Welcome everyone to the second session in this year's Perspectives in Philanthropy series. Tonight, it's co-hosted by the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation and the Harris School of Public Policy Alumni Relations and Development.
I'm Julia Stasch, Philanthropy Executive in Residence at the Rustandy Center and immediate past president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Now, some of you might be interacting with the Rustandy Center for the first time. Just a couple of quick sentences here. Rustandy is the social impact hub at Booth. It's for people who are committed to tackling complex, social and environmental problems. What Rustandy does is promotes innovation, advances research and helps develop the people and the practices that can accelerate social change. Now, earlier sessions in the Perspectives in Philanthropy series presented a landscape view of the field, and then a deep dive into philanthropy's role in impact investing.
This year, we're considering one of philanthropy's deepest concerns, justice. Now, the last session was the criminal justice system and tonight journalism, media, and justice. I'll be in conversation with two leaders in the field. My former colleague at the MacArthur Foundation, Kathy Im, director of journalism and media program at MacArthur which is one of the most active funders in the field. Kathy is also a Harris School grad, MPP 97.
And Tiffany Walden, she's a multimedia journalist and co-founder and editor in chief of The TRiiBE. As you'll see, it's an innovative, digital media platform for black millennials in Chicago.
Now, we'll leave time at the end to answer your questions. So be sure and submit them through the Zoom Q&A function and add your name and school. And we'll send the resource guide out again for any of you that want to dig a little deeper into the topic.
So let's get started. Now, this is the Perspectives in Philanthropy series. So look at this word cloud. This is just a reminder that philanthropy is a soup of issues, climate and hunger and poverty and education and on and on. You look deep into it. It's a variety of corporate forms, tactics, controversies good guys, bad guys. And it's a broad array of topics. It's big business. It's 2% of GDP with billions of dollars from Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos and McKenzie Scott, from legacy endowed foundations like MacArthur and Ford and Rockefeller and you and me. But there are very few issues that are more important to many in philanthropy than the pursuit of justice. Which then again says, what is justice?
So this slide shows some excerpts from definitions of justice. Now just absorb it. There's a variety of definitions, but if you look closely the notion of fair and right is deep in its core but pay special attention to the second to last definition. That's the use of authority and power to uphold what is right and just. Keep that in mind because it'll be important tonight.
Now, the next slide asks, I think an obvious question which is, is justice even possible? Now the invitation to this session tonight included a link to an excerpt from an essay I wrote in 2018. It actually could have been written today. It was originally titled, "Hard Questions with No Easy Answers" Now I just call it, "Is Justice Even Possible?" Now, I hope you had a chance to read it.
Now, the essay asks three questions but this year we're focusing only on the third question, is justice possible without institutions through which accountability is exercised? So tonight our topic is journalism and media. It is the institution through which accountability is exercised but it's an institution that is so changed, so challenged that many people believe that the foundations of our democracy are at risk and that the possibility of a more just society is diminished.
Now, here's a quote from the editor of the New Yorker. "Confidence in the media is at a nadir, the country's political divisions are driving disagreement over basic facts and half-truths, falsehoods and propaganda have overrun digital platforms and polluted the news ecosystem." So my question is, should we be optimistic that an institution one that informs and provokes that values and represents the breadth of the American experience and keeps people in institutions honest. Should we be optimistic that it can survive and even thrive? That's our topic tonight. So, let's dig in here.
And before we go deep into the topic, let's make sure that everybody knows a little bit more about you Kathy and Tiffany. So Kathy, let's just start with you. Tell us briefly the path you've taken to where you are now and how did your education help or maybe it didn't help prepare you for where you are now. Thanks Kathy.
Thank you Julie so much for inviting me today. I'm really honored to share the virtual stage with you and Tiffany, someone I admire deeply and whose work I am a big, big fan of. As Julie mentioned, I'm a product of the Harris School. I knew very early on that I wanted to have a career in public service. So I majored in government studies in college. And then I pursued a master's degree in public policy at the University of Chicago. At the Harris School, I was assigned to a professional mentor who happened to be a foundation president and thanks to this lovely and generous mentor I was exposed to a career in philanthropy and then he ended up playing a very big part in my landing this job at the MacArthur Foundation.
That was 20 years ago. And I've had two jobs basically during my time at MacArthur. First, I was a journalist, working on a lot of special projects and short-term funding initiatives. And then I inherited a small media program and eventually it became my main responsibility. And now that program awards 25 million a year for journalism, documentary and civic media projects.
