To celebrate Media Diversified’s third anniversary we have an interview with Samantha Asumadu, founder of Media Diversified and Jamie Broadnax, founder of Black Girl Nerds. Here they talk about their experiences of creating and running prominent media platforms aimed at people of colour.
Can you tell us about yourself and your and work?
Jamie Broadnax: My name is Jamie Broadnax [and] I am the founder and managing editor of a website called Black Girl Nerds. The work that I do involves contributing articles to the site, managing other contributing writers or bloggers themselves who create content on the site, [and] work[ing] with other editors who also publish articles on the site. Also I am the producer and host of a weekly podcast which has become more than just weekly, because I drop extra episodes every now and then, midway through the week. I am a member of an online community where I’m live-tweeting TV shows. I’m involved in engaging with Twitter followers about various hot topics of the day, of the week, involving myself in trending hashtags here and there. So I do all of that and I have a daytime nine to five, so it’s a pretty busy life that I have. But that’s me and that’s the work that I do.
Samantha Asumadu: I’m Samantha Asumadu, [and] apart from being Editor in Chief of Media Diversified and the Media Diversified Experts Directory, I’m also a filmmaker. I made my first documentary for Aljazeera English in 2009, The Super Ladies, about three Ugandan women rally drivers competing in the World Rally championship. I was briefly a breaking news journalist, working mainly for CNN, but did reports for Sky News and France 24, plus video features for AFP and Deutsche Welle. This was when I lived and worked in Uganda. I was lucky enough to be able to go to Congo for the Deutsche Welle feature which was about blood minerals. I’m still yet to finish my second documentary and it’s actually a big fear of mine that I never will, as supposedly 85% of filmmakers never make a 2nd film! I do still have some commercial clients through my site www.thefeministfilmmaker.com. I guess however I’m most known for some of the campaigning I’ve done over the years including women’s representation in theatre, an anti-war campaign re Iran, the Predatory Peacekeepers campaign, sickle cell anemia, and potholes in Uganda! These days I’m glad to say Media Diversified takes up most of my time.
What motivated you to start your website? Was there a specific moment that inspired its creation?
JB: What motivated me to start Black Girl Nerds was the fact that I noticed nerd culture was becoming a very important part of pop culture, and I noticed television shows and articles on the web, and images in media, where nerdiness was something that was finally being embraced. And even though I never labelled myself per se as a nerd, I was always a part of that culture. I just noticed that in shows like The Big Bang Theory, or on other nerd-centric websites, I didn’t see many images, or any really, of black women.
So I one day went to Google and typed in the term ‘black girl nerds’ and nothing came up. And that just stunned me, because why would there not be anything? I mean, I wasn’t looking for a website called that; I was just looking for anything: a YouTube channel, another website, an online store, a TV series, something that represented black women and blerd culture. And nothing came up in Google, which amazed me. So that moment was the specific moment that inspired me to create Black Girl Nerds. I just really wanted to indelibly print that term on the web, and in doing so, now when you Google ‘black girl nerds’ everything related to my site comes up. Anything that I’m involved in come[s] up; you know, the podcast, the website all of the social media channels, all of that come[s] up because apparently it just was never there on the first place. That’s what motivated me to start BGN.
SA: It was in 2013, I read an article called ‘The Evening Standard of Whiteness’ in the Voice newspaper. The writer, Rodney Sealy, had done a simple analysis of pictures in one edition of the Evening Standard, [and] after completion he decided to boycott the paper. ‘Does London’s only paper reflect the reality of London life in 2013? Sadly, no. That 40 per cent of ethnic Londoners are crudely white washed out of its view of our city is a terrible indictment. People of colour did not feature on any page as fully formed characters as often as we should but, in fact, if we all packed up and left, London would grind to a juddering halt. We are integral to this city’s smooth functioning.’
This article combined with Amol Rjan taking the helm at the Independent and what I call the intersectionality wars of 2013 spurred me on. Amol’s editorship hailed as a milestone, the first “non-white editor of a national paper”. It was big news and it shouldn’t have been; [it]was 2013. In 2011 the Guardian’s list of 100 most influential people in media had only one non-white person, and it wasn’t much better in 2012, 2013, 2014, etc.
So I wrote this Storify. It got attention and that really started it off! A twitter account soon followed as did the hashtag #AllWhiteFrontPages which the Guardian found out about and commissioned me to write an article about which I’m still getting unsolicited online abuse for so it must have struck a nerve with some!
