What if local news was treated like essential community infrastructure? Elevate Dayton will attempt to answer that question by raising revenue from community development financiers  — a previously untapped funding well for community media.

The Black-owned publication, co-founded by publisher Nate Dillard, editor in chief Zack Frink and chief of operations Chanda Hunter, aims to become a local information and resource hub. Elevate Dayton will debut its most-ambitious editorial project in March to help drum up community financial interest.

The two-month solutions journalism campaign, called “COVID Can’t Stop Us,” will draw from feedback shared by local entrepreneurs through community surveys.

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“We had some significant responses come in that helped us frame our direction,” Dillard told Indiegraf. “People had to pivot to be flexible, but some businesses didn’t survive.”

The pandemic-related business coverage is one of several editorial themes the team plans to explore as part of its campaign journalism format. Hunter and Frink said campaigns last two months to give writers more time to research and highlight different problems as well as potential solutions.

“We start off with a high-level view of the problem, follow it and build on that throughout the two months,” Frink says. “We could pivot depending on what we find in our reporting.”

Each editorial campaign consists of four parts:

  1. Community listening and data gathering
  2. Issue framing reporting that surfaces key questions, issues and needs 
  3. Asset framing reporting that highlights existing resources in the community 
  4. Solutions Summit

The success of this news coverage is measured by its positive impact on the community, says Hunter, so solutions-oriented journalism is at the core Elevate Dayton’s strategy. The hope is that community partners and stakeholders continue the conversation even after the campaign concludes using the in-house social platform, called Elevate Communities, developed by Dillard.

Elevate Communities is a unique social environment built into the backend of the Elevate Dayton platform. Visitors can create accounts and submit stories to the editorial team that can be featured alongside editorial content.

“Our goal is to create compelling content that will eventually have people wanting to spend more time inside our social environment,” he says.

Their efforts are backed by the Multicultural Media & Correspondents Association (MMCA), a nonprofit dedicated to increasing BIPOC media ownership through advocacy, coalition-building, honoring BIPOC media excellence and its BIPOC Media Incubator. In 2021, Elevate Dayton became the first publisher to go through the Incubator, a year-long intensive program that addresses every aspect of building and sustaining a community media business.

The MMCA is continuing to support Elevate Dayton with direct funding and by connecting the team to community development financing partners. Learnings from Elevate Dayton’s efforts will also inform the MMCA’s newly formed BIPOC Community Media Sustainability Coalition, a national effort to promote and fund BIPOC community media as civic infrastructure. The coalition’s goals include: 

  1. Develop and implement an awareness and education plan to secure economic, social and political buy-in for funding community media as a community revitalization strategy;
  2. Secure investments from the community development financing sector, which typically doesn’t fund local media;
  3. Expand the BIPOC Media Incubator to work with more BIPOC outlets on business plans that treat the business as an essential community service provider
  4. Highlight successful partnerships between community development stakeholders and BIPOC Community Media outlets. 

Linda Miller, who launched the RJI’s Inclusive Media and Economies Project in 2020, will lead the expanded effort. She is guided by 2019 research from The Democracy Fund, which revealed only a small portion of journalism grants are going to BIPOC and LGBTQ communities, as well as a report that noted the absence of a reliable business model is inhibiting investment in early-stage media entrepreneurs.The Coalition is part of a joint venture between the MMCA and the Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI), called the Inclusive Media and Economies Project. The two groups already worked with Elevate Dayton through a pilot program to help publishers tap into community development financing.

That is why MMCA President David Morgan worked with a consultant to develop a business model geared toward BIPOC community news outlets.  

“As we go through the business plan, it’s exciting to see Elevate Dayton tie the editorial agenda, which resonates with the community, to actually drive a sustainable business model,” Morgan says.

The proposed business model, showcased in late 2021 at MMCA’s BIPOC Community Media Development Summit, outlined six revenue drivers to guide BIPOC publishers:

  1. Startup grants/capital
  2. Solutions Summits 
  3. Memberships
  4. Partnerships
  5. Traditional advertising
  6. A creative lab that generates local solutions to local problems

MMCA intends to drum up financial interest for Elevate Dayton during the COVID-19 editorial campaign, which culminates in late April with a hybrid in-person/online summit. At that point, work will begin on Elevate Dayton’s next campaign theme while RJI and MMCA continue to help the team raise money and eventually execute the full business plan.

Editorial note: This work is in progress! Indiegraf will check back with Elevate Dayton and the BIPOC Community Media Sustainability Coalition in the coming weeks for an update.

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