For me, the Harris School education was really invaluable because the core of what we learned there is critical thinking, communication skills and how to be a team player and a team leader. And I brought all of those skills to bear when I was in Corporate America, when I worked in government and of course now as a leader of a program at MacArthur.
And really the thing that energizes me about this topic really connects back to my initial career aspirations. Journalism, I believe is a public service and at its best journalism and other forms of media work to inform and inspire and activate Americans. And it is just enormously gratifying to support this work for a living.
Well, thank you Kathy. And I know that that's the entree for Tiffany to tell us a little bit about her path and a little bit about the contribution of your education to that as well, Tiffany, thanks.
Sure, thank you again for having me. I'm honored to be on this stage. For me, I grew up on the west side of Chicago in a neighborhood called North Lawndale and growing up I saw a lot of the media coverage be negative towards black people in Chicago and especially black people on the west side of Chicago. A lot of the coverage that I saw was either about drugs or about gun violence or about the neighborhoods just being in the lap of day shape.
So for me, growing up, when I was in high school I went to a program called, it was like a journalism program that was at Marquette University and it taught young people how to build a newspaper. And while I was in Milwaukee, I saw the same situations and neighborhoods and environments happening for black people there that I saw in Chicago. And that opened my world up to wow, this isn't just happening in my neighborhood. This is happening in other places and possibly across America. So that's what got me into journalism and made me really wanna take that dive into it.
And I went to Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern and there they helped me really put together the foundation of being a journalist, how to ask good questions, how to do the reporting but it wasn't Medill that gave me my voice as a journalist. Going through journalism school we're often taught to write in a certain way. And a lot of times that way it's for the white gaze. And so it took me kind of going through my career and figuring out how to add my voice to the journalism landscape. And that's really where The TRiiBE came about.
When I left Orlando in 2015 to move back to Chicago and be a freelance journalist at the time, my stories were talking to people I grew up with. I wrote stories for my neighborhood. I wrote stories that people could relate to. I talked to them in ways that they could relate to. And that's kind of what got the ball rolling on this idea that we needed a publication that really spoke to black Chicagoans, and that's how we started The TRiiBE. It was me, one of my friends from college who is a documentary filmmaker and another peer from college who was a web developer. And we just put our skills together and built The TRiiBE with no money. We had like 2.99 to buy the URL and we just hit the ground running from there. And it's been a fun and challenging ride ever since.
Well, we're gonna hear more about it, but first, Kathy, to get us and everyone who's listening in on the same page why don't you start with a quick history lesson, not ancient history, but more recent changes and challenges at the local, national, but also at the personal level and where we are today with the field of journalism and media, including the role of philanthropy. That's a tall order, I know, but--
It is a tall order. Yes, we can get to some of those nuances further in the conversation, but, well, let me just say that really, to talk about the state of the news media is at least a semester long course. So I'm gonna try to provide just the simplest of summaries for folks so we can at least have a common starting point.
Generally speaking, I think we can talk about the state of the news media before the internet and after the internet. Before the internet, and also before the proliferation of cable news channels, most Americans, not all, but most Americans read their local newspaper and watched their local evening news program. They probably had a choice of maybe two or three and then many also then tuned in for one of three national network programs. Very credibly and authoritatively delivered by a handsome white gentlemen. All of this was paid for back then by advertising by the ads and the newspapers and the commercial breaks during the television news programs. And since most Americans and their eyeballs and attention were concentrated in just those few places, advertising revenue was also concentrated in these few places and that underwrote and subsidized journalism.
But after the internet and the proliferation of cable news channels, the eyeballs and the attention dispersed. People had many more choices of where to get their news and information, their weather, their sports scores. So when this happened, the advertising revenue also dispersed ultimately being captured predominantly by the big internet platforms like Google and Facebook and on cable by CNN and Fox.
So just to put some numbers to it, advertising revenue that held up the newspaper industry went from almost 50 billion in 2000 to just 10 billion in 2020. And with that loss, tens of thousands of jobs in the journalism industry. So today when experts talk about the crisis of American journalism, they're mostly talking about the decline of the newspaper industry which was responsible for much of the serious, original and accountability reporting at both the national, international and local levels which we have traditionally relied upon as a country. And they're also talking about the tendency toward infotainment on cable news or Clickbait news online which draws eyeballs and therefore ad revenue. But unfortunately, this is also contributing to the spread of polarization, misinformation and the growing lack of confidence in the news media.
