As Covid-19 deaths and George Floyd protests swept the country and world in the summer of 2020, journalists Lauren Williams and Akoto Ofori-Atta discussed the urgency of the times. The women saw an opportunity to expand the media landscape and become catalysts for meaningful change.
“The moment felt apocalyptic,” Williams told NBC News. “Raw and filled with unknowns. It seemed like a time to make a difference. We both thought, why not?”
Leaving behind their respective jobs, the two friends began laying the groundwork for what became Capital B, a nonprofit local and national news organization centered on Black voices. The name is a nod to the B in Black, the team says, and “the argument that capitalizing it indicates the importance and singularity of Black people in America.”
The newsroom launched in late January with a national website, and a virtual newsroom in Atlanta, the first of other planned bureaus across the country. And Capital B Live, its events program, will allow audiences to experience journalism through yet another medium.
The overarching goal is to reach a multi-generational demographic of Black audiences nationwide.
“When we set out to create Capital B, we understood the importance of tapping into a market audience that spans across millennials, Gen X and boomers,” said Ofori-Atta, co-founder and chief audience officer.
Capital B’s editorial mission will build on the historic legacy of the Black press, and give priority to local community engagement and national enterprise journalism.
For instance, the site has an article on how cost-cutting measures have affected education in prisons, and the ripple effects of that in Black neighborhoods. Recent headlines have ranged from “Stacey Abrams’ Vision for ‘One Georgia’” to “Why Race Matters So Much to Your Health.”
“Black journalists continue to be underrepresented in newsrooms today, and Black stories continue to go overlooked and undercovered,” said Williams, co-founder and CEO. “We’re building trust among Black audiences with quality, trustworthy journalism.”
Capital B is led by a team of women industry professionals with notable credentials.
Williams was most recently senior vice president and editor-in-chief of Vox, where she managed editorial and business operations for the explanatory newsroom. Ofori-Atta was managing editor of The Trace, an independent nonprofit newsroom dedicated to reporting on gun violence.
Gillian B. White, a former managing editor at The Atlantic, and Simone Sebastian, a former national editor at The Washington Post, are among the inaugural editorial leaders. About a dozen staffers round out the team.
“We’re doing civic journalism that helps and empowers people who look like us,” said Gavin Godfrey, editor of Capital B Atlanta. The city was chosen for the inaugural bureau, Ofori-Atta said, because of some 2 million Black residents in the metro area. The issues to cover “might be health care, or state level politics or flooding in a neighborhood,” Godfrey added.
Capital B’s local news mission will focus on delivering need-to-know information to Black communities — whether it's finding affordable housing, applying for benefits or voting in elections. The goal is to produce civic journalism that contextualizes local, state and federal policy issues.
Local news will be anchored by national coverage that includes in-depth reporting on systemic issues around education, criminal justice, health, wealth, the environment and other topics.
“We want to tell stories through the Black lens,” Godfrey said. “We’re ambitious, and want to do it all.”
As hundreds of newspapers and media outlets have shuttered in the past decade or so, more nonprofit independent models are emerging. For example, there’s Outlier Media in Detroit, MLK50: Justice Through Journalism in Memphis, City Bureau in Chicago, Berkeleyside in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the new Baltimore Banner in Maryland.
Early on, the co-founders received a $250,000 incubation grant from the American Journalism Project (which subsequently provided additional financial support) to bolster their efforts. “They were our first funder, and once we secured that we could start comfortably,” said Williams. Cumulatively, Capital B has raised $9 million, including additional help from the Ford Foundation. As a 501c(3) nonprofit, tax-exempt organization, its business model will rely on revenue from memberships, philanthropy, advertising and sponsorships.
The entire Capital B team is eager to meet this moment for Black audiences. While it’s still early, “feedback has been positive,” said Williams. “We are thrilled and want to keep growing.”