Jan 9, 2024 - Business

Exclusive: Coalition of 10 Black publishers incorporate as public benefit company

Illustration of a person holding money that is styled like a newspaper

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Word in Black, a media startup incubated within the Local Media Foundation (LMF), has officially incorporated as a public benefit company, CEO Nancy Lane told Axios.

Why it matters: The milestone serves as a blueprint for ways nonprofits can scale other local media collaboratives.

  • The public benefit corporation model is meant to help the startup generate social and public good, while also providing more commercial opportunities than a traditional nonprofit structure could allow.

Catch up quick: The Word in Black collective was formed in late 2020 to create one unified, national news site that would be easier for participating publishers to monetize and grow than relying solely on growth from their individual sites.

  • The idea was developed by Elinor Tatum, CEO of New York Amsterdam News, in the wake of George Floyd's murder and the subsequent protests that inspired more philanthropic commitment to racial equity issues.

Details: Word in Black was initially funded by the Local Media Association (LMA), the trade group affiliated with LMF, and a local news group called the Local Media Consortium (LMC.)

  • In total, it's raised about $6 million, including money from other nonprofit and private shareholders, over the past three years, said Lane, CEO of LMF and LMA.
  • The 10 Word in Black publishers are The Atlanta Voice, Michigan Chronicle, Dallas Weekly, AFRO News, Houston Defender, New York Amsterdam News, Seattle Medium, Sacramento Observer, St. Louis American and Washington Informer.
  • In addition to a shared website, the participating publishers also can share third-party management services, helping to slash business costs.
  • Editorially, the structure has allowed all 10 local publishers to tap into the national reporting from Word in Black for their local newsrooms. Word in Black employs 10 journalists of its own.

Driving the news: After initially funding the creation of Word in Black, LMF sold the startup's assets back to Word in Black as a public benefit corporation on Jan. 1.

  • The company now has an independent board and is exploring more commercial opportunities to expand, including hiring a director of business development to cultivate sponsorships, events and reader revenue.
  • LMF will continue to provide support as a shareholder in the new company, alongside 21 other shareholders, which include the 10 local publications within Word in Black, as well as a slew of private backers such as Google News Initiative, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Deloitte, Walton Family Foundation, Wells Fargo, and many others.
  • LMF and LMA will continue to manage the startup for the next three years to ensure a smooth transition to a public benefit company.

The big picture: Word In Black is the only media startup of its kind and serves as a future model for the industry.

  • Lane said LMA and LMF are already in talks about scaling other programs based on Word in Black's success, such as News Is Out, a Queer media collaborative.

What's next: The group plans to bring more local Black publishers from across the country into the Word in Black collective in the coming years.

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