Now this is not the whole story, Julie. And while, I know we'll get to some of the other important facets later on but, as not to be a total of downer, I do wanna point out that the past 20 years that has not been all bad for journalism. During the same period of journalism declined, over 200 independent and non-profit newsrooms were created. Newsrooms that are filling the important gaps and failings of the mainstream news industry, like deep, deep coverage of complicated issues such as climate crisis or growing economic inequality, the time and resource intensive investigative and accountability reporting that most newspapers have done away with. And most importantly, to me personally, newsrooms that are now run by people of color and other historically marginalized groups serving an audience that was never well-served by mainstream news. And this is where philanthropy has played a major role.
So Tiffany, you started to talk a little bit about what it was that motivated you to create The TRiiBE and to lift up the voices that you felt were not being attended to, not given the visibility, not given the credibility. So even within that 20 year sort of versioning of alternative to newspaper there was still something missing. So talk a little bit about what is the voice that The TRiiBE is elevating and maybe you could also talk a little bit about some of the times, some good examples about when The TRiiBE has spoken truth to power shared some critical information or told a story that others are certain to overlook even with this proliferation of platforms and channels.
Sure, so The TRiiBE is born out of the tradition of the North Star, which is the publication that I think W.E.B Du Bois or, no Frederick Douglas did the North Star publication. It's born out of this tradition of the Chicago Defender and every magazine and Jet Magazine and all of those traditions being a publication that really tells the real life experiences of what it's like to be black in this country.
And for us at The TRiiBE, when we started, which we launched in 2017, the year before that was a crazy year. It was an election year. The former president spent all of his effort whenever he could talking negatively about Chicago talking about sending in top gang thugs, anytime that there was some sort of talking point about violence, Chicago's name would be thrown into that conversation. And so for us, we just didn't like the sensationalism behind it all. And we didn't feel that the mainstream media at the time was doing its due diligence in telling the nuanced story of what's really going on in Chicago from a black perspective. And so, at the time you always saw those headlines of like 50 people shot this weekend, or Chicago had a bloody weekend, a bloody holiday weekend. Those types of headlines are sensationalist and meant to drive Clickbait. And this is all going on at the time like Kathy mentioned, where we're experiencing in journalism this kind of decline financially and people trying to figure out how to keep their audience engaged with their work in their websites. So in my opinion, those things were all clickbait-y headlines and people naturally would gravitate towards reading them.
Whereas at The TRiiBe, when we came in, we came in swinging and it was just like, look, we're not covering crime the same way that everybody else covered crime. We're going to get at the root of what's causing the crime. We're gonna get at the root of what's causing the inequalities and things like that going on in Chicago and why certain communities have resources and jobs and wealth and other communities don't.
So for us, when we launched, we started a series called Another Life where we went and talked to black millennials who had lost a loved one to gun violence and talking about how the cameras come in and cover that scene for a day or two, maybe a week and then they don't come back. That's the end of it. So it was like what happens to these communities when the cameras are gone? And that really drove a conversation in Chicago about the ways the media covered violence. And now we no longer see those headlines of having many people shot or hurt or killed in one weekend.
So for us, the hardest thing has really just been bringing black Chicago into the table in the media industry and making sure that our voices are heard and that our perspectives are understood. Since black people have been in America that has not been the case with media. If you go back and look at any newspapers, archives you will see the ways that black people have been covered in those publications. So for us, we wanted to continue the same torches as an Ebony Magazine and as a Chicago Defender. And just make sure that, we were telling the stories that needed to be told in that particular time and giving that nuance and agency to black Chicago is that we had not seen done in years.
So Kathy, why don't you give us just a couple of examples that are complimentary to The TRiiBE of other organizations that MacArthur supports whose voices need to be heard and need to be valued. Just a couple of them.
So The TRiiBE is funded through our partnership with the Field Foundation that funds a range of Chicago based news and media outlets. And so, in addition to The TRiiBE, I would point to like Cicero Independiente which is an organization that provides bilingual news reporting for the suburb of Cicero which isn't well-served by any mainstream news organization. And then nationally, we have organizations like Futuro Media Group led by Maria Hinojosa who was for a very long time provided national reporting on the Latino experience who has a syndicated show called Latino USA. ColorLines by Race Forward is another journalism organization that's national that we support. Even Code Switch at NPR which is staffed predominantly by people of color journalists inside of NPR. We've just started to fund that as well. So we have made a concerted effort to ensure that we are uplifting and amplifying the voices and views of journalists and media makers of color who bring different experiences and lived experiences and viewpoints to bear.
