Here at Charlottesville Tomorrow, we consider ourselves part of movements around the country to both re-energize local news and help change the power structures that have made local news so exclusionary throughout history.

We are part of many networks, formal and informal, that help us teach and learn from other news organizations around the country. One is the Institute for Nonprofit News, with its 360 members and mission to strengthen revenue and editorial models. For our part, we want to create a news outlet to serve this community well into the future, no matter how corporate media, technology companies or politics change.

So we were honored to be part of a conversation in March about how we stay connected to communities while doing our work as journalists. INN board member Ron Smith (Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service) led a conversation with Irene Romulo (Cicero Independiente), Keri Mitchell (Dallas Free Press), Vandana Kumar (India Currents) and our editor-in-chief Angilee Shah. Leaders from several innovative INN member newsrooms shared how they have connected with their local audiences by using new platforms, building community engagement and strengthening partnerships.

The group described their organizations as labors of love that are also building power for the communities they serve by developing innovative contributor and pay models.

“What’s been important to us is the work that we’re doing to make sure we bring in more people to do the reporting. Especially people who may come from a background like myself,” said Romulo, co-founder of Cicero Independiente in Illinois. “I didn’t start off in journalism but I want to see more people like me, and create more paid opportunities for young people, older people, monolingual Spanish speakers to be involved in this reporting,”

Vandana Kumar, publisher of India Currents, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary this month, said that their model of community contributions — “we were crowdsourcing before there was actually a term for it” — is about lifting storytellers of color.

“India Currents started as a labor of love because I couldn’t find myself and people like me in the media,” she said. “We are deeply connected to the communities we serve, which happens in a lot of immigrant media.”

For Charlottesville Tomorrow, deep community connection means building an institution that both serves and pays for the kinds of news we need as a community to support and understand each other.

“We think of ourselves as part of this ecosystem in Charlottesville that has not historically represented people of color well,” Shah said. “It’s a really interesting thing to have a lot of media in town but not much inclusion. Not an economy that supports a variety of people to participate.”

Shah described the work of Charlottesville Inclusive Media and its new initiative to give more people the chance to shape local narratives.

Keri Mitchell was frustrated with business models that meant she could only cover neighborhoods where there were advertising dollars. She’s now the executive director of Dallas Free Press; they started with a text messaging service first to reach the people they were trying to serve. The website came later.

“I can’t emphasize enough the importance of just showing up and listening,” she said.

Ultimately, it’s about representation.

“What happens when you don’t see yourself? Then you’re left to the narratives of others,” said Ron Smith, executive director of the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service.

Want to get more in the weeds of the kinds of conversations we have in the journalism industry? Here’s the whole conversation.