“We are here to fight disinformation”: Sara Lomax-Reese and Akoto Ofori-Atta build the future.”

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham  

Hey Y’all, it’s Brittany…

We had a fascinating show all packaged up for you, locked and ready to release. And you’re still gonna hear it. 

 But first, two things happened on Wednesday-the day before our show airs, that made me want to hop back on the mic. 

Wednesday night, after a number of Russian cyberattacks on Ukrainian government sites, CNN and NPR correspondents reported hearing explosions in multiple Ukrainian cities, including the capital Kyiv.  We talk a lot about domestic issues on this podcast-and frankly it took me a long time to understand what was happening there. But being part of a global community means caring beyond borders. Dr. King’s vision for a beloved community is one In which I deeply believe: an end to systemic racism, an end to the violence of poverty, and an end to the destruction of militarism. Whatever the cause, war hurts the most vulnerable. I am praying not only for Ukraine, but for an end to the suffering of the everyday people who’ll be harmed the most.

 And Wednesday morning, Governor Greg Abbot of Texas issued a public directive to the state’s department of Family and Protective Services: that all children, teachers, and caregivers of trans children be investigated for abuse. 

Look here Greg-get the hell away from our children. And I’m calling you by your first name because you and your bigotry get no respect from me. It amazes me that supposed small government conservatives have no problem expanding their power to reach into the lives of oppressed people simply for existing. Health care for trans children is not abuse: it is gender affirming care that affirms lives. And loving your children for who they are is the greatest form of parenting their is. 

 We should all be disgusted when they criminalize humanity. All of us.

If you can, consider Donating to TransTexas and EqualityTexas, two organizations leading the fight on the ground. And raise the alarm by amplifying trans lawyers, leaders and children to your networks and platforms.

 None of us are free until all of us are free. WE are UNDISTRACTED.

On the show today, Akoto Ofori-Atta and Sara Lomax-Reese. We’ll be talking to these two founders about the new wave of black and female led news organizations. 

Akoto Ofori-Atta We need to repair the relationship between black communities and credible media sources. What are your interests? What are you worried about? What are your curiosities? What challenges do you face? 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham That’s coming up. First, it’s your UnTrending news. First up, a jury in the trial of the three men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery have convicted them of hate crimes. The killers had already been found guilty of murder by a state court. The hate crime charges were filed by the U.S. Department of Justice. The federal trial proceeded because a man’s family had objected to a plea deal. The family pushed for a trial instead because they wanted the evidence of the defendant’s bigotry to be made public. Now, y’all, I always say verdicts like these aren’t justice. A living Ahmaud Arbery is the very least a man’s family is owed and accountability.

On Monday, Colombia’s Constitutional Court ruled to decriminalize abortion. Previously, abortion was only legal there in three cases. If the pregnancy endangered the parent’s life, if it was a product of sexual assault, or if the fetus was fatally deformed. Now someone may seek an abortion for any reason in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. This is big because every year, hundreds of people in Colombia were investigated for what the government saw as abortion related crimes. The decision follows a trend in Latin American countries, with Argentina’s move to legalize in December 2020 and Mexico’s decriminalization in September 2021, sending a beautiful, powerful precedent. Political victories are the gifts organizers give to all of us, and Colombian activists have been fighting years for this. This is y’all’s victory, and you deserve all your flowers. Also, U.S. government, you know this is making you look wild, right? And to quote one Porsha Williams of Housewives fame, y’all going down the wrong road. Wrong Road. Abortion bans disproportionately affect marginalized people, and that should be enough for us to straighten up and fly right to another bit of good news this week. Multiple pieces of good news. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’ll take it. This week, the U.S. national women’s soccer team won a $24 million settlement in their equal pay lawsuit. Here’s Megan Rapinoe speaking about it on the Today show. 