But this strategy to really find and lift up those voices grew out of a 2015 exercise that you led. It was a refresh and a relaunch of a MacArthur Foundation's journalism and media program. This is actually, it was a signature body of work since the earliest days of the foundation. But part of the goal of this was to address systemic inequities. You wrote a blog post on that process in 2018 called Recognizing Blind Spots and Changing Course. What did that process of rethinking reveal to you about MacArthur's own blind spots and ways that it wasn't really addressing the inequities that now it does?
And I would say, we're not done, Julie we're still a work in progress. The job continues. So I don't wanna make a sound like MacArthur is, we've achieved and we're successful on this matter of equity and justice and journalism but, that particular essay refers to our Chicago work but it's really relevant across the board.
I mean, we had historically been a national program as you know and we wanted to bring the work to ground in Chicago. So at that time, we followed a very deliberative process where we tried to meet with experts and stakeholders who could tell us about the Chicago media ecosystem. But what we learned was despite our best intentions, we realized that our own default processes, relationships, our priority on the best or track record or looking for organizations with diversified funding, all of these kind of code words in a way kind of led us to and steered us toward a certain set of institutions and away from others. And what we found was that this process where we thought despite our good intentions led us to legacy forms of journalism. It led us to city-wide organizations not community-based organizations.
So, all of these things that seem neutral or objective on the surface ended up leading us toward a set of institutions that probably already had access to capital. It had access to philanthropy, it had access to us and we had to really challenge ourselves to flip our processes, partner with people who had different relationships and work really hard to get to organizations and people that we didn't already know that may not typically be credible in our eyes for a lots of reasons. And I think in the end, we ended up with a better process and a better relationship and a better grant making program.
And so now what happened to complete the story is that we ended up partnering with the Field Foundation of Illinois because we felt that they had the team in place. They had the credibility in the community to speak to and identify organizations that were working in neighborhoods. And so to get away from that like city-wide level of analysis and going into communities. We ended up supporting The TRiiBE through that program, which is a for-profit institution which we wouldn't have necessarily done at MacArthur directly. We ended up, as I said, Cicero Independiente which is a very small, like maybe three person operation in Cicero. We wouldn't have supported that from MacArthur but because we've partnered with Field Foundation and we've put our funds over there, we won, we distributed the power by taking it away from MacArthur as a center of gravity, pushing it out to another foundation that was closer to the ground. And then in turn, they were able to support lots of much smaller organizations that would not have met the eligibility criteria of a MacArthur Foundation.
So Tiffany, when you created The TRiiBE and you began to approach philanthropy to you what was your experience? Was it good? Did you have to teach? Tell us a little bit about that.
I've got to say when Kathy and MacArthur Foundation came into Chicago, it was a breath of fresh air. Prior to that, again, when we started The TRiiBE we didn't have any investments, any funding, any anything. It was just a passion project. And us being content creators by nature, we weren't business people. So it was like us trying to figure out how to run a media business and also still create the content 'cause it was just three of us doing all the operations.
So in the beginning, the philanthropy world just seemed like this walled off gated place that we didn't have access to. And anytime that we would try to build those relationships with people in the philanthropy world, we just didn't fit their model of what they were looking for. And we couldn't figure out why or how to even, in the beginning we wanted to bend ourselves to find ways to meet whatever it was they were looking for.
And, in the early beginnings, we would always get invited to apply for like these micro grant. So all of these different organizations would say, Hey, come in and apply for a $5,000 grants to do a story or to do some type of project. And for us, being that it was only three of us, those types of projects are challenging to do because a lot of times there is a lot of red tape. There's a lot of tears that you got across and eyes that you got to die. And it's like, once we really sit down and fill out this grant, once we get through figuring out exactly what this project is and how we have to meet like being unfold to make this project work, is it worth it? Is $5,000 worth all of this work that we have to do? So a lot of people were upset with us because we just wouldn't apply for those grants. After a while, it's just like, why wouldn't you take money? It doesn't make any sense. And it's like, because we could also do a sponsored content video for a company and get that $5,000 way quicker and easier than going through the philanthropy process for a micro grant. So with us, it felt like the philanthropy world worked together in some sort of way. Like, if they know about one person then that person is good and they're in with everybody.
But when MacArthur came into town, it was just like we wanna understand the media landscape here. We want to figure out what communities aren't being included in media. And we really took the time to build that relationship with them and going to different meetings and different talks about what's going on in Chicago. And that was the first time we had received operational funding was through Field Foundation giving us a $50,000 grant. And that allowed us to start building an infrastructure to turn our passion project into a business. And it also sounded the alarm for other philanthropy shops to come in and say, if they like The TRiiBE, then we like The TRiiBE too now.
