FOR THOSE WHO value the watchdogging and everyday reporting of small, local media, 2021 brought disheartening news. The nonprofit Poynter Institute found that, as best it could count, nearly 100 newsrooms had closed during the pandemic. An annual report from the Interactive Advertising Bureau revealed that the nation’s 10 largest media companies — including Facebook and other tech concerns — were gobbling up 78.1% of all digital-ad revenue, leaving everyone else to divvy up the crumbs.
Which is why it’s so heartening to see Converge Media — and its co-founder and lead journalist Omari Salisbury, profiled in the June 6 magazine — continue to be such a small, local-newsroom success.
In August, Converge moved into its new studio on First Avenue, with four sets for its suite of programs and room for a modest live audience once the pandemic allows. “We’re still ‘the little engine that could,’” Salisbury says. “This is still a very small operation, a small, Black-owned media company. But we’ve put every dollar we got into developing a better product for our neighborhood, and it’s meaningful knowing it came from the people who were A-1 from day one, the $5 family that helped us grow.” (The “$5 family” is Salisbury’s affectionate name for Converge supporters who pledge $5 a month.)
Shortly after the move, Salisbury won the Excellence in Journalism award from the Washington State Association for Justice, and Converge began expanding its geographical footprint, covering stories in Eastern Washington — including that of Jerrall Haynes, a young Air Force recruit who was stationed in Spokane; then ran for the school board, becoming its only Black member; and now is the city of Spokane’s first Civil Rights Officer.
“We’re enlarging our circumference, telling Black stories across the Pacific Northwest,” Salisbury says. “And we want to continue inspiring people in the neighborhood.”
Salisbury has another project to unveil in early 2022: noexcusesjobs.com, an employment site where Black professionals can upload their résumés and introductory videos, and where companies can scout for talent.
“No Excuses is about being intentional in hiring Black professionals,” Salisbury says. “We’re taking all the excuses away from corporate America. You say you want some qualified Black people to hire? Here you go.”
The site was largely inspired by Salisbury’s experience in 2016, when he returned to the United States after a nearly 12-year sojourn in Africa (largely Dar es Salaam, Tanzania), where he’d worked in corporate broadcast media and marketing, with a client list including Heineken and Moët Hennessy. After those international experiences, he thought getting a job in the States would be relatively easy — but he couldn’t even land an interview, and he wound up driving for Uber and Lyft.
During those frustrating days, Salisbury cooked up the idea for Converge Media. “Converge grew out of that time, which is great, but that is not the situation for most people,” he says.
All in all, things continue to go well for Converge, but Salisbury isn’t taking any of it for granted — and while he’s here, he says he wants to create as much opportunity for others as possible. “I don’t know how long this door will be open,” he says. “Hopefully it will stay open, but if it doesn’t, let it be said that while it was open, I pushed as many people through as I could. We do media, but our purpose is to help the people. We’re here to be of service.”
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