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Flint, MI— Flint Beat is among 20 publications selected from a pool of more than 300 applicants to take part in the Facebook Journalism Project’s Sustainability Accelerator Program.
The six-month program is designed to address “specific business challenges facing the news industry” for publications owned or managed by Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian and other people of color. Each newsroom will receive financial support to develop and implement a business sustainability plan.
Industry leaders from Facebook, the International Center for Journalists, and Accelerator coaches selected newsrooms that demonstrated a track record of community impact and a “readiness to pursue their biggest business opportunities.”
Jiquanda Johnson founded Flint Beat in 2017 to fill what she saw as a “news gap” in Flint. As a Black woman, she said she’s had to work harder to gain sources of funding.
“One of the biggest issues I feel like I have as a Black woman-led news organization is that when we chase funding, my white peers can come to funders with an idea. I have to prove myself. I have to come after I’ve been putting in the work before they will even entertain funding me,” Johnson said.
Historically, print publications relied on ad revenue. However, as more content moved online since the advent of the internet, the business model of print journalism became unsustainable. Now, newsrooms need clicks, online traffic and “diverse revenue streams,” Johnson said.
Johnson built Flint Beat from the ground up. At one time, she played all roles: reporter, grant writer, publisher, social media manger, and editor. But grants have allowed her to grow the publication, hiring a managing editor, two full-time reporters, a photographer, and work with freelance writers in the community.
“This is the third time the Facebook Journalism Project has invested in the work that we do. Initially, we got a $5,000 grant from them when COVID kicked off. Then they kicked in another $100,000 for more COVID work,” she said.
Flint Beat was also supported this year by the Borealis Philanthropy’s Racial Equity in Journalism Fund, Google News Initiative and Solutions Journalism Network. In addition, the organization works in partnership with a number of national news outlets including the Center for Public Integrity and TheTrace.org.
“I say stuff like, ‘yeah, we give the news for free,’ but producing it costs. And so, I really need people to understand that. When we’re out here doing these great stories, these impactful stories, we’re being recognized for our work on a national level. It costs to make this happen,” she said.
In addition to a grant that will provide financial support, Flint Beat will participate in a series of workshops and training sessions built around three key objectives: to facilitate collaboration among publishers, to share and “scale” best newsroom practices, and to build business sustainability.
“Newsrooms covering underserved and marginalized communities are trying to figure it out,” she said.
Eighty percent of the organizations selected for the program are local newsrooms dedicated to serving historically marginalized communities.
“I think that this program will help us identify a number of things: how we engage with the community, what audience members want [and] we’ll be in a better position to use our data based on our audience to better serve them.”
Johnson said she is working to produce a sustainable plan and enjoys working with a “cohort” of individuals who share her experience as a person of color.