What is your most memorable moment as founder?
JB: [My] most memorable moment was when Shonda Rhimes said in Marie Claire Magazine that I was one of her favourite people to follow on Twitter.And she named me, Jamie Broadnax of Black Girl Nerds, on Twitter as one of her favourites to follow. So that was pretty stunning because I spend a lot of time on Twitter and I never know who’s paying attention to my tweets. People of her stature, really; it didn’t dawn on me even though I knew that she was following the account for a while. It never dawns on me that people that are VIPs, people that are very prolific and eminent in their respective fields are following my account and actually paying attention to what I’m saying. It’s one thing to follow someone, it’s another thing to actually follow what they’re tweeting, and actually pay attention to it, [and] I guess she’s one of those people. It was pretty awesome to know that she was actually interested enough in my tweets where she felt the need to say I was one of her favourite people to follow. That’s definitely the memorable moment for me as a founder.
And also another memorable moment I have to add, and this happened before Shonda Rhimes followed, was when Melissa Harris-Perry followed my account. [This] was the first year that Black Girl Nerds was published and she said that she loved the site, [and] she loved the blog. And coincidentally enough, I was reading her book Sister Citizen when this had happened. When you have someone who you admire, whose book you’re reading at the time say that they love your blog, it just gave some legitimacy to the site. It gave some legitimacy to me as a creator, that someone like Melissa Harris-Perry, an academic scholar, likes what I’m doing. So those are very memorable moments for me as a founder.
SA: [The] most memorable [moment] I think was when one of our columnists Shane Thomas was shortlisted for Arts and Culture commentator of the year.
Others on the list included Hugo Rifkind (who went on to win). It felt good that Shane had recognition, even though we don’t and shouldn’t court establishment approval. However if it means that our writers are more likely to get more opportunities to work on bigger platforms and get better pay, I’m happy.
What challenges have come with the expansion of your website, and how have you handled them?
JB: Oh, that’s a great question. There’s a lot of challenges. I mean, having the time is the biggest challenge I’m having right now because as I mentioned before I have a 9 to 5. I have a day job because I’m not monetising off [of BGN] enough to work and earn a living, so I do have to have a daytime job to pay my bills and I do this when I leave my 9 to 5. [This] doesn’t give me much time during the day, or what’s left for the rest of the day to work on [BGN]. So I find myself constantly working on the site and working on the online community during the weekends, during holidays, days where I should just be on my own with my dog, with family, with friends [and] being social. I’m investing it into creating this site, and I don’t have any issues with that because if I did, I probably wouldn’t be spending a lot of time on it but it’s challenging. I wish I could be doing this full time, I really do. I think the site and the online community would be a lot more fleshed out and fully developed if it were a full time gig for me, as well as many of the women who help run it. That’s part of my short term goal — I won’t even call it a long term goal — at BGN, to make it so it’s a fully functioning, fully staffed, full time, online community, or an online conglomerate if you will.
I’ve handled it by having people help me, because at first, BGN was just Jamie and I had contributing writers who would send me an email and a Word doc of their article and I would publish it on the site. But it got to the point where I was getting lots of them, so having people have access to the site to upload articles as they wish, having an editor to go in and copyedit the articles and publish them, doing a lot of the work that I used to do by just myself, has helped substantially. Even outsourcing work on the podcast. When people email me a lot saying ‘Hey, I would like to be a guest,’ or ‘I’d like to talk about this on your show’; sending an email to a list of podcasters who can upload the podcast on their own, do their interview on a one-on-one, and then I just get their mp3 and edit it into the show, that’s been very helpful. So streamlining it by having people help has been a huge, huge, way to overcome those challenges.
SA: [The] challenges have been [that] with more visibility came more unwarranted attacks; sometimes racially motivated, sometimes not. Some people will never be happy seeing a black woman in a position of power, as little as that power may be. It reminds me of the quote by Rosemary Brown, “To be Black and female in a society which is both racist and sexist is to be in the unique position of having nowhere to go but up!”
We have upset the status quo just by the content we publish and I’m happy we have done so. However now that I’m doing stuff like judging in the Comment Awards, in a debate at a public event with the editorial director of the Sunday Times, I do get people trying to undermine me for the most ridiculous things. I even wrote a public statement about it to pre-empt any such attacks. I won’t bother naming names, but it’s been from gatekeepers in the press and mainstream journalists mainly. As far as I can tell it’s blowback for The Trashies, our yearly event that awards the best and brightest ahem of those who have fed into the relentless cycle of ‘Islamophobia, racist rhetoric, Othering, colourism, and xenophobia’ in the mainstream press. I guess the resentment was to be expected!
