Borealis Philanthropy’s bold plan: Investing billions to support BIPOC journalism


When you talk with Alicia Bell, you get the sense that what others say is impossible is within reach with the proper planning, vision and thoughtful dedication.

This applies when you talk with her about the dire situation facing local news and when she explains a new report she’s pulling together to release at the end of June. The report lays out a hefty plan for building what she calls a thriving local news ecosystem to serve the needs of BIPOC communities.

E&P got an early preview of the study Bell launched as part of her work as the director of the Racial Equity in Journalism (REJ) Fund at Borealis Philanthropy. Titled “Repair, Reimagine, and Rebuild: Modeling the Future of News For and By Black, Brown, and Indigenous Communities,” the report proposes it will take somewhere between $380 million to $7.1 billion annually to truly fund BIPOC journalism across the U.S.

“These numbers sound big, but it is really not that much money when you put it in relation. It’s much less than what's invested in other fields,” said Bell, director of the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund at Borealis. She compares these numbers to how much money venture capitalists spend yearly in the U.S. “In 2022, $215 billion was spent, and while Black entrepreneurs only received about 1% of that money, it totaled $2.25 billion.”

When Bell took over the REJ Fund in 2021, she was tasked with advancing its mission to increase the capacity and sustainability of news organizations led by people of color. In her first few months on the job, she came up with the idea of this study to build a roadmap and goals for her team and for the industry as a whole.

REJ is a pooled fund supported by other foundations, including the Ford Foundation, Democracy Fund, MacArthur Foundation and others. Since its founding in 2019, it has distributed $10 million to some 40 newsrooms and news-supporting organizations. Bell says she saw a much greater need across the country to serve Black, Indigenous and Brown communities.

“I wanted an understanding of where we needed to head. I needed a north star,” Bell explained.

Build it, and they will come.

Dr. Wilneida Negrón, principal investigator for the BIPOC Journalism Project (Photo credit: Wilneida Negrón)

Bell contacted Dr. Wilneida Negrón, a researcher who has studied news media financial ecosystems and does financial and business modeling, to conduct the analysis and author the report. Negrón delved into available data and previous studies about newsrooms, their structures, budgets and community impact to help build a model newsroom and envision a complete ecosystem. They pulled 10 years of data from INN’s Annual Index that surveys hundreds of nonprofit newsrooms, and they conducted direct surveys with a small group of BIPOC-led news organizations to better understand their business models and the unmet needs of their newsrooms and their communities.

“One thing you can see is there is not a one-model fits all,” explains Dr. Negrón. She says this is particularly true for BIPOC-led newsrooms that have traditionally had fewer resources available to them and have had to develop creative solutions to be sustainable. “There’s a beauty in this diversity, but it makes building a singular financial model harder. So, what we did was look at aspirational models.”

These aspirational models imagine newsrooms with reporters and editors covering key reporting areas essential to community needs, including education, health, infrastructure, elections, criminal justice, environment, community services and arts and culture. The model also said an ideal would have reporters covering each layer of government: city, county, state, school and congressional districts.

Negrón tethered the modeling to U.S. Census data to estimate the number of BIPOC newsrooms needed nationwide based on the local community composition. At a minimum, they assumed a need for a newsroom serving a specific demographic community based on each 100,000 people within a geographic region.

The various models created include pay equity and reparative funding, with the goal of moving BIPOC news organizations into a place of sustainability and fully thriving. To do this, they used annual salaries of $75,000 to $125,000.00 per employee in a newsroom and available data to estimate running expenses like rent and other overhead costs.

Bell believes these newsrooms can be nonprofit or for-profit, and they will need diverse revenue streams, including ad and other sales revenue, event and membership income, and support from philanthropy.

In the end, they came up with four basic models:

  • The most modest totaled $380 million annually to establish a baseline of costs for sustaining a thriving BIPOC journalism ecosystem where some reporters and editors cover multiple beats.
  • Another model adds statewide collective organizations that provide resources and syndication costs of $4.3 billion.
  • A community-led model that includes compensation for community workers and projects totaled $14.6 billion.
  • They estimate $71.2 billion for their “Abundance” model, which provides ample reporters across coverage areas and community-serving work.

Bell and Negrón acknowledge their modeling is about imagining something new. However, they also say this kind of investigation and discussion with BIPOC communities about their news and information needs is vital to establishing a more substantial news system that serves all communities now and in the future.

“What strikes me is that in my work doing business analysis and modeling in the tech world, these numbers would not be seen as large investments,” explains Negrón. “When you talk about the value proposition, we are talking about news and civic information. We’re talking about saving multiracial democracy.”

The U.S. Census projects that by 2045, the country will hit a tipping point whereby non-Latino white people will be in the minority. If the projection plays out, that means the majority of the U.S. will be Black, Indigenous, Latino, Asian or biracial, and they’ll need newsrooms to serve their information and community concerns with specificity.

Negrón admits that much of the data on news business modeling is incomplete, particularly regarding BIPOC news and community needs. She and Bell say what they’ve assembled is a starting point and they hope it inspires more study and investment.

“This put a battery on my back. If I didn’t have an urgency before, I’m extra motivated to figure out revenue diversity and sustainability, digging into possible models of what works specifically for BIPOC communities,” said Bell. “It’s also about narrative shift. It’s about education. It’s about proximity to other fields, including philanthropy and others who might support or invest. It’s about relationships that we have to build.”

Diane Sylvester is an award-winning 30-year multimedia news veteran. She works as a reporter, editor, and newsroom strategist. She can be reached at


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