Capital B is a fresh Black local-national nonprofit news organization on the scene. It turned one year old this year, and it recently brought its mission of partnering with communities to create a high-quality news and information experience for Black folks to Gary, Indiana. Gary is a rust-belt news desert that notoriously has lost 61 percent of its population since 1960 due to the decline of the steel industry. Business Insider infamously ranked Gary as the most miserable city in which to reside in the U.S. in 2019. A 2013 article by the same news organization details that 6,500 of the 7,000 buildings owned by the city were at one point abandoned. City officials considered auctioning off buildings for one dollar each, as they were without the funds to demolish them.
This city, which is famous for its stories of urban decay, is the second location where a Capital B local newsroom will be established, following the first in Atlanta, Georgia.
There’s currently an initiative in Indiana to make local news better across the state, and one of Capital B’s funders originated from that pool of conspirators.
But Capital B cofounder Akoto Ofori-Atta says that rural towns like Gary and Buffalo, New York, not just bustling Black metros like Atlanta, have been on their list as places to enter since the nonprofit’s inception.
“One of the things that we identified pretty early on was that if we only went to the Atlantas and Chicagos of the world, it would mean that there will be large swaths of Black people who don’t live in a big city but whose information needs have been largely ignored,” Ofori-Atta tells the Reader. “This is true for Black people living in rust-belt cities. It’s true for Black people living in rural areas. And it’s true for Black people living in majority Black but small and midsized cities with really, really bad access to local news.”
Since Capital B is organized as both a national and local entity, the organization has reporters covering big issues that Black people across the country deem most important, such as climate, health, criminal justice, and education, as well as local reporters giving people “the information they need to navigate life in a particular city,” according to the organization. They intend to build out their local newsrooms over time.
Ofori-Atta says that when choosing new cities, the organization is focusing on places where demographics were changing politically, meaning Black people living in those areas could be victims of misinformation around elections and other political events.
Although the Gary newsroom has not hired editors or other staff yet, the Atlanta newsroom can give one a clue about Capital B’s intention regarding local reporting.
Capital B Atlanta covers state and local politics, criminal justice, and health, and it does a fair amount of service journalism. There is an editorial director, a community engagement editor—tasked primarily with talking to residents across neighborhoods—a criminal justice reporter, a health reporter, a state and local politics reporter, and a general assignment/community reporter.
“What you’ll see when you go to Capital B Atlanta is a mix of stories that are looking at what’s happening at the State Capitol, pieces that are intended to keep a watchful eye on what people in power at the Capitol are doing,” Ofori-Atta says. “But also you’ll find pieces like how to get something expunged from your record, how to get access to recent tax benefits signed into law by the governor. Locally, we’re really focused on helping people get the information that they need that could help them just, you know, be equipped to live life in their city.”
This relatively new Black news organization was brainstormed in 2020 by cofounders Ofori-Atta and Lauren Williams, a former editor in chief and senior vice president at Vox. The pair was spurred to action by “everything going wrong” that year.
“We really thought about how we could leverage our skills, our talents, our experiences, our networks to do something, to make journalism better for Black people. And Capital B is what we came up with,” Ofori-Atta says.
So they considered Black people’s most important needs related to news and high-quality information and identified two problems. The first was that mainstream news organizations were getting stories about race, racism, and Black life wrong, and this has made Black news consumers crave perspectives and insights to help them make sense of living in this country. Second, local news is in decline. The group needed a solution to address both of those problems to bolster the Black news space.
Williams and Ofori-Atta met working at the Root, a Black digital publication, in 2010 during Barack Obama’s presidency. Ofori-Atta says the challenge Black news spaces face is that they lack the capital and resources of their peers in the mainstream news space—but even so, they are doing good work, punching above their weight. The founders knew that in structuring Capital B, they would need to create an organizational model and revenue streams that can allow them to sustain this important—and expensive—work.
Capital B pays its editors and reporters generously, relying on institutional grants from foundations, major individual donors, a membership program with a thousand “small-dollar” donors, as well as advertising and corporate event sponsorship.
“And so that mix of revenue streams we feel puts us in a good position to make sure that we can sustain this newsroom over time,” Ofori-Atta says.
So what will the new newsroom in Gary look like? How many reporters will they hire and what will they cover? That’s all to be determined, but it won’t be decided by the two founders and chief officers who are based in D.C. and NYC, because they are not the ones that establish the needs and outlook of the local newsrooms. Those are determined by the initial months of community engagement and partnership.
“I really envision a future that includes us working in partnership and alongside community members to make sure that people just have the information they need to live their lives,” Ofori-Atta says.