It’s a sadly familiar story: Ambitious young journalist works in a promising newsroom, dedicated to serving their community and contributes to a Pulitzer Prize nominated series on government transparency only to be laid off a short time later.
Kelsey Ryan didn’t dwell too long on being let go from the Kansas City Star. She knew there was work to be done and set about combining her journalism chops with her entrepreneurial instinct, creating The Beacon.
“The writing had been on the wall for a long time,” Ryan says of her departure from the paper. “I was 29-years old and knowing I have an entire career ahead of me, that the traditional newspapers aren’t the answer anymore. I knew about the Texas Tribune and ProPublica on a national level. I really made the decision the day I got laid off to not work for a legacy news organization ever again.”
Instead, she spoke with some other similarly afflicted reporters and decided to launch her own nonprofit news organization, The Beacon, to cover the midwest. The online newsroom was originally set to kick off later this year, but COVID-19 had other ideas in mind — realizing a lack of health care coverage, The Beacon had a soft launch in the spring and will launch a slightly bigger website in the fall.
At The Beacon, Ryan and her team took a slightly different approach before they started publishing. The first hire for the organization was an audience development manager.
“That was a crucial decision — we need to talk to the community and the people who would be consuming this to help shape what it is because it’s the whole, ‘if you build it will they come’ question. You want to make sure you’re not just building something for journalists, for the sake of journalists. You want to build something people will use,” Ryan says.
Some of the early feedback was fascinating: People didn’t want breaking news. They didn’t want opinion pieces. And they wanted an “anti-racist” newsroom, one that focused on diversity of stories, of reporters and in the way communities are covered.
“Kansas was a free state; Missouri was a slave state,” she says. “People (were) acutely aware of when people who look like them are portrayed in mug shots or as athletes. People are aware of that. Their community wasn’t being covered … frankly, it wasn’t an accurate portrayal. … As a start-up, we can make it a focus of ours. We’re being really diverse in our hiring, working on the journalism pipeline. We’re making sure when people are applying for a job with us, we’re not using language that ‘others’ them or makes them feel they can’t do the job.”
Ryan is also the communications manager for LION Publishing, a group of more than 300 local, independent newsrooms who
It’s All Journalism Host Michael O’Connell talks to Kelsey Ryan, founder of The Beacon, a Kansas City nonprofit newsroom. They discuss the challenges of launching an independent nonprofit during the coronavirus and how LION Publishers is helping to foster independent local newsrooms across the country.