Unless you’re a broadcast journalist, I’m going to guess you likely didn’t get into journalism with the intention of being the face of a fundraising campaign or personally tied to your news outlet’s story. But for many journalist-entrepreneurs seeking to build trust with the communities they serve, it’s become an unexpected and necessary part of the job. If you’re still working through this, you’re not alone. We caught up with two leaders in the BIPOC-led independent media space to find out how they’ve thought through being the face of a campaign, and what they’ve learned along the way.
Step out of your comfort zone
Matthew DiMera is founder and publisher of the BIPOC-centered news outlet, The Resolve. Like many journalists, DiMera says he’s someone who prefers to be behind the camera, not in front of it. “It’s not the reason I got into journalism. The opposite is actually the case,” he says.
But that hasn’t held DiMera back from tying his professional experiences a Black and queer editor to The Resolve’s mission and communicating with his audience directly through social media videos in the lead up to the outlet’s launch.
“It’s really needed to do the kind of journalism that I’m interested in doing, and that a lot of people are sort of coming to understand the value of, which is community-first and really about rebuilding trust and relationships with the communities that you’re covering,” says DiMera. “And you can’t do that as a faceless, nameless board.”
To do journalism differently, in a way that’s not top down but a two-way relationship, means establishing that personal connection, DiMera says.
“Even if the audience is just still consuming and not writing back to you or having a conversation, there’s still a sense of, ‘Oh, OK, I know where this information is coming from.’ ”
This is especially true for communities of colour and other underrepresented groups, for whom the wounds from past media coverage are deeper.
“There’s sort of a questioning of media as an authority… Like, what are the reasons you’ve given me to trust you?” says DiMera. “We’re really sort of undoing the sins of the past.”
“It will take longer to build that trust, and it will be a lot easier to break that trust, if not handled properly,” he continues. “I understand on a personal level the challenge that has to be overcome here.”
The community response to The Resolve has been really good so far, DiMera says. More and more people are reaching out and writing back, which he thinks stems from that personal connection and inviting community members to share their thoughts in response to the newsletter. “That shouldn’t be revolutionary, but I think it is.”
Start from the ground up
Emilee Gilpin is a Michif nomad currently living in W̱SÁNEĆ territories who serves as managing editor of IndigiNews, an independent Indigenous media outlet dedicated to covering the news in a way that allows “stories to be heard, understood and respected,” as the outlet puts it.
“I really think it’s important for people, if you’re working with communities, to make sure that it’s community first,” Gilpin says, pointing to the difference it makes with the IndigiNews reporters who report about their own community and connect these experiences to the campaign.
The challenge and opportunity of independent media, she says, comes from the fact that you’re building something from scratch. “It’s tricky, because it doesn’t happen overnight. It definitely is a process. It’s figuring out how we can shift away from the way that things have been going.”
With so much innovation happening at a fast pace, she says it’s important to keep editorial staff and community members closely involved in building the model and mission.
“If you’re going to be asking people for money, you need to be really clear on what it is you’re asking for, what it is you’re building, and for who and how that’s going to happen.”
For journalists, transparency is always key, especially in your campaign story, says Gilpin. “People are smart. They’re going to invest in what they want to invest in — they don’t need to kind of have these false narratives.”
As you innovate new funding models, keep in mind that the model is likely just as new to newsreaders, she says. “It’s a fairly new culture of paying for the news, and that not just being provided for you.”
If the mission is clear, and you’re committed to transparency, the ask becomes clearer. “The stories that we go out and get or that come to us are stories that are mostly relationship and community-based. And so people who support that, I think, are willing to invest and want to know what’s going on and want to know what that journey is like,” says Gilpin.
And the more authentic voices, the better. “There really is space for all of us, there’s space for all of our stories, there’s space for people to tell their stories in different ways,” she says, describing a teaching she carries.
“I mean, you can go to a library and read many different genres of books and different kinds of stories, like why can’t you engage with many different forms of journalism?”
In the news
- Eyeing a future subscription service, Twitter acquires the ad-free news startup Scroll.
- Five reasons to be a little bit optimistic about local news.
- Did a newsletter company create a more equitable media system — or replicate the flaws of the old one?
- The Vox Media Writers Workshop looks like a great opportunity for mentoring, for early-career staff and student journalists.
And one more thing…
The May 20 deadline for the next round of the Indie News Challenge is fast approaching. Learn more here.