Megan Rapinoe As always, there’s really no justice going backwards. The only justice really now is ensuring that this never happens again, and this lawsuit is a massive step forward. So for us, this is just a huge win and ensuring that we not only right the wrongs of the past, but set the next generation up for something that we could only have dreamed of. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Now, the U.S. women’s national team will vote on the settlement as part of their next contract negotiation with the U.S. Soccer Federation, and if they agree to it, the players will receive $22 million in back pay and another two million will be placed into a fund to support player’s, post soccer careers and to fund charitable efforts to encourage women and girls to get into the sport. Now this is less than the $66 million in back pay they were fighting for, but it does set up more equal footing. Get it! What do you see what I did there? It sets up more equal footing going forward. Now, some y’all are all over the internet talking about how we shouldn’t care about rich people getting richer and I get it. But sometimes it takes folks with the privilege and the platform waging the fight to break open the space for everyone else to. This is a blueprint if we choose to use it for the legal precedent it provides us for the collective bargaining model it gives us and for the example of tenacity and community that has driven this fight home. When we operate like that, we can win. And as we wrap up our Olympics coverage, I have another piece of yes, good news. Elana Meyers Taylor has become the most decorated black athlete in Winter Olympics history. Last week, Meyers Taylor, a bobsledder, won her second medal in this Olympics and her fifth over her entire career after winning silver in the two woman bobsled this past weekend. Especially impressive considering she started her Olympics in COVID isolation after testing positive and being sidelined during the opening ceremonies. Here’s Meyers Taylor speaking about her journey. 

Elana Meyers Taylor This has been an incredible Olympics, you know, starting off in isolation, I had no idea what was possible, but fortunately I had a great team behind me. It just goes to show you that even when the cards are stacked against you, if you have the right support behind you, you can still achieve great things any day.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham The Black Girls are winning is a good day, indeed. And finally, this week, runners in New York City’s Chinatown honored Christina Euna Lee by running a mile for every year of her life. Thirty five miles around her block, Christina was murdered earlier in February. By a man who followed her and forced his way into her home. This attack hasn’t been deemed a racially motivated hate crime, but the reality is violence doesn’t have to fit into a nice, tidy category to cause fear and deep, deep grief. Since 2020, the U.S. has seen a rise in anti-Asian violence, which has disproportionately affected Asian and Asian American women, according to a 2021 study from Stop AAPI Hate. So we wanted to make space here to honor those grieving Christina and the many others who have faced violence, sending love to you all and standing in solidarity. 

Coming up, I’ll be talking to Akoto Ofori-Atta and Sara Lomax-Reese about disinformation in the Black community and how to hold media organizations to a higher standard. Right after this short break.

And we are back, so back in 1827, John Wilke, Peter Williams Jr., John Rassmann and Samuel Cornish, they all founded Freedom’s Journal, the country’s first Black newspaper. In this very first issue, they wrote. “Have others spoken for us too long? Has the public been deceived by misrepresentations?” Y’all, in this age of disinfo and Lilywhite newsrooms, they could have written that today. Back then, newspapers in the South were depicting black people as inferior at best and so often inhuman. Someone had to step up and tell the truth. Freedom’s journal published reporting and opinion pieces about enslavement, about the proposal to resettle free Black people in Liberia, about the Haitian Revolution. It ran birth and death and marriage announcements. They published poetry and lectures, and probably the first piece of fiction ever published by a Black American author. Freedom’s Journal inspired an entire industry in the US. The Black press grew throughout the Civil War, and by 1890 there was an Afro-American Press Association. By the 1940s, there were some 250 Black newspapers. But like clockwork, as soon as we do our own things, some colonizers always comes to an event. And by the civil rights era, the Black press, it’s treated like like something of a farm league for quote unquote mainstream newspapers. A lot of the best talent we get, recruited to cover Black issues at white papers, still often relegating those issues and their reporters to the sidelines. In the last few years, Black journalists and organizations like the National Association of Black Journalists have been blowing the whistle on why so many news outlets and yes, social media platforms have just let racism proliferate on their watch. My guests today think we can do better, probably because they’re out there doing it. Akoto Ofori-Atta and Sara Lomax-Reese are both trying to sort through the noise and create a new vision of what Black and Brown press can look like. Akoto is a co-founder along with Lauren Williams of Capital B, a Black led nonprofit, local and national news organization. Sara has been a media entrepreneur serving Black communities for almost 30 years. Along with Ms. Mitra Kalita, she’s created U R L Media, which is a network for Black and Brown media outlets, to increase their audience reach and build sustainable organizations. She’s also the CEO of W U R D Radio and Philadelphia. One of the few Black owned talk radio stations in the entire nation. Akoto, Sara, thank you so much for having this conversation with us. I’m really looking forward to this. 

