Q&A: Javonte Anderson on collaborating with his hometown community to launch Capital B Gary
Javonte Anderson is the editor for Capital B Gary, a nonprofit news organization that centers Black voices. Capital B started as a national publication along with a local outpost in Atlanta, and the new outlet in Gary, Indiana is its second local expansion.
Anderson is from Gary, making him the perfect fit to lead a new community-focused outlet. Capital B Gary collaborated directly with residents by launching a survey to shape its coverage ahead of the initial launch.
We caught up with Anderson to hear about the major learnings from the community survey and how he’s working in partnership with his hometown to build Capital B Gary.
WF: How did you get involved in journalism?
JA: In college, I was just trying to find my niche. I had come from Gary and went to Indiana University down in Bloomington. That was a new world for me and I had the opportunity to explore. I thought the craft of writing and reporting was challenging, fun, and rewarding. The Chicago Tribune had a suburban paper in Northwest Indiana, which is really a suburb of Chicago, and that was my hometown paper. My first job out of college was there at the Post-Tribune, which was the Gary Post-Tribune when I grew up. I had an internship there and it turned into a full-time job. It was real serendipity that my first job was back in my hometown, in Gary.
From there, I went to the Toledo Blade and covered education. After two years, I got the call to the Chicago Tribune, which was like the major leagues for me. Growing up in Gary, Chicago is like our New York. That was my dream paper, it was the New York Times or Washington Post to me. That was surreal for me. I was initially on the breaking news desk, covering crime, at a hyper fast pace. But then I broke off and started covering religion, that was my enterprise work. Then the pandemic happened and I used violence and religion to examine Chicago. Before coming to Capital B Gary, I also had worked at the investigative team at USA Today covering racism and history.
WF: What made you want to launch Capital B Gary?
JA: It’s Gary. It’s my hometown. There’s nothing better than getting to make a positive change in your hometown. I also really love and respect the mission of Capital B, from how it was founded by Lauren Williams and Akoto Ofori-Atta, two powerful Black women who had a vision and accomplished it. It was a shift in my career, as I’ve always been a reporter, but I knew I could help my city a lot by doing it. Gary is misunderstood. I understand the importance of putting the people’s voices first. I understand those people because I am those people — my parents, my cousins, my grandparents — we’re all Gary born and bred.
I want to help deliver the journalism in Gary that people need and really deserve. Help comes in a lot of ways. You have to do good journalism, expose the weaknesses, and fight for transparency from public entities and government agencies. But you also can shine a light on some of the positive things happening in the city and the people who are working on the streets to make it a better place. We want to amplify all of the voices and narratives in Gary.
WF: How did your initial survey of Gary residents help you figure out where Capital B should focus?
JA: To have the survey first really says a lot about Capital B’s mission. Before we even write a single sentence, we’re listening first. We wanted to hear what people wanted to see out of a new journalism entity, some of their concerns in the city, and also what they love about their neighborhood. In terms of concerns, people wanted to hear a lot more about the school system, which was taken over by the state six years ago. They wanted to hear more about government spending and get transparency there. But they also wanted to hear positive stories. Most people from Gary love Gary. And if you Google Gary, you’ll get some of the same negative things about crime and other issues. But people want to offset those narratives.
How does that shape our coverage? In our launch, every story was informed by what people wanted from that survey. Our main story was examining the school takeover and where we are now after six years. We instituted a community spotlight series where we highlight one person, place, or space that’s working to enrich the city of Gary. We featured a gentleman, Jonathan Portis, who opened a floral shop in Gary. And I want to note, we really put the bells and whistles on this, it’s not just sending a reporter out for an hour and write something up — no, we make sure we get professional photography, and I actually wrote the first story myself. We want to give it that rich narrative writing and put a lot of care into this series to make it special.
WF: How do you view working in partnership with the Gary community at Capital B?
JA: Before we launched, I was at a back-to-school event where we gave away hundreds of dollars of items. See, this is how I know Gary — I didn’t just come with the pencils, the pens, and the notebooks. I was a young boy in Gary. I came with the durags, the wave brushes, the stocking caps, things that are really tailored. You don’t want to be extractive. It can’t be all about giving me your story. Our first front-facing appearance was at a big church, one of the biggest citywide back-to-school events, and we had the most robust giveaway out of anyone there.
We’re really trying to immerse ourselves and be communicative. We’re hiring for a community engagement editor, who will start to host more focus groups and listening sessions. We want to meet the people where they’re at, whether that’s churches, neighborhood block clubs, salons, or barber shops. We will be in the spaces that people are naturally at, and when we hear concerns, it will not fall on deaf ears. Every thread that was talked about in our community survey, we’ve started getting at those subjects, and we’re only a few months in — it’s only going to grow and get better with time.
WF: When you’re launching a new publication, how do you approach building relationships with community organizations?
JA: In a city like Gary, with its unique challenges and our population demographics, I knew the first thing we needed to do is make some kind of partnership with the churches. We have a Baptist conference group, and I worked closely with their vice president right away, so we can go in and talk to the pastors. Through the pastors, you get the people, and you get a lot more honesty and hear those stories. We want to listen, we want to hear the people. We don’t want to dictate the coverage. Our stories are dictated by what we’re hearing and seeing in the community.
Before we launched, I also had the opportunity to speak with all the city’s Block Club presidents and vice presidents. Our Federation of Block Clubs operates under the Urban League of Northwest Indiana. I conversed with most Block Club leaders and exchanged contact information. This relationship is straightforward — it keeps us connected to the city’s non-politicians, and they have an open line to reach us. These Block Clubs consist of and represent the very people we want to reach: Gary’s everyday people. It establishes a direct line between us and the people of Gary and keeps them connected to us.
WF: What is one of the biggest lessons or learnings in your career?
JA: Always lead with empathy. Be mindful of others and put yourself in their situation. Maybe we’ve experienced a similar level of pain, joy, or embarrassment. Be human, and always put humans first. Never let that falter — we can all get pushed, whether it’s through deadlines or just being ambitious and trying to accomplish something. You want to stay rooted and understand people.
I was a young reporter, and there were times where I was moving fast and furious, I’d do whatever it takes to get that source. But somewhere along the way, I was blessed to take a step back and make sure we’re more human as reporters. What we write and what we say is public knowledge, it’s often the first thing that comes up when you Google a person’s name. We can get aggressive sometimes. But no matter the circumstance, we’ve got to breathe and remind ourselves to lead with that empathy.
Will Fischer is a journalist covering the intersection of technology and media. He’s worked for Business Insider and New York magazine and conducted local news research for City Bureau. Follow Will on Twitter @willfisch15 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a primarily grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. The Center is supported with operational and project funding from Montclair State University, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, NJ Civic Information Consortium, Rita Allen Foundation, Inasmuch Foundation and the Independence Public Media Foundation. For more information, visit centerforcooperativemedia.org.