affiliated with Local Media Association. The LMF mission is to ensure a healthy future for local journalism, which is essential to a strong democracy, by reinventing business models for news.
In line with this mission, LMF worked with 10 of the nation’s legendary Black publishers to incubate Word In Black, a digital startup unlike any other in the industry. Over a three year period the national site, as well as the 10 local publishers, experienced significant growth. The organization believes this is a model that can be duplicated in other ways and in other markets.
LMF manages other national collaborations including: Oklahoma Media Center, News Is Out – Queer Media Collaborative, Solving Sacramento, LMA Covering Climate, and New York/Michigan Solutions Journalism. LMF also manages the Local News Fund, which has helped hundreds of local and national news outlets fundraise for journalism projects, along with the Knight x LMA BloomLab, Lab for Journalism funding, Family and Independent Media Sustainability Lab and much more. More information at: www.localmedia.org.
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