Sara Lomax-Reese Thank you. 

Akoto Ofori-Atta Thank you for having us. 

Sara Lomax-Reese Mm-Hmm. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So there’s a common thread in both of your stories as founders. You both had conversations with your co-founders. What is now almost two summers ago, the summer of 2020, the summer of our great discontent, the summer, some say of our reckoning, we’ll see how much of a reckoning it is and continues to be as time marches on. But in that moment, you decide to found Capital B and URL media, respectively. Sara, I love to start with you. Take us back to those conversations. What issues were you thinking about in that moment? What came up for you? 

Sara Lomax-Reese Sure. So I have been kind of a Black media entrepreneur my entire career. So in addition to URL, I also have been running W.r.t. Radio, a BLack talk radio station that my family has owned since twenty two. I’ve been running it since 2010. And so I know deeply the challenges of being an independent, Black owned media organization. And so when the racial justice protests were happening in 2020, you know, Mitra Kalita and I, my co-founder for URL, we had really respected each other’s work deeply. And when all of the protests and a lot of people were starting to leave their media jobs in 2020 because everybody was realizing that the media was complicit. And so Mitra, who is working at CNN at the time, I again was this independent media entrepreneur. We started talking and we felt like there were so many Black and Brown owned media organizations that already existed that were doing the work like you are at this for a long time. And so we said, what if we were instead of creating something new? What if we looked at high-performing organizations that are BIPOC owned and led that are already out there doing the work? What if we were able to create a network of these organizations who struggle? It’s not because we’re not innovating or innovators. It’s that we don’t have the resources. We don’t have the capital. And so we said, you know what, if we all came together to share content to amplify each other’s content and to share revenue so that we could instead of being? Always on life support. We could actually be centers of innovation. Mitra was like, Yes, and so, you know, it’s just been on and poppin ever since, so it’s been great. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Akoto, what was that moment when you were like, Yeah, we got to go in a different direction. 

Akoto Ofori-Atta June 2020 has become such shorthand for many people about, like all that. Yeah, we were all going through something. For me, it really started with COVID and just being sort of nervous about the numbers that were coming up about how it was affecting black people. Fortunately, that made me really concerned and also just really made me want to stretch my journalistic muscles. I should say that at the time I was working at The Trace, which is a single issue nonprofit news organization covering gun violence. Another issue that deeply affects Black Americans. The Black community. That’s right. However, you know, when you add a single issue, say you can only cover a single issue saying, I’m looking at combat, I’m like. And then, of course, George Floyd happens. The alleged reckoning in journalism and other industries are happening, and I just really became consumed, concerned, really worried that a lot of the industry just didn’t have what was going to take to like, meet this moment with the journalism that we really needed. Yeah. And so I texted my friend Lauren, who was at the time SVP and editor in chief advocate at Vox, and the text was not a productive tech job. I was having a bad day. I’ve sent a few of those in my life. Yeah, yeah, you know, get a little spicy in the group chat. So he responded with something much more productive and said, You know what, if we really thought about building the kind of thing that we wanted to have when we first started out learning that at the root about 10 years ago and have the digital black publication? We worked really, really hard there, but came up against a lot of the challenges, much of what’s ours talking about. And so we decided, OK, now’s the time, and if not now than when, and we just went with it. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham You know what I find interesting? Both of you approached this for these clearly sincere reasons, and you sent a bad signal and found other people who wanted to join you, right? So you both have co-founders who are also women of color. Lauren Williams, Mitra. They also both have worked at a variety of places, but came directly from primarily white run environments, right? You talked about CNN. You talked about Vox. How does this combination, do you think, Sara, of you all’s experiences in Black Run media outlets and white women media outlets inform your perspective and direction now. 

