Is Community-Based Media the Key to Battling Disinformation?

collage of head shots of people of all races and genders

In the ever-evolving landscape of American democracy, a new effort to counter disinformation and empower vulnerable communities with culturally resonant messages has emerged. The initiative, “Voices for Democracy,” spearheaded by New Media Ventures, is attempting to revolutionize the United States' deeply flawed media infrastructure.

The Emergence of a Media Crisis

New Media Ventures (NMV) invests in entrepreneurs and activists wrestling with the biggest challenges facing U.S. democracy. They use venture capital tools to provide solutions to the problems of building progressive political power. For the past 13 years, NMV has built a reputation as the go-to mission-aligned investor for progressive media founders with the goal of both scaling progressive power and building multi-racial narrative ownership.

Voices for Democracy is their latest innovative endeavor with an unambiguous goal: to fortify trusted, community-centric media and messengers in states that are on the front lines of safeguarding American democracy. These states include Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

Mis and Disinformation have wreaked havoc across these states with various high-profile events taking place in each. As a high-profile example, during the 2022 election, a group of Republican leaders in Arizona played a central role in President Donald Trump and his allies’ attempt to change the outcome of the 2020 election. To date, many Republican primary voters in the state continue to be fixated on election denialism, a movement fueled heavily by viral disinformation.

With a presidential election looming in 2024, the safeguards of a trusted and reliable media infrastructure can no longer be relied upon which puts the very existence of Democracy in grave danger. Voices of Democracy points out that it’s not merely about financial backing; it's about revitalizing the promise of American media.

“Given the rampant disinformation and polarization across social media and even traditional news outlets, we believe that investing in trusted messengers at the local level is essential to protecting and expanding our democracy,” said New Media Ventures President Carlissia N. Graham.

A Unique Approach

The troubled state of U.S. media has left over 1300 communities without access to local news, leaving people uninformed about critical local issues. The decline of local news and the ascent of disinformation is what prompted NMV to invest in trusted local media, a linchpin in the preservation and expansion of democracy.

However, while many organizations focus on preserving traditional media, NMV has also set its sights on building the media of the future.

With the media landscape in flux and traditional outlets struggling to adapt, NMV is now investing in new voices, new models, and new media types that capture the trust of today's audience. They recognize the need for a connected progressive media ecosystem that cultivates a pipeline of media projects and champions independent ownership.

Talent is Equally Distributed, Opportunity is Not

What became clear in the recruitment process was that this dire need is being met by organizations and companies that are stepping up to the challenge. Over 350 organizations applied in just two months, far exceeding their expectations. A noteworthy data point in a media landscape that’s predominantly white and white-owned, is the pool's reflection of the multi-racial makeup of the United States. The applicant pool included 200 applications from Black-led entities alone which was over half of the pool; a reflection of the rich diversity of our society.

Applicants came from diverse backgrounds, including LGBTQ+, immigrants, disabled individuals, and formerly incarcerated people. Many were early-stage entities, managing their capital judiciously in an environment where only about 1.87% of $31 billion in start-up funding went to startups with diverse leaders. This underscores the necessity for capital intervention to accelerate growth in this critical sector.

Building Now and Beyond

In September 2023, 14 organizations in the inaugural initiative formally joined the NMW portfolio. The non-profit and for-profit organizations include Protect the Sacred, Conecta Arizona, Black Miami-Dade, Miami Freedom Project, Canopy Atlanta, Refugee Community Partnership, Triad City Beat, Dirtroad Organizing, Make the Road Action Nevada, Impacto, Trucha RGV, OutSmart Magazine, The Austin Common, and Backbone Digital Leaders.

NMV plans on further investing $3 million over the next two years into this local media effort, joining other noteworthy media investment initiatives like Press Forward. The mostly philanthropic cohort announced an unprecedented 500 million dollar commitment to fund news and media entities to address the current crisis occurring in news and information.

As the 2024 elections approach, Voices for Democracy’s immediate goal is to bolster trusted, community-centric media outlets, especially in the face of mounting media challenges. The relationship between the people and the messenger is critical and has far-reaching implications far beyond elections. Their long-term goal is to nurture trust and participation in bottom-up democracy, fostering an ecosystem of diverse, grassroots voices and outlets.

There is an ongoing assault on the institutions and values that underpin U.S. democracy. Social media behemoths like Meta (formerly Facebook) remain unregulated and have been implicated in a slew of privacy scandals that enabled foreign countries to interfere with U.S. elections. Democracy is under assault by a robust network of media outlets and influencers who distort reality and misinform Americans. Trust in legacy outlets has dwindled, making local media and influencers crucial.

In the face of these challenges, Voices for Democracy and New Media Ventures are leading the mission to mend the media infrastructure and fortify U.S. democracy.

New Media Ventures is an investor in Luz Media. Investors play no part in Luz Media’s editorial process and Luz retains full editorial independence.

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