So I would say that that's the one critique that I have of philanthropy is that, it's very reactive and it seems that if one group gets on board or since we're in this state now where journalism is in crisis everyone is focused on journalism since the Black Lives Matter, conversation is happening everyone is focused on making sure that they're helping and serving black, brown and indigenous people.
But my challenge would be, to try to see the challenges before we get to this place of like fake news and this place that we're trying to come back, the issues that are going on in journalism right now 'cause we all saw this thing in coming. It could have been something that could have been a conversation I think earlier. And it wouldn't have been like this scramblㄷ to get people situated and in place to really help their communities. But I admire and credit MacArthur Foundation for everything in Chicago because yeah, before then it was just like, that was a space that we just didn't have access to.
So, philanthropy I think is actually in the midst of making some procedural changes. I think the economic dislocation from the pandemic and the social awareness and hope for racial reckoning in the Black Lives Matter context, many foundations are saying, okay, let's share the power, let's shift the power. Let's make sure we're giving general operating support. And not that really sometimes burdensome project support you talked about Tiffany but I think actually journalism has a role to play in making sure that these changes are sustained and not just snap back to a prior normal when things feel a little different.
But you raise this notion about a business model. Kathy, the New York writer, Jill Lepore says that and this is a quote, "Good reporting is expensive but readers don't wanna pay for it." There's the notion that news is a public good which makes it hard to monetize. And then the positive externalities, more informed voting, less corruption. These are hard to capture in the marketplace. Are there some ways around this, we don't wanna pay for it sort of dynamic. But I'm gonna ask you to Tiffany in a moment as a for-profit you must imagine that people will pay for it. So Kathy, talk a little bit about that.
Yeah, if I may, I'd like to just jump back into the previous conversation before I answer this one about philanthropy and the blind spots and why it is so hard for organizations like The TRiiBE to get support in the first place. I think that we have enough, two things work against media funding in general the sort of philanthropic obsession with metrics and the obsession with scale. And in a lot of ways, both of those things are really important in keeping foundations accountable and making sure that we are good stewards of our money and making sure that we make good investments. But in the case of media and journalism, it's really hard to prove that causal relationship between a piece of journalism and then some kind of impact. In the case of investigative reporting, you can do that but in the general work of informing the American public and changing the narrative discourse it's really hard to measure that. And so that's working against journalism and why a lot of funders can't or don't fund journalism. And the second thing is a scale issue.
Yes, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal of the world, they have scale, they reach massive audiences. Fox is, across all of its platform, television, radio and internet is the number one news source in America. But, if we're too obsessed with scale then we can't get to the information needs of different communities in different places. And that's where you have organizations like The TRiiBE or you have organizations that are topic specific. So you have identity specific organizations but you have topic specific. We can't get to the really good deep climate reporting or the really good deep reporting on poverty. 'Cause those are, there's a market failure. There's really no audiences raising their hand and saying, "I would love to fund that reporting on poverty. Yes, sign me up." So that works against scale.
So those are just two things I wanna mention and why philanthropy has to look at itself and scrutinize. And I think you used to use this word, Julie when you were president at MacArthur, we have to interrogate our own assumptions and biases and our processes in order to ensure that we are not replicating systemic inequities that already exist or grant making. So let's just back to that other conversation. So on the issue of are audiences willing to pay?
Those were good points though. I'm glad that you brought those up.
Thank you, Tiffany.
On the issue of are audiences willing to pay, actually we need to look no further than public media to see that audiences do pay. There, you have a long history and a proven model for audience support for news and public affairs programming. So I think increasingly, when you give audiences a product they will pay for because they value it then they will pay for it. Now, will it cover the entire cost of the enterprise of doing that reporting? Probably not. So I think news organizations, whether they're for-profit or non-profit, everyone is getting really smart about how to piece together a revenue structure that includes lots of things. It includes subscription or membership income. It includes philanthropy even the New York Times, The Guardian, they are looking for philanthropic support for their journalism.
So I think philanthropy is gonna become a bigger part of the revenue pie, but, we still have some advertising and some corporate sponsorships that are helping to sustain a news gathering. And then finally, new types of earned revenue. I mean, think about museums. If The TRiiBE needs to start selling t-shirts and mugs, they will. City Bureau has great mugs or ticketed events because we're in the era of the celebrity reporter, so I could imagine ticketed events that also earn income for news organizations. So the problem is, or the opportunity is that you can no longer just be a journalist. You have to be a business person and a journalist which is why The TRiiBE is so good at what they do.
So let's talk about your business model. Tiffany, tell us about how you wanna make sure that you cobbled together all of the pieces of the infrastructure that will be there to help you survive and thrive. Are you selling t-shirts already?