Sara Lomax-Reese I’ll be really candid. I’m super surprised and grateful and happy that our partnership has been as calm and seamless and productive as it has. Because, you know, when you go into business with someone, you don’t really know who they are until you’re in it. It’s almost like getting married. You know, a lot of times you don’t know who your partner is until maybe you have kids or you, like, come up against some stuff and then you see who they are. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham You say, Who is this person I’m with? Is this person racist? 

Sara Lomax-Reese But we were so aligned in some very fundamental things, and it’s borne out in really wonderful ways because we continue to, like, just have deep, deep respect for each other. I think that’s probably the most important thing. We’ve been really simpatico. We were very clear that we wanted this to be a for profit entity. And the reason we wanted to be for profit for me has always been about economic empowerment. Closing the racial wealth gap, creating wealth for Black and Brown people, especially Black people. For me, because we have been so locked out and left out in the economic equation for 400 plus years. Media can be a wealth creator. We haven’t seen it a lot lately, but there is a possibility for it to be a wealth creator and a job creator and an engine that can be empowering for Black and Brown people. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Can be, of course, being the operative word, right? Some people are getting hundred million dollar checks cut for podcast, but that’s beside the point. Yeah, of course. I’m curious your thoughts. 

Akoto Ofori-Atta It’s funny. Lauren and I have known each other for ten or eleven years, have a really deep friendship. But our friendship that started in a newsroom, right? And so like our our friendship is sort of forged in journalism. And so one of the very first conversations we had was like, Should we do this, can we do this? And should we do this together? And we pretty quickly realized that, like of all of the hesitations we might have had, doing it together just wasn’t one of them. The answer your question about, you know, what I think we brought from not exclusively Black led newsrooms is one you get to see the different ways capital flows in mainstream newsrooms that it doesn’t always flow in Black news organizations and also you get a real keen sense. Of the fact that, you know, when you’re working to make computerization, even when you’re writing about Black issues, things that are that we’re facing, you’re doing it for white audiences and it’s being edited for white audiences and it’s being distributed to white audiences. And so, you know, I don’t know if I have been able to, like, describe the nagging feeling I would have when we would like do reporting on things that matter to black people. But it always left me like, you know, this is good, but like, who needs to see this? And how are they going to access it and engage with it isn’t accessible to them? And so that’s one of the things that Laura and I were really serious about, just thinking a lot about how we are going to be so deeply explicitly black and who we serve. And that is just true of of every Black news organization. 

Sara Lomax-Reese I think like, me too, you’re coming from this big, white, well-resourced organization like CNN and us coming together. I think the big difference is I have always been managing scarcity as running a Black media organization. It was not until 2020 when people were like, Oh, right, I guess, you know, not just Black Lives Matter, but maybe we ought to write some checks to Black people too. And so that only started happening. Honest to God, in 2020, I started a media organization in1992. It was a Black health magazine. We were hanging on by our fingernails. Ten years ago was that we were hanging on by our fingernails with word for, you know, the ten years that I was running that and then 2020 happens and people start actually writing checks. But the difference Mitra was coming from this well-resourced big media organization where they’re used to managing abundance. The sky’s the limit. And so it’s equally complimentary because sometimes I’m like, Oh, we can’t ask for all that money because I’m so used to asking for the bottom of the barrel. She’s thinking like way bigger because that’s the world she came from. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham But this conversation about resources is so interesting to me because you’re right, there was this boom in 2020, where suddenly everybody was cutting all the checks that they should have been cutting for years. And even though giving to black folks might be trendy, we know Black people are not a trend. So you all are out here telling the stories and serving the audience is that so often get missed over, but always deserved to be fully served. I’m curious what kinds of stories are you telling today and how are you making sure they’re being pulled from the right perspective and that they’re meeting the right audience as a culture? You spoke earlier about making sure that you were intentional about not just the stories you’re telling, but how you are communicating to the audience that you intentionally seek. I’d love to hear a bit more about that. 

