October 1, 2020
Building with community: How The Triibe grew into its ecosystem
Local News Lab is partnering with the Engaged Journalism Lab and Solution Set to showcase Black-led local news organizations that have been putting engaged journalism into action to meet their communities’ news and information needs while developing sustainable business models. As industry-focused publications based at funder organizations, we recognize the importance of calling attention to and supporting Black-led outlets that have been doing the work.
Learn from the Engaged Journalism Lab about FlintBeat’s challenges of striking out on your own, from Local News Lab about The Triibe’s commitment to building community, and from Solution Set about Madison365’s diversified revenue streams and Bridge Detroit’s approach to community engagement as a start-up newsroom. We hope this collection will provide you with an understanding of the work these publishers have poured into their communities and actionable insights you can apply in your work.
Over the past year, Tuesdays became a day of community for Tiffany Walden and Morgan Elise Johnson. These are Triibe Tuesdays: events that regularly would draw 75-100 people together to build connections and reshape the narrative of Black Chicago, building on its journalism. As cofounders of The Triibe, Walden and Morgan have co-hosted workshops on business acumen for creatives, local candidate forums, vision board sessions, and more.
Of course, when the pandemic hit, the gatherings transformed from meetings at film centers and barbershop-community venues, to Zoom calls and Facebook lives. But The Triibe is used to pivoting and learning as it grows.
“Morgan named it The Triibe because it’s a thing of finding your tribe,” Walden said. “We are bringing people together to have debates, move conversations and ideas forward, and to find community… To us it’s more than a journalism site or news site. It’s a community.”
Building the Community
Walden and Johnson met through the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority at Northwestern, and after reconnecting in 2017, they launched The Triibe. Their goal was to report stories that are rooted in the authenticity and relatability of growing up Black in Chicago, drawing from their experience telling stories like the legacy of radio station WGCI’s birthday line and the state of Chicago’s party scene for Black millennial professionals.
Walden and Johnson kicked off the organization with an Indiegogo campaign that raised over $20,000 from nearly 500 supporters. But, no strangers to freelancing or building their credentials in the city, they worked side hustles like part-time social media roles and driving for Lyft.
Now that they have built The Triibe to sustain them beyond side hustles, Johnson and Walden are able to publish pieces with their team of contributors on their own terms. Inspired by magazines like Vibe and even Archie comics, Triibe content ranges from a piece detailing the human impact of police harassment to a collection of activists’ responses to Chicago’s mayor and police superintendent after a protest. They also publish op-eds, art and prose from Chicago creatives, and a map and calendar of Black-owned businesses and events around the city, including Triibe Tuesdays.
Throughout it all, growing their own business while telling stories no one else was covering has had its tensions. “Journalism school does not teach you how to be successful. It does not teach you how to be a business person. It teaches you somewhat how to write [because you get a lot of your writing skills through hands-on experience outside of the classroom]. No one teaches you about taxes,” Walden said.
Building the Operations
A few years ago, Walden and Johnson were attending the LION Publishers conference in Chicago when they met Tracie Powell, then a digital news startup founder and now program officer at the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund (REJF) at Borealis Philanthropy. The REJF aims to strengthen the capacity and sustainability of news outlets led by and serving people of color, in recognition of the racist restrictions on access to capital in journalism.
When Powell first spoke with The Triibe, she realized that they were trying to do the work she has advocated for with REJF and her own startup work. “They recognized that journalism in a lot of respects has failed the communities that it tries to reach,” she said. “They’re not trying to remake ‘journalism’ into [the industry’s] own image. They were actually reshaping journalism based on their communities’ images.”
Powell worked with The Triibe to develop their application for the REJF, reaching out to partners in Chicago to get a better sense of the work that they do. She decided to include them in her first round of 16 grantees, with The Triibe receiving $175,000. Over the past year, the group has developed into a cohort that in addition to dollars receives training on fundraising, audience analytics, advice on responding to COVID-19, and more.
After training from REJF on fundraising during COVID-19, and vocal support on social media, the outlet drew more than $20,000 in reader donations from May to August, according to Walden. In addition, the outlet has received additional support from the McCormick Foundation, the Chicago Community Trust, Facebook and more. The Triibe is now supported by a mix of funding from grants, individuals, and earned revenue in sponsored content and more. The Field and MacArthur Foundations, both based in Chicago, additionally recognized Walden’s leadership and named her to its cohort of Leaders for a New Chicago this year, supporting Walden and The Triibe with a $50,000 award.
Building the Future
Chicago, the birthplace of legacy Black media like The Chicago Defender, Ebony, and Jet, is also particularly fertile for local news experiments, research supported by Democracy Fund about Chicago’s local news ecosystem shows. Sheila Solomon and Andrea Hart, the research’s authors, noted in 2018: “One of the defining stories we heard about Chicago is that people keep trying and building.”
Walden and Johnson are those people. Solomon and Hart also noted then that while there were many exciting projects like The Triibe starting, there was a way to go: “Surrounding these creative and passionate projects is a sense of optimism, tempered only by the understanding that there is a long way to go to deliver on the promises they suggest.”
Since then, The Triibe’s staff has worked hard to deliver — and they have. Walden and Johnson have created a powerful tool for their community, from Triibe Tuesday workshops on taxes to freelance contributions to leading a town hall with Chicago’s mayor Lori Lightfoot in a collaboration of other local outlets.
“We started The Triibe back in 2017 as a form of resistance” after President Trump was elected and “it seemed like Chicago was going to be used for a buzzword for all things wrong with black America,” Walden said. “It was important for me to grow up and start telling stories about the Chicago that I know and love.”
Resources and legacies The Triibe leaned on
- ”We Changed Culture”: An Oral History of Vibe Magazine — Billboard
- African American Media Today — Democracy Fund
- The state of Chicago’s local news ecosystem — Local News Lab
- Tiffany Walden’s freelancing, including Mike Love and the Dizz on the rise and fall of WGCI’s Bad Boy Radio and the birth of the Birthday Line and What’s up with Chicago’s party scene for professional black millennials?
- Morgan Elise Johnson’s work on the documentary Unapologetic, a deep look into the lives of two organizers with the Movement for Black Lives
How you could support The Triibe
- For funders: Support The Triibe and other organizations that center racial equity and diverse storytelling through the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund or sponsorship opportunities
- For individuals: Consider supporting The Triibe with a t-shirt purchase, donation, or sharing their work and call out their stories with credit
Read more about The Triibe and other outlets in this collaboration
- How Jiquanda Johnson is building Flint Beat from the group up — Engaged Journalism Lab
- How Madison365 connects communities of color by amplifying underrepresented voices — Solution Set
- She didn’t see herself or the young Black community in Chicago’s main media outlets, so she started her own — Poynter
- Creating a TRiiBE of her own — Medill Reports Chicago