Yeah, we do. We have t-shirts (laughs) we have t-shirts, we have crew necks and we're getting ready to drop some more merchandise in the future. But for us, the biggest pushback we got in the beginning was that we weren't a non-profit and again, a philanthropy world was very much into only funding nonprofits at the time. It was a way to combat the whole fake news thing. And, I don't know the full reason behind it but they just weren't into for-profit media. But for us, we relied on being for-profit because we need multiple streams of income.
Again, at the beginning, we didn't have access to the philanthropy world and coming out of the black community, it's not like we're, a naturally wealthy community. There's a lot of social economic inequity stacked against us. So we need the money. Where's the money gonna come from? And we built The TRiiBE as a business model. Again, studying and looking at our predecessors like Johnson Publishing, Ebony magazine and Johnson Publishing had multiple strings of income coming in. They had the print magazine itself but they also had fashion fair. They also had their hands in film and TV and also looking at those different opportunities as ways to shape narratives too, because film, TV, anything involving culture shapes narratives around a particular group.
So we looked at the way that they set up their business models, we looked at Vibe Magazine. I'm a Vibe Magazine stand is what I grew up on and Vibe magazine saw itself as the number one culture influencer of the 1990s and hip hop was, many people didn't get it too in the beginning but it began to shape culture and it's shaped advertising and it shaped everything. And now hip hop is the number one music genre in the country. So Vibe Magazine positioned itself to say, look, you want to reach black audiences. You want your brand or whatever it is to reach black audiences. This is the way to do that. So for us at The TRiiBE, we have these different we have a for-profit business model because again, if it's something where we're trying to raise money quickly we can use advertising to do that or we can use sponsored content to do that.
With our TRiiBE Guide, which we're getting ready to put out this year, this year's TRiiBE Guide is going to talk about black and indigenous history in Chicago. And our TRiiBE Guide is our annual book that we put out that's like a guide to things like, so Black Chicago. For that, for instance, that was our first time printing and we didn't have any money to print. So it was like, how can we easily raise this money to print without going through a long process of doing it? And we made one phone call to Wintrust and they were like, "Yeah, we want to sponsor this." And that was our print. That is our entire print budget right there.
For our readers, Black Chicago want to read stories that are relatable to them, that talk to them, that includes them in the conversation. But because of the distrust that the media and that tension between the media and the black community that we've seen play out over decades, if not centuries black people would do not pay for media in the same way that other cultures do. Block Club Chicago has an amazing subscription model but that doesn't work for The TRiiBE because our audience doesn't trust the media in the same way that other audiences may trust it. So why pay for it. Why would I pay for a subscription to the Chicago Tribune and watch John Kass talk negatively about black people every week in his column? I'm paying for you to talk negatively to me every day.
So a lot of our work is also relationship building too. It's like we can't ask, we can't have a paywall. I don't believe in paywalls anyway but we can't have a paywall because how can we cover a community that has been oppressed socially and economically all of this time, and then ask them to pay to read the story that we just interviewed the community about? It doesn't make sense and it's never made sense to me.
There's been times I've written a story I can't read my own story 'cause I don't have a subscription to the website. So yeah, I think that non-profit media is great and it's a business model that works for people who are able to run a nonprofit, but for an organization like ours, we wanna shape a culture and conversations across mediums. We see The TRiiBE as being a film house at some point. My business partner is a doc filmmaker. So we wanna make documentaries. We wanna be driving those conversations across the culture. So we see ourselves as more than just a news outlet. And for us it's important to have that for-profit model in order to do that.
So, please, those of you who are listening in and watching why don't come up with a couple more questions we're starting to get a good list of questions but I wanna ask Kathy, I wanna reiterate the question that I had at the beginning, which is, should we be optimistic than an institution and what I said was one that informs and provokes that values and represents the breadth of the American experience and keeps people and institutions honest. Should we be optimistic that that institution, the one that you're talking about with all of its facets and motives and supporters and detractors, should we be optimistic that it can survive and thrive? Kathy, tell us here your view on this moment and the future.
I'm mostly not optimistic when I see what's happening in the larger media space. When I see the kinds of headlines that came out after the hate motivated murders in Atlanta. When I see that there continues to be a diversity and inclusion problem at the highest echelons of news organizations. And when I hear from young reporters of color or women at all stages of their career that they wanna leave the journalism sector because it is a hostile environment for them.