Akoto Ofori-Atta Yeah, I mean, I think that if you are a Black news consumer reading an important report that is relevant to Black people but have often sort of come away feeling like something was missing, that feeling is where a Capital B lives and wants to serve people. So, you know, for example, one of the first pieces that we did was on the false promise of the Black police chief, right? So I had read a lot about the boon and hiring of Black police chiefs since George Floyd. I think twenty five of the 50 largest police departments now have a Black chief at the helm. But there are real limits to what they can do and what they’ve been able to accomplish. True, and there are limits to representation, and those are the kinds of conversations that you know, not every large newsroom can. It’s not even a story they would even see as an as a story that is worth telling. And we, you know, really want to dig it and have those kinds of conversations that go a level deeper and are likely things that you wouldn’t find in other places. 

Sara Lomax-Reese I love that it’s so true. We have a Black woman police chief in Philly, and we were out there protesting because there was this whole like Facebook debacle where all these Philly police officers were on Facebook, you know, using racist language and dogging Black people. And so our people got out there. We like, called for protests and we were like, We need a Black woman police chief. We got ourselves a Black woman, police chief. But the police union, they have such a grip on the police department and, you know, she’s kind of really constricted. But anyway, I love that story. 

Akoto Ofori-Atta You know, it’s like on one end, there are many Black police chiefs. And we say this in the piece, that are not hired for the right reasons, right? And then they have these expectations that they can never meet. But then on the other side, you have some Black police chiefs who are overseeing a lot of the excuse my language, all the shit that happens right, playing harsher than necessary tactics on the ground. And so like often the prevailing solutions that mainstream sort of holds on to are not really solutions that always work for us. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham And if we’re smart about it, We can map that story and that question of what the limits of representation are, for example, onto a lot of different conversations, right? We can map that onto the Supreme Court nominee right there. It’s one thing to nominate a black woman. It’s another thing to nominate a progressive Black woman. We can map that onto the upcoming midterms because there are a whole lot of folks who are running saying, I will represent you. And the question is how and how fiercely will you represent not just my identity, but my interests, right? All of these questions matter. And if we don’t have the kinds of newsrooms and media organizations that ensure those stories are being told and heard, what are we doing? I want to get into a slightly stickier conversation. So, you know, I’m thinking back to this study that UT Austin did in 2020 that found that Black Americans, we trust journalists in general. But when it comes to trusting journalists to cover our communities, we do not trust journalists. I’m especially thinking about that study in the context of this story that went viral last week in a way that was context less than incorrect where we saw these massive headlines that said Joe Biden to give 30 million dollars worth of crap to the Black community. We even saw some Black outlets on social media and legacy media run with what it turned out pretty clearly was a right wing talking point. Well, we saw this headline proliferate. And so I’m curious your take. How do we find the solution to something like what happened last week? 