What is your process of selecting articles to publish, and how difficult was it to perfect this process?
JB: That’s a good question. I don’t have a process: I know that’s probably an odd way to answer that question as an editor but I don’t have a process. I just receive the enquiries, I receive the Word docs I forward them over to – well, I guess it is a process – to a copyeditor to review and they will decide if it’s something worth publishing or if it’s not. And they’ll send it back to me and I’ll be the one that makes the executive decision. If it’s something that’s worthy of being put on the site, if it’s something that speaks to our audience, then absolutely. So, that’s basically the process.
I wouldn’t say it was difficult, it’s just finding the right people who are in fact good at what they do as copyeditors, and also very efficient [at] giving you a very short turn-around; that makes it an easier process. Some copyeditors are quicker than others, and I appreciate those copyeditors. Just trying to have some consistency with getting articles reviewed in a timely manner, because some articles are more time sensitive than others, [helps to] streamline the process. But it can be difficult when you are waiting for someone to copy-edit something for you and it’s been almost a week.
SA: When I first started I republished a few articles which I had read in the past couple of years that were fantastic. [They] would set the standard for the website; of the kind of work and writers I wanted to attract. This was one of the first by an Egyptian writer: The Symbolic Use of Women. It meant that people like Yasmin Gunaratnam contacted me to submit articles [and] this was her first: Race GPS? No Right Turn Ahead. A few weeks later I asked her if she would be our academic curator. So now articles come in one of 3 ways, either unsolicited (I did a twitter thread on if and why I accept those articles for publication) or via our info@ address, I or another editor commission on a specific topic, or through one of our 9 columnists. Both the latter groups are paid. This has been my goal all along and I’m extremely proud to be able to pay people for their work. Indeed I hope it will inspire bigger, longer established outlets like Mumsnet, Huffington Post and Indy Voices to do the same.
What is one piece of advice you have for a person of colour looking to start their own creative endeavour, whether it be website, podcast or otherwise?
JB: Great question. Consistency is the key [and] that is something I will say till my last breath: you have to be consistent. You can really go far by creating something, and it doesn’t have to always be the best. Everybody’s like, ‘It has to be really good quality, and it has to be the best in order to be successful.’ Yes, of course, you want it to be good quality and you should strive for excellence, but I believe firmly, and this is based off of what I’ve been doing for the last four years, that if you are consistent with the work that you are doing, then you will be successful. You will get an audience, you will have loyal fans and followers because they already have the expectation that whatever you’re producing they’re either going to receive [it] on a daily basis or a weekly basis. They’re going to expect to see your tweets every day or, you know whatever it is that you are producing; they already have an expectation that they are going to receive that product. As long as you stay consistent with that you will always build, and build, and build on getting more support. So that’s really the one piece of advice I would give to people.
Remember, ‘out of sight, out of mind’; if you are a podcaster and for some reason you just stopped publishing episodes of your show, people are gonna eventually fall off and not listen anymore. If you are a blogger and you are publishing content and then you just stop, or it’s just very sporadic, people aren’t going to go to your website as often. So that is something to think about. If you’re a YouTuber, same thing: you have to be consistent with your content and that is a huge challenge. It’s one of the biggest challenges, I would say. The secret to being successful is consistency because it requires hard work to be consistent. That is the one piece of advice I would give.
SA: My one piece of advice is don’t do it alone. I may be founder of Media Diversified, but it only exists and has grown because of the hard work of our whole team, which includes those who are no longer with us actively working on the site. So a BIG UP to Samira, Desiree, Rakshi, Yasmin, Kelly, Henna, Maurice, Kiri, Mend, Sunili, Sunny, Melanie, Adefemi, Lola, Tara, Louisa, Afroze and also my mentors, Frank and Madani.
Thank you to Samantha and Jamie for taking the time out of their busy schedules to answer these questions!
Edited by Louisa Danquah. This interview has been edited for clarity.
Photo credit for SA – Sarah Nwafor
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Louisa Danquah is a university student who is studying English, although she would prefer a less homogeneous curriculum. An aspiring author of Ghanaian descent, she’s known she wants to be an author since she was ten, but is only now just writing the types of stories she wants to tell. Find her on her Twitter @LouisaAADanquah.