So in those situations, when I hear that, I am not optimistic, but when I think about Tiffany and Morgan at The TRiiBE, when I think about the millennials who are running City Bureau and Block Club Chicago when I see the Asian American journalist who corrected, called out and corrected the mainstream media for its flawed coverage in Atlanta or PBS student reporting labs that's working in poor communities to train young reporters. But when I think of like color of change, a group that was born out of the devastation of hurricane Katrina but is now a powerhouse nonprofit advocating for BIPOC representation at the highest levels inside of Hollywood and Silicon Valley and the Capitol.
When I think of the entrepreneurial spirit and the courage and imagination of the generation coming after me, then I'm optimistic. But that is the segment of the journalism and media sector that gets the smallest proportion of support at the moment. And that's the work ahead for philanthropy.
Okay, I'm not exactly sure what to take away from that. The pessimism today, optimism laced with possibilities for the future. What I wanna do now before giving you, Tiffany, the last word, I wanna bring a couple of questions in that folks in the audience have broached. I don't know which of you would like to answer this but here's a good question. How do you a tokenism in the media, this person wrote, I saw a job postings for black and people of color journalists to report only on race and sort of the notion of conflating journalists of color and reporting on communities of color. It might not really go to the core challenge of diversifying media at large. And so, Tiffany or Kathy, who'd like to comment on that which is not a comment about The TRiiBE. It's about larger media outlets thinking that they're making progress but pigeonholing people by their identity.
I could speak to it. I think there's a difference in doing it in a capitalists like, I'm trying to gain something way versus doing it in a way that's actually serving community. And what I mean by that is prior to I used to work at the Orlando Sentinel in Florida and on the breaking news desk it was just myself and another reporter who were black and we were two black women. And as you know, Orlando is a city with a vast black population. There's a lot of Haitian people there, there's a lot of Jamaican people there. So anytime something would be going on that was black, I would be asked to go cover it.
And in one situation, there was a young woman who went missing and eventually she was found dead, but her family was of Haitian descent. And I had to go to the funeral to cover the funeral. And imagine had I been someone of Haitian descent covering that family, I covered the, I think she was missing for like maybe 10 days. So I had to a built a relationship with the family but there was a constant communication barrier because they want us to speak in native tongue. It was more comfortable for them. But growing up in North Lawndale, there weren't any like Haitian people around me.
So imagine if we had someone of Haitian decent in a newsroom to go cover that community, to talk about what this means for the community to be able to relate to that community on a level that I just couldn't do because I'm black. I understand what it's like to be black going through this, but I don't understand what it's like to be a Haitian community. I think the mom immigrated here from Haiti and the girl was first born of that generation. Imagine how the storytelling would have changed or what type of information that reporter could have gotten out of the family had that language barrier not been there.
And we saw that a lot of times, there were not enough Spanish speaking people in the newsroom. And Orlando again is a population with a large Spanish community. So I don't think it's tokenizing to have someone come in and just cover race or just cover a particular facet of race. I think that is, if you approach it with the perspective of serving community and uplifting that community and being able to really, really, really reach the community where they are then it's a service more so than tokenizing that reporter or that'd be in particular.
Thank you for that different look at something like that that the audience member brought up.
Here's another one, which is, we're seeing trends where billionaires are buying media companies. I mean, even the most recent counteroffer for the Chicago Tribune newspapers. So how is that changing the landscape? Kathy, why don't you take that one?
Yeah, I think absent an alternative I think we'd be grateful if a billionaire came in and took the Tribune from the hands of a hedge fund who is not interested in the civic purpose of a newspaper. But that's again, absent an alternative, absent a viable business model of diversified business revenue model for journalism. I think that this is all an active situation. Nothing has settled. I think that some newspapers are being taken over by billionaires. Some newspaper chains are being taken over by hedge funds.
We have a model of philanthropy taking over Major Daily in other parts. So we have in Utah, I think one of the Major Daily there became a nonprofit from a historically for-profit models. So there's so much experimentation going on right now. It's a really active arena at the moment and I'm not sure what the sector is going to look like in 10 to 15 to 20 years. I really honestly don't. And I think some of the pressures that are on journalism are also external to the actual act of journalism. A lot of the political polarization, a lot of the disinformation misinformation campaigns, that's coming from elsewhere, but it affects journalism and the sector and reporters. And so, pulling that apart and figuring out where the levers for addressing and solving those issues, it's really, really tricky right now.
I wanna ask you Tiffany, another comment from someone in the audience, what should readers do to find and support community led media? What if somebody really wants to explore the variety of voices? Where do they start?