Akoto Ofori-Atta Oh. Yeah, I saw that, and I was very stressed and stressed out about it for a couple of reasons. One, because as you mentioned, it’s the right wing talking point to seeing some quite large social native platforms that, quite frankly, are in many cases the heartbeat of like how social conversations move with a lot of Black audiences online adopt that really got me thinking about our disinformation problem and part of our mission at Capital B, is impart to, over time, push back against this wave of misinformation that sort of in reverse or take hold in our social feeds in our online and digital lives. I do think it is the job of, I think it’s everyone. If you are in journalism, you’re called particularly now to really be judicious about what we publish and how we publish. It’s everyone’s job, right? I think that for Capital B, we know it’s not a short term game. We know it’s a long term game. And the way that we think about this is that we need to repair the relationships between black communities and credible media sources. And the way that we do that is to ensure that we’re delivering value to them. So many newsrooms just sort of come up with ideas and publish on their own, and a lot of that stuff is really important, really necessary. But we need to have surefire ways to know that the work that we’re doing is something that Black people can see as valuable and use in their lives. The way that we’re doing that is in our local newsrooms. Every local newsroom has a community engagement editor who’s tasked with just building the relationship between the newsroom and the community. What are your interests? What are you worried about? What are your curiosities? What challenges do you face? Bring that back to the newsroom and it helps. All that information is going to help us shape our editorial priorities and then put it back out there, right? And so we’re hearing directly from the people we’re trying to serve. This is what I need. We’re going to do our best to give them that. And over time, we think the bet that we’re making is that you can see the power of journalism in your life. Whether we are answering a basic question about a service, you need to understand your community or illuminating an important thing that you need to know more broadly. And you start to be less persuaded by unverified truth in information. 

Sara Lomax-Reese You know, we as Black people have been taken advantage of. I mean, we are so ripe for disinformation. That’s the real challenge. There is incredible noise and you know, whether it’s 24 hour news, social media, I mean, we are being inundated and saturated with stuff all the time. Yeah. And you marry that with an education system that does not teach critical thinking that does not equip our young people and other people, older people with the ability to say, wait a minute, the government is giving out crack pipes. That doesn’t sound right, right? 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Mm hmm. Let me go dig. 

Sara Lomax-Reese But we have been under assault for so long as Black people that for many of us, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that something that destructive could be happening to black people because we’ve got historical memory of really egregious, overt things being enacted upon us, so you know WRD my radio station is it’s a talk radio station, there’s lots of interactivity and we don’t screen our calls. So people be calling up and they say all kinds of stuff, right?

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Is microchips in the vaccines? 

Sara Lomax-Reese As media organizations, as news organizations, we have to be as equipped and as nimble and have as much kind of reinforcements to combat that. When you’re dealing specifically with an injured community that has been taken advantage of by the government, by all kinds of forces. So it’s difficult and it’s complex and you have to serve it up in a way where you’re not shutting people down. So they feel like they’re not being heard or they’re being made fun of or anything like that. You know, you got to be able to serve it up in a way that people will actually hear you, which is a whole other thing. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham You know, we’ve got marginalized groups of people who’ve actually been injured by legacy institutions, by government. And then we’ve got a crop of primarily white audiences that feel they have been injured by this thing they call mainstream media. Right. So we decided to leave Spotify. Our podcasts did a couple of weeks ago, I posted about it on Instagram, and pretty predictably, there were some Joe Rogan fans who came on and said, Well, it’s people like you who are upset that Joe Rogan is taking on the mainstream media. And I’m sitting there scratching my head because Joe Rogan has 11 million listeners per episode. Is that not mainstream media? Who? Why? How are you telling me you don’t trust mainstream media, but you listen to that show? I am confused, frankly, by the entire idea of mainstream media because I don’t know that those words mean what I thought they meant anymore. Is it time to retire this entire idea of mainstream media? Help us make sense out of this culture. 

Akoto Ofori-Atta That’s a really excellent question, and it’s a time that I’ve been using to basically delineate like what we’re doing on our side and what’s happening on the other side. Right? I think that still holds true. I mean, I think that is certainly true of Joe Rogan. I don’t know. I don’t think that Joe Rogan is thinking of any of us on this call, he’s making his podcast. I think you’re thinking about dominant culture, and I think that in that way, the term mainstream is useful. But I do agree with you that like the way that it’s deployed quite often by the right wing is just like news organizations that are established that are legacy Sara, thoughts about this? 

Sara Lomax-Reese Yeah, I think of it as big media or corporate media or white media, but you know, they’re all kind of euphemisms and language does matter. It really does matter. But if we don’t have a common definition for what we’re defining something as, then it means something different to everyone who uses that word. So to me, mainstream is really white dominated media for white audiences. But that sounds to me too caustic. 

