Tracie Powell - The Badass FighterJan 22, 2024 12:00PM ● By Eric Nzeribe, M.S.
I met Tracie Powell, a veteran journalist and journalism advocate, at the 2023 Reimagining Philadelphia Journalism Summit organized by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism in Philadelphia. Ms. Powell, originally from Atlanta and the oldest of four girls, discovered her passion for journalism at a young age. Her grandmother and father taught her to read through newspapers, so she started creating her family newspaper as a child. Despite her father's concerns about the industry's viability, especially for a person of color, she pursued a dual degree in journalism and business administration…her Plan B.
Her career began on the business side of journalism, transitioning from advertising to circulation before finally moving into news reporting. Powell recalled, "I had always wanted to report the news." However, she faced racial barriers in the industry, particularly in investigative journalism. Her first experience was in Austin, Texas, where her story on local government mismanagement was reassigned to a White reporter. The experience was a pivotal moment of disillusionment for her. Then, Powell recollects, "I was angry and sad... I remembered thinking my Dad was right; I should have gone into another profession."
She later became the editor-in-chief of a Black newspaper in Dallas, Texas, where she continued to confront systemic issues in journalism. Her investigative work included uncovering racism in a mayoral election and holding public figures accountable regardless of race.
Despite the challenges, she remained committed to journalism and became a correspondent for major publications like Newsweek and People Magazine, which paid her bills. Powell traveled to Ghana, reporting on girls' access to education, which led her to explore law as an alternative career. However, her passion for journalism persisted, and she wrote a weekly column on U.S. Congress while attending law school.
Post law school, she worked on policy, helping journalists understand the impact of digital platforms like Google and Facebook. She launched her website, TMP Unplugged, and later rebranded it to AllDigitocracy, focusing on digital access and democracy. Her success with AllDigitocracy led to an opportunity at Stanford University in California as a JSK Fellow, expanding her audience development and digital marketing expertise.
Her career evolved towards philanthropy and supporting racial equity in journalism. She wrote the white paper that created the Racial Equity and Journalism Fund, supporting publishers of color. Powell observed that "Funders fund BIPOC organizations in times of crisis." During the pandemic and racial unrest following George Floyd’s murder, she advocated for legal support for journalists covering protests. This effort created a legal fellowship providing pro bono support to journalists of color.
After stepping away from the Racial Equity and Journalism Fund, she received funding to rest and reflect, which she instead used to launch a major research project at Harvard University in Massachusetts. This research, focusing on the distribution of funding in journalism, led to the creation of the ($500M) Pivot Fund to support newsrooms of color with comprehensive services
3 Lessons for People of Color
Tracie Powell's journey offers invaluable lessons for people of color aspiring to make their mark in journalism and beyond. Her advice for aspiring journalists is to be prepared and aware of the opportunities and people around them. Powell's experiences, filled with challenges and triumphs, serve as a roadmap for navigating and reshaping traditionally exclusive industries.
1. Powell's career is a masterclass in resilience. "Journalism doesn't love you back," she had surmised, underlining the harsh realities of the industry that she loves. Powell remained steadfast in her goals despite systemic barriers and personal setbacks. She wants publishers of color to know that the status quo will underestimate and dismiss them; thus, there is a need to be strong and hyper-focused on audience needs. Her story is a powerful reminder that stumbling blocks, while daunting, can be stepping stones to more remarkable achievements.
2. Powell's ability to adapt to changing industry dynamics – from print to digital journalism – highlights the importance of being versatile and forward-thinking. Her pivot to digital platforms and policy work exemplifies how staying relevant and impactful requires constant learning and evolution. Hence, she opines, "Black publications should learn to be relevant, to be timely, have talent and resources they need to report the kind of stories that are not reported anywhere else."