First, you could just Google alternative news outlets in a given city. Just off the top of my head, thinking about a place like Memphis naturally would go to the newspaper, which is, I believe the Memphis Commercial Appeal but there's a independent shop out there called MLK50 that's doing amazing work and telling stories from unique perspectives about the black community there in Memphis that I believe it started off as a project specifically about Martin Luther King and that it has expanded in the last four years to covering more issues in the black community down there in Memphis.
So I think in every city, across the country there are independent media outlets. There are alternative weeklies to turn to who are telling and highlighting different perspectives about what's going on in that particular city. I remember when the election was going on and I think Arizona was like one of those States we were like sitting up waiting all week for them to finish counting the ballots. I found a small independent news outlet there to tell me, to catch me up on what's been going on in Arizona for people of color this entire time. And I think that particular, that outlet was catering specifically to the indigenous community there. So, I learned a completely different view and perspective on the elections, just from simply following them on Twitter and seeing the way that they were covering the election and compared to watching CNN all night and seeing the way that they were covering things from their vantage point.
So a lot of these outlets are on Twitter, on social media. A lot of them are Google-able but just like you don't put in an effort to figure out who's doing that work. And it may not even be an organization it could just be a blog. Like in Chicago when the Laquan McDonald case was going on it wasn't the media outlets that broke the story about the dash car camera and all of that stuff. It was like an independent journalist who I don't even know if he had a blog, but he put all the work in as with the FOIAs and everything to break that news in hand the main street media followed up afterwards. So, figuring out who the journalists are, figuring out what those smaller shops are. And I guarantee you will learn an entirely new perspective about a city that you didn't know just from watching or reading, whatever the mainstream publication is there.
In Chicago, we're so lucky because we are not a news desert like a lot of other places around country, whether it's a small town or a mid-size city. We have so many independent and small community-based news outlets. And in fact, there's an organization called The Chicago Independent Media Alliance and they're gonna launch a fundraiser very soon where you can go on their website and you can make a donation and it will be distributed across all of the organizations, or you could pick and choose which ones you wanna donate to. But we're very fortunate to have a very dynamic and robust set of, gay and lesbian outlets and ethnic and racial identity based outlets, non-English speaking, the Indian, Chinese, Korean. We have so much in Chicago and it's not that hard to find them.
So I'm actually gonna answer my own question, which was, should we be optimistic? And I have to say with leaders like you Kathy in the philanthropic seat and leadership like you on the frontline, Tiffany, right there making content and business model work and making sure to hold local government accountable. I'm optimistic. I mean, it doesn't mean that there isn't an enormous amount of work still to be done and constant vigilance and grappling with our own frustration. When there's a sense of, can we not find anything that's reliable? It sounds to me like what you're both saying is lift the hood up a little bit. And there's lots of people doing the hard work of what journalism and media is supposed to do if we're gonna have a responsive democracy and a just society.
So I wanna thank both of you for a terrific conversation and wish you well and I'll be following you and I'll be subscribing and I'll be looking at you from afar, Kathy. And I hope that those of you in the audience will dig deep into the resource guide that we shared and we'll share again, because there are links to articles and websites, which will take you deep into this topic. And I think when you go there, you'll come away with a sense of optimism.
So thank you both. And let me also say, there'll be an opportunity. If anyone wants to continue a conversation with me I have a few slots left in some office hours that are next week. And so happy to have any of you in the audience sign up for that. I would look forward to having a further conversation about this or about anything else about philanthropy that you might be intrigued about. So with that, we'll have, the next page actually shows you a quick how to connect at first level with the speakers and wanna thank you for a terrific conversation. Thank you so much.
Thank you Julie.
On Tuesday, April 6, the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation and the Harris School of Public Policy hosted the second session in the Perspectives in Philanthropy event series, which addressed an issue of deep concern to philanthropy: the changing landscape of one of the country’s bedrock institutions, independent journalism, and media.
In this session, Julia Stasch, philanthropy executive in residence at the Rustandy Center, was joined by Kathy Im, MPP '97, director of the journalism and media program at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and Tiffany Walden, multimedia journalist and co-founder and editor-in-chief of The TRiiBE, a digital media platform for Black millennials in Chicago. The conversation explored questions such as:
- What does voice and visibility look like in a vibrant and responsive democracy?
- What role does philanthropy play in the generation of independent media?
- How can journalism regain public trust in the age of misinformation?
- Julia Stasch (Moderator), Immediate Past President, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; Philanthropy Executive in Residence, Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation
- Kathy Im, MPP '97, Director, Journalism & Media at The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
- Tiffany Walden, Co-founder & Editor-in-Chief of The TRiiBE