Akoto Ofori-Atta Wait, Brittany, can I ask you? I’m just really, I think that’s a really great question. I’m just really curious about what your thinking is about this. Like, have you thought about different terms or are you just is it just something that’s like irking you?

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I mean, I think about this all the time, especially because I am also a commentator right on what I would characterize as a mainstream media news channel. And I’m always reminded that it is the work of those who profit from disinformation, whether they are financial, whether they have to do with power. But for those who profit from disinformation, it is always a strategy to bastardize common language. Right? To take what we mean and flip it on its head. It’s the same thing we’ve seen happen with woke conversation that Black and Brown folks have with each other. Black folks were saying to each other, Stay alert, stay woke, pay attention. Write, Read between the lines. Think critically. This is how we were communicating with one another. All of a sudden, and when we were in mixed company and that word got used in front of other people, there were folks who profit from the disinformation sphere that said, let me turn this on its head and use it to mean something else. Let me use it to mean wild or obnoxious or annoying, or, you know, a progressive wing that has gone too far or those loony lefties or whatever they want to use it to mean today and now Donald Trump can get behind a podium and say, woke. And the whole world knows he means something entirely different than what we in our community invented it to me. And so I feel like mainstream media is is moving in the same way. And so I think this is also similar to the conversation we’ve been having around the word objectivity. Right. So we know that objective for a very long time was actually a code word. In that code, it meant seeing the world the way white men do, and if you came in with perspective that they considered too Black or too Latina or too LGBTQ or too disabled, then it wasn’t objective enough, right? And then you, the journalist, the storyteller, you were too close to the story. And I’m curious for both of you all how you have been intentionally combating that, right? What do other news organizations need to learn from the way that you all at Capital B and URL have been flipping in a positive way that idea of objectivity on its head and saying no, actually, there are multiple perspectives to share here. 

Akoto Ofori-Atta So we are in our third full week of publication, which is very exciting. And I think about some feedback that we heard from one of our writers who come from mainstream newsroom and said, ‘you know, it was really great not to have to worry about how conservative readers might react to the word racist in my piece.’ And like, that sort of thing is really part of the reason why we built a capital base that we can just be bold and tell the truth and be able to say that things are objectively racist. We don’t have time to engage in conversations about whether or not we should call things racist because the country is on fire and we need to be able to say very plainly what’s wrong and not act like. Doing so is some sort of breach of journalistic credibility. 

Sara Lomax-Reese Yeah, yeah. I think the common theme, the common thread in terms of all of the organizations that are in the network is that we’re all about serving our audiences. It’s all about like, what is your community struggling with? Which is very different from, you know, big media, mainstream media, whatever we want to call it, because there’s always been this distance and the distance is what makes it journalism. That’s the quote unquote objectivity is by being outside of the community outside of the issue. And so like me, when people ask me this question, I talk about words. I feel like we are proudly in the vein of in a part of the legacy of the original black media makers back to eighteen twenty seven when Freedom’s journal was started. It was about advocating for the humanity of Black people, period. You know, like Black folks were seen as chattel, they were seen as animals. All that. And we’re still seen as animals, you know, sadly, we’re still not seen as fully human. And so I feel like my role at word is the exact same role that we’ve been playing since Ida B. Wells in the late 1800s and everybody along the way who has been invested in telling the stories and advocating on behalf of Black people for humanity. And so I see the role of word and the role that URL is filling is really trying to bring a different approach to journalism that actually makes a difference in people’s day to day lives. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Before I let both of you go, we at UNDISTRACTED know that starting a new platform, let alone a new business, is really, really difficult. And I’m just so inspired by both of your examples and your tenacity, right? That this wasn’t just an idea in the moment of frustration, but you actually went through and have materialized this thing. So I’m curious, Akoto, on your profile for Capital B, you say you believe in a strong work life balance between the hours of 9:00 to 5:00 and you don’t suffer fools. How does that mindset keep you going? 

