A note from our editor, Elizabeth MacBride
In March of 2020, as the pandemic was bearing down on us, Elaine Pofeldt (one of the top freelancers who works with Times of E) and I were covering the effect on small businesses across the country. We were among the few. Most of our peers in journalism were rightly focused on health.
Elaine called me one night to say how heart-breaking it was to interview people who were watching their life’s work and their savings evaporate. I realized that the aid wasn’t reaching people, and put it together with research that Seth Levine and I had been doing for our book, The New Builders. I called him, and we wrote an op-ed for CNBC that laid out the picture: Because Congress had been so misled by years of business journalism coverage that threw the spotlight on tech startups, they didn’t know who today’s business owners were: many soloprenuers, small food business owners, women, people of color. Those owners weren’t able to access the aid package as it was originally designed. A long-time editor friend of mine at CNBC published the piece (Lori Ioannou’s now writing for us at Times of E, too).
A few weeks later, a Senator’s chief of staff emailed to say thanks: The Senate staff had used the information in that op-ed to help reshape the PPP. The revision wasn’t perfect, but it was a lot better. One op-ed had an impact on millions of businesses.
I relate this story to illustrate why it’s important to fund journalism, and especially to fund journalism that shares the stories of people who aren’t listened to. At the moment, small business owners are just such a group, probably because they are, today, increasingly women and people of color. (Only about 1% of all startups receive venture funding, despite all the many, many keystrokes spent on writing about them).
Was this a one-time event, a lucky fluke? No. Last summer, I wrote a piece that pointed out that the U.S. Census Bureau excluded the smallest businesses from its counts of business owners. I asked whether it was a coincidence that the smallest businesses are owned by women and people of color – or is this an example of data and definition reinforcing wealth inequity? The Census Bureau announced afterward it was changing its reporting.
Another example: This story by Lori is one of the few to look at the creator economy from the perspective of the creators. Is there a real, sustainable income to be made on the explosion of platforms? That’s not clear yet. And another: Innovations start at the small end of the economy, and they’re not all software-driven innovations. Take this story by Nina Roberts, which looks at a rethinking of the way food is priced. Or this one by Skyler Rossi, that focuses on student innovations in climate-focused businesses.
The work we do at Times of E makes an extremely outsized impact because we’re almost the only people covering the entire world of small business, from tech startups to small nonprofits to Main Street. We see patterns and innovations other people don’t, by reframing the conversation around small businesses – not big companies, not big finance, and not consumers – but entrepreneurs and small businesses owners who are responsible for more than 40% of the nation’s GDP.
We haven’t asked (very much) for reader support). That was in part because when I founded Times of E, I wanted to understand, first, if there was a need, and second, whether there was a market for this kind of business journalism. The need is emphatically clear. The market remains to be seen. Support and feedback from readers will help us figure that next part out. Please drop me a line at email@example.com about projects you’d like to see us take on, and consider clicking the Support Us button below.
This story and others on New Builders Dispatch are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect with www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.