3. Powell's work, especially through the Pivot Fund and Racial Equity and Journalism Fund, underscores the importance of advocacy. Her efforts demonstrate that creating change requires individual excellence and a commitment to lifting others. She eloquently says, "I am here to amplify the work they're doing so they can get the funding from me and others." Her work has significantly influenced the industry's understanding and support of BIPOC and underserved communities.
Tracie Powell's journey and work continue to inspire and pave the way for future generations of journalists, particularly those from marginalized communities. Her story is a beacon of hope, determination, and relentless pursuit of a more inclusive and equitable media landscape.
Enchanted Career Trajectory Ties Together
Tracie Powell's career journey is a remarkable story of dedication, innovation, and strategic foresight in journalism and media. Often perceived as nontraditional, her path showcases how each decision and step seamlessly weaves into an enchanted career trajectory.
At the University of Georgia's Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, Powell laid the foundation for her future in journalism, acquiring the essential skills and knowledge that would anchor her career. Her stint in Ghana stirred her to attend Georgetown University Law Center in 2011. This foray into legal studies, while equipping her with a unique lens through which to view media and journalism, added an edge and urgency to her advocacy.
Powell's early career in journalism began to take shape across various roles. From advertising and circulation to reporting and editorial positions, she honed her understanding of the media landscape, garnering a broad and versatile skill set. In 2008, marking her entry into independent publishing and digital journalism, Powell launched a digital news site and a monthly magazine. These early ventures were instrumental in cultivating her entrepreneurial skills and deepening her understanding of the media industry's dynamics.
In 2013, Powell launched TMP Unplugged, which was later rebranded to AllDigitocracy. This platform was a reflection of her vision to bridge the digital divide. It highlighted the unique challenges faced by independent publishers of color and the impact of media on diverse communities, underscoring her commitment to inclusivity in the digital space.
The year 2015 was a significant milestone in Powell's career when she became a JSK (Knight) Fellow at Stanford University. She deepened her audience development and digital journalism knowledge, skills that became crucial in her later projects.
In 2019, Powell took on the role of founding fund manager at the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund at Borealis Philanthropy. Here, she established new grantmaking standards for community news outlets. Her focus on providing unrestricted funding, capacity building, and technical support set a precedent in the industry.
She detoured to Harvard University in 2021 and embarked on a major research project focused on journalism funding distribution. This endeavor shed light on the disparities in media funding, exposing how grants to BIPOC publishers came with strings, mentorships, accelerator programs, and sign-up of memberships.
The culmination of her experiences led to the launch of The Pivot Fund in 2021. This ambitious initiative aimed to invest $500 million into BIPOC-led news organizations. This Fund's community-centered approach and emphasis on participatory journalism and grantmaking reflect Powell's lifelong commitment to inclusivity and diversity in media. It empowers hyper-local news outlets that have built a ladder of trust with their audience.
Outcomes and Impact
Innovative Grantmaking: Powell's work in philanthropy has been instrumental in shaping new approaches to supporting journalism, particularly in serving community information needs and disrupting traditional philanthropy models.
Building an Inclusive Media Ecosystem: Through her various roles, Powell has played a vital part in creating a more equitable and inclusive media landscape, focusing on providing resources and support to BIPOC journalists and underserved communities.
Thought Leadership: Powell's insights and experiences have made her a thought leader in the field, with her writings and projects influencing the broader discourse on media equity and democracy.
Powell's career journey showcases her persistent effort to address the challenges facing journalists of color and underserved communities. Her diverse educational background and professional experiences uniquely positioned her as a transformative figure in the media industry.
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Eric John Nzeribe is the Publisher of FunTimes Magazine and has a demonstrated history of working in the publishing industry since 1992. His interests include using data to understand and solve social issues, narrative stories, digital marketing, community engagement, and online/print journalism features. Nzeribe is a social media and communication professional with certificates in Digital Media for Social Impact from the University of Pennsylvania, Digital Strategies for Business: Leading the Next-Generation Enterprise from Columbia University, and Master of Science (MS) in Publication Management from Drexel University.
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