Anti-racist Table Stakes

Bridging editorial and business needs for more equitable, community focused newsrooms

by Lizzy Hazeltine and I, published here and on her page for expediency. All rights reserved to the two of us jointly. (There is no one I would rather co-author this with; she’s brilliant y’all!)

The schism between the editorial and business sides of journalism is a tale as old as time. The tension plays out, and sometimes boils over, on a micro scale in newsrooms around the world, both small and large, local and national. We see it on a macro scale as more and more projects, programs, and initiatives launch to figure out what the replicable, sustainable models for news look like.

Heck, that’s how we met, wrestling with these dynamics as 20-somethings on the growth team at Scalawag. We bonded over the trials of translating our experiences outside news to the questions of how to bring in not only enough of, but also the right mix of revenue to sustain a quarterly print startup. It was hard, but joining the first cohort of the then Knight-Lenfest Table Stakes at UNC brought a level of clarity to our work that had been sorely lacking. We were hooked on funnels and audience research. Unfortunately, we struggled to get our whole team as excited as we were, especially our friends on the editorial team.

Like we said, schism.

Fast forward to today, and our experiences of how the “sides” of news play out are much broader. Between us we coach more than 25 teams across 5 programs, and collaborate with many more. All of them confront some form of the challenge we faced at Scalawag: how does an organization balance journalistic impact and the money needed to make that work happen. Reporters turned startup newsroom founders are trying to quickly learn how to generate enough revenue to stand up and eventually scale their venture. Mission-driven, community-rooted, service-oriented media leaders are understandably wary of asking people that have been systematically kept away from wealth to monetarily support their work, but can’t fuel their efforts on moral conviction. Traditional, legacy print newspapers navigate the rocky road of dwindling advertising dollars and the push toward digital while reckoning with their legacies.

As much as we wish we were coming to you with the answer today, we are not.

We do, however, have something that we hope will help. Building on the work of the original Table Stakes for digital transformation, and the four newsrooms that created with them with the facilitative leadership of Doug Smith, Quentin Hope, Charlie Baum and Tim Griggs, we are introducing a fresh set of Table Stakes. The Anti-Racist Table Stakes decenter profitability in favor of individuals, audiences, and communities, and understands engagement as a leading indicator of success and revenue as a lagging indicator of trust.

To be very clear, we’re putting a stake in the ground that we’ve seen others shy away from. If you don’t get the relationship with the whole of your community right you won’t get the business right. More than that, if you don’t get the relationships right beyond the audiences you currently focus on, you won’t survive.

Before you dive in, we want to ground you in the work of Media 2070 and their push for media reparations. The first step in this process must be ownership of past wrongs. Table Stakes alumni will recognize this as a problem definition. You can’t move “to” if you don’t know where you’re starting “from,” and for most news organizations, their current reality/“from” is participation in community harm, neglect, or both. The readiness assessment in the “Anti-racist Table Stakes & More tools for newsroom anti-racism” document can further support your organization in determining whether or not you are ready to embark on this journey, but you cannot do the community and audience work outlined in these Anti-Racist Table Stakes, reconciliation, without first identifying where you have fallen short.

The Anti-Racist Table Stakes, aligned behavioral scorecard, and other tools are designed to help teams

1) understand the minimum requirements needed to be anti-racist, equitable, inclusive, and sustainable

2) identify where they are in their journey

3) ask what they must do to move toward differentiation and anti-racism

4) take specific action toward more equitable work

5) measure their progress to create more accountability

While there is no silver-bullet, we wholeheartedly believe that this more expansive view of the Table Stakes will support newsrooms of all types in moving from a user-first mentality to a community-first mentality while growing the revenue they need to sustain their work. We think of these tools as ways to widen your vision and therefore the possible outcomes of your work.

At the same time, we acknowledge that this work, these tools are imperfect. Anti-racism falls short of what it will take to truly free us. Attempts to divorce this work from capitalism and the other systems of oppression are not enough to get us to a liberated world.

We publish these tools because we also believe that change must begin somewhere, and we see newsrooms looking for help getting started and getting unstuck. The Anti-Racist Table Stakes can be a meaningful starting point for news organizations of good faith.

We look forward to the day when every newsroom is at or beyond Anti-racist Table Stakes and we can identify a whole new set to move through. Our newsrooms, industry, and most importantly communities will be better for it.

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If these ways of thinking have helped you expand your vision, get unstuck in your progress toward racial equity, or helped you feel less alone in tackling the questions of revenue and community service, please consider making a donation to Media 2070.

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Lizzy Hazeltine helps teams solve real problems, grow revenue to sustain themselves, and deepen their service to their communities. She applies hard-won lessons from local media, early-stage venture capital, and product management to build her clients’ capacity to earn the long-term support of their customers.

In practice, that work includes coordinating the NC Local News Lab Fund, coaching teams in the Google News Initiative Startup Lab and UNC-Knight Table Stakes programs, and backing nonprofit organizations in her hometown of Durham, NC. You can follow her on twitter, too.

Cierra Hinton excels in her zone of genius as a member at Blue Engine Collaborative, a network of independent consultants and advisors to media organizations around the world. Cierra is a creative strategist; she centers imagination, play, and community in her work. She loves building with teams and individuals as they drive toward outcomes that matter in a way that is inclusive and authentic. She’s thrilled to currently do that as a coach with the Facebook Sustainability Accelerator and UNC-Knight Table Stakes programs.

In addition to coaching and consulting, Cierra is the Executive Director-Publisher at Scalawag and previously served as the Director of Network Building and Operations at Press On, a Southern media collective. You can follow her on twitter.

Cierra is a creative strategist: she centers imagination, play, and community in her work, and loves building with teams as they drive toward outcomes!