Nonprofit Newsroom Verite to Launch in New Orleans

From a story on by Mark Stenberg headlined “Nonprofit Newsroom Verite to Launch, Serving New Orleans”:

Three veteran New Orleans journalists announced on Wednesday the launch of a nonprofit news organization designed to serve marginalized groups in and around the city, becoming the latest in a series of nonprofit newsrooms across the country that aim to reverse the spread of local news deserts.

Called Verite, the publisher will report on subjects including education, housing, health care and criminal justice, with a heightened emphasis on centering Black and brown communities whose voices have been historically ignored. The organization, which will officially launch in October, has raised $2 million in funding from The Ford Foundation, $350,000 from the American Journalism Project and over $400,000 from individual donors, according to executive director David Francis and editor in chief Terry Baquet.

Prior to launching Verite, Francis, Baquet and soon-to-be managing editor Tim Morris worked at The Times Picayune, a legacy newspaper founded in 1837. There, they served as the executive vice president, managing editor and opinion editor of its digital domain, They left the company in 2019 after its former ownership group, Advance Local, sold the brand, the site, the archives and the subscriber list to ​​The Advocate—a rival publisher—for an undisclosed amount.

Baquet, whose brother Dean Baquet recently ended his eight-year tenure as the executive editor of The New York Times, won a Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for his work in covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Combined, the three founders have worked in the New Orleans news industry for more than 80 years.

“One thing about New Orleans is that people are committed to this city––they love this city and do not plan to leave,” Francis said. “And they are also beginning to better understand how the inequities of the city affect the opportunities it faces as a whole, so we are having more luck in raising funds to help solve some of these problems.”

The launch of Verite comes amid two larger trends sweeping the news industry: an embrace of the nonprofit model and a growing movement of Black-owned media.

Inspired by the success of pioneers like The Texas Tribune and ProPublica, news entrepreneurs in cities like Baltimore, Houston and New York have adopted the nonprofit model, a structure that alleviates many of the financial pressures that face local news. Verite also follows in the footsteps of other recently launched Black-owned media companies, including Group Black and Capital B, that have stressed the importance of Black ownership––in addition to representation––as critical to a healthy media ecosystem.

A diversified revenue model and collaboration with local organizations 

While Verite has raised nearly $3 million in operating funds, the publisher hopes to eventually generate one-third of its revenue from memberships and underwriting.

Verite aims to launch with a staff of 14: a mix of editors, audience engagement experts, reporters and human resources staff. The publication plans to employ around 20 full-time employees, but it will also work with a rotating cadre of freelancers and contract workers, according to Francis.

The newsroom will operate under the umbrella of Deep South Today, a 501(c) operation that also houses the nonprofit newsroom Mississippi Today. Verite and Mississippi Today will function as sister sites, sharing content and resources, and the two constitute the beginning of a larger network of nonprofit newsrooms that aim to serve communities across the South. Verite also plans to collaborate with similarly mission-minded news organizations, including The Marshall Project and the Louisiana Illuminator, according to Baquet.

It plans to expand into newsletters, podcasts, events and video.

Plans to fix—and benefit from—an improved talent pipeline

The founders of Verite foresee the publisher acting as an incubator for young reporters, especially Black and brown journalists from underrepresented communities.

Through partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) like Southern University and Xavier University, Verite will launch dual year-long fellowship programs: a part-time role for undergraduates and a paid, full-time role for post-grads. Fellows will participate in the reporting process, learning both the practice of journalism—as well as the culture of newsrooms, Francis said.

While Verite hopes to benefit from this pipeline of underrepresented talent, it also plans to train minority journalists.

“We think our fellowship program will evolve into a pipeline where we can train people––not necessarily to stay with us, but to move onto newsrooms across the world,” Francis said. “We think it’s important that while you’re teaching these reporters, you’re also educating them in terms of a culture.”

Mark Stenberg is Adweek’s senior media reporter.

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