Akoto Ofori-Atta I am really curious about your thoughts on this particular since you’ve been an entrepreneur for so long, but this is my first go around it. You know, starting something new from the ground up and the kind of stress that I had in my previous role is just very different from the kind of stress that I have now working toward a dream or something you believe in, even when you’re like, you know, working on a Saturday or trying to solve a problem, there is something energizing about it. And it’s not depleting. However, I do know, I do know, and I am very conscious of, you know, we built Capital B at a time where black donors are complaining about things they were dealing with in the newsrooms, and there was just no way that we could build Capital B without thinking very seriously, not just about the editorial, not just about the business, but also about the culture we were building, but also we make we tell people that like Capital B is a team and is not a family. You have a family and it’s something that Lauren says all the time, but they need you to be well and you need to be well for them and we need you to be able to work is important. That sort of mix of things is is very much part of what Lauren and I try to model as leaders. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Mm hmm. I hear that. I hear that. I’m interested in your thoughts, really, about the future of what this whole conversation about media looks like, right? You wrote this line that I absolutely love. You said we cannot get weary. This is our time. Let’s go to work. What do you hope that work looks like moving forward? 

Sara Lomax-Reese I mean, I think it looks like, you know what Akoto and Lauren are doing. It looks like what me and Mitra are doing. I feel really strongly that we have to hold all of these stakeholders accountable just because you woke up in 2020 and said, ‘Oh wow, we need to write some checks and we need to do things differently.’ It doesn’t start at 2020. This goes back four hundred plus years. So there’s a deep, deep hole that we got to dig out of. So to me, what the future looks like is more resources. I’m grateful that there are more dollars flowing to Black and Brown organizations, but it needs to be expedited. There needs to be more and it needs to be faster. You know, I had many, many, many, many sleepless nights not knowing if I was going to be able to make payroll. I mean, talk about stress. Not with you, URL. URLl is doing great, but with WRD, and I hope I never have to experience this, but it is a horrible feeling for it to be Monday. And payroll is Thursday, and you have absolutely no idea how you’re going to make payroll. And a whole bunch of people are relying on you to pay their rent to feed their kids. All the ancestors, God, whatever came through and I figured it out. Yeah, I never missed a payroll, never missed a payroll. But it’s a horrible, horrible feeling. And too many of our Black organizations and businesses and media entities are living that reality still, and that’s unacceptable. And so the only way the future is bright is if the checks keep coming and the centering and prioritization of Black and Brown people businesses entities continues to be the priority. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Well, I’m so grateful to both of you for making us a priority. I know that we are all better for it. And I’m looking so forward to the story you all continue to tell. Thank you both so much for everything you do, and thanks for spending time with those. Thank you. 

Akoto Ofori-Atta Thank you so much, Brittany. This is great. Thank you. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Akoto Ofori-Atta is co-founder of Capital B. And Sara Lomax-Reese is the co-founder of URL Media. After all this conversation, here’s what I find most telling it is the women, especially the women of color, standing in the gap as media undergoes its own revolution. We are the ones building new platforms holding the larger than life accountable, giving the old way, the boot and blazing the newer, harder trails. Because in this world where there is little delineation between news, entertainment and culture, somebody has got to stand for truth. Now, if it’s up to me, I’m almost always going to leave that to a woman, whatever future the media will see. It will be because the storytellers designed it now and the consumers have the standard. In the end, whatever we become, it is up to us. 

That’s it for today, but never, ever for tomorrow. UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 


Our lead producer is Rachel Ward. 

Our associate producer is Alexis Moore. 

Thanks also to Treasure Brooks and Hannis Brown. 

Our executive producers at The Meteor are Cindi Leive and myself, and our executive producers at Pineapple are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. 

You can follow me at @MsPackyetti on all social media, and our team @TheMeteor. 

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Thanks for listening. Thanks for being and thanks for doing. I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham. Let’s go get free.