Pivot Fund boosts media companies run by people of color
LISTEN: GPB's Peter Biello reports on The Pivot Fund: an effort to combat disinformation and connect underserved communities throughout Georgia.
It’s rare these days to learn of news organizations expanding — and that’s especially true of small media companies that primarily serve Black and Hispanic communities.
But thanks to a series of grants, several news outlets owned by people of color are doing just that. In an effort to combat disinformation and connect underserved communities, the Pivot Fund announced last month that it’s giving out $2 million in its first round of grants to organizations throughout Georgia.
Wane Hailes is one of those grant recipients.
“You don’t know that feeling, man: to get that phone call and then say you were accepted," Hailes said. "I’m doing a happy dance. I’m like, good God almighty, thank you Jesus.”
From his office in Columbus, Hailes runs The Courier/Eco Latino, an online and print publication serving both Black and Spanish-speaking communities. He’s been doing it by himself for 17 years.
“I’m talking about writing the stories, seeking the stories out, editing, copywriting, taking the pictures, layout and design, doing it all,” he said.
Right now, he said, advertising pays the bills, but this $140,000 Pivot Fund grant is a game-changer. Hailes will hire reporters who know the Black and Hispanic communities they serve.
He said he used to think the paper would die when he died.
“But now with me being able to get some reporters and hopefully have an editor and have someone to carry on the legacy, if I die, the paper will go on," he said.
The Pivot Fund also will provide technical assistance and consulting services. Once he hires more staff, Hailes says he’ll drop some duties, but he’ll keep writing his weekly column, “The View from the Pew.”
The Courier/Eco Latino’s biggest social media presence is on Facebook, where it has just over 2,000 followers. But Hailes is hoping to get an audience boost from another Pivot Grant recipient.
Just up the street, Davis Broadcasting is the state’s largest Black-owned radio station, with signals in Columbus and Atlanta. Vice President Geniece Granville said the station plans to use stories produced by the Courier/Eco Latino.
"We can use them in an audio way as well on our radio stations and we can work together digitally to make sure we get that information out on all platforms that we can," she said.
With its own grant of more than $136,500, Granville said Davis Broadcasting will launch a community podcast platform and hire a sales manager to make it sustainable. Without news organizations like hers, she said, stories important to the Black community may be missed — for example, how banks are lending money for housing.
"Not just dealing with just discriminatory practices, but lack of information, proving information to families that may not fit on a list that another organization is using," she said.
Other Pivot Fund grantees include a Spanish-language news organization in Savannah, an Atlanta-based digital publisher focusing on Asian communities and, in LaGrange, a television station.
April Ross is the owner of the BEE TV network. Out of a one-room studio in LaGrange known as “the Bee Hive,” she and community members record and produce their programs. She started out live-streaming on Facebook. When a local TV station came up for sale, she bought it.
Her stories rely in large part on her deep connections in the Black community. But she says that's not the extent of the TV station's identity.
“I try to say we’re not a Black station, we’re not a white station, we’re a people’s station in God’s network," she said. "For so long they felt like they didn’t have a voice. And now they look to me and say ‘You are our voice.’”
Pivot Fund founder Tracie Powell said the fund's purpose is to elevate voices from traditionally marginalized communities. She said in the fight against disinformation, it’s essential to empower journalists of color.
"Some of that disinformation is caused because there are too few or no journalists of color in a lot of newsrooms in this country," she said. "And so they don't see those places as safe spaces. They don't see the media covering stories comprehensively."
Powell says success for these grant recipients means, among other things, sustainability. "They will become more sustainable. They will generate new revenue. They will have diverse revenue streams. They will have new news products. We will have more quality, credible news that serves, again, the whole community, not just part of it."