The annual AfroTech conference provided by Black-owned media company Blavity was in full effect this week. The event, usually held in Austin, Texas is a multi-day event that gives Black professionals from all over the world the opportunity to learn more about technology. People can also network with different leaders in the space.
One of the panels that was a must to attend was held on Thursday (Nov. 2). It was discussion about today’s Black media landscape, how Black media is shifting culture and storytelling, and the change we hope to see in the industry as we continue to dive into tech and other content programming platforms. AfroTech attendees were able to hear from the influential voices of Orchid Richardson, the SVP of digital at Blavity; REVOLT CEO Detavio Samuels; and Angelica Nwandu, the founder and CEO of The Shade Room (TSR).
The conversation began with Richardson asking panelists their views on the challenges that Black media faces. Samuels responded by stating that Black media is still not making up a majority of the industry regardless of reach and influence. “I would say that Black people have always missed out on benefiting from the economics of their geniuses in this country. So whether you want to talk about the housing boom because of redlining or the tech boom, the same thing is very much happening in Black media. Black folks are responsible for so much of the culture and so much content that the world is consuming. And yet Black-owned media only makes up less than 2 percent of the industry. How is it that we influence 80 percent of the world? How is it that we are in your sports, fashion, technology, and all of your content and you are only getting 2 percent of the money?”
Nwandu agreed and mentioned how the majority of advertising dollars are mainly going to big tech companies. The rest goes to media companies like Disney and Black media is at the bottom. “We have a huge digital footprint. But at the same time, we are not valued as highly as others. I remember I was doing a deal and we were trying to sell to advertisers; they’re a media company (non-Black) that had significantly less impressions and stats. We (the team) were like wait a minute, we do 20 times more than this. But that company got 20 times more dollars. So, it is kind of hard to communicate, in this space, how important Black media is, how important our voices are, and how powerful it is even when you have the numbers to prove it.”
She continued: “Because of that I think something to learn in media is that we have to diversify our revenue outside of advertising. Businesses are now going to Instagram to market their content and they have the technology to do that for a cheaper price. And so with that, we (Black media companies) have to diversify our revenue streams in merchandise, e-commerce, and events like AfroTech in order to thrive and scale in 2023 and beyond.”
Richardson followed up on what can be possible solutions to these challenges and how can Black media change the narrative where our value is emphasized and more appreciated by others. REVOLT CEO explained that it is up to the general public to like, share, and support Black media. This is how Black people show other companies that the type of content we produce is worth paying attention to and investing in. As far as strategy, Samuels also shared that people should “vote with their wallets.” If people are aware of companies who take our (Black people) money, borrow from the culture, and not reinvest, then it is our responsibility to not support them.
Diving a little bit deeper into the responsibility component, Richardson mentioned that from her experience, Black media companies seem to have more responsibility than others. The SVP brought up the point that not only do Black media companies have a duty to tell authentic Black storytelling, but we have a duty to be advocates of the culture and our communities.
Nwandu said: “I think there is definitely a lot more responsibility. It is a privilege to do that because at first I would think, wow this is a lot. To share stories of what is going on in our communities more. But then I thought about it and why wouldn’t I use my platform to help break cases for example? Some of the ways we address that at TSR is we started getting journalists from ABC news to come work with us. We use resources to break more stories that people may not know about otherwise, get ahead of it, and cause change. That is what I am most proud about TSR. We even have a philanthropic arm because people are wondering what we are doing with the money that we receive from the community. That is not a burden I think TMZ has. But at the same time, I understand it. It is the standard that Black people have.”
Samuels added: “I definitely feel those ‘heavier is the crown’ moments. But I also believe that Black entrepreneurs are uniquely positioned to be successful in the future. Back in the day, you were able to make a great product, make good profit, and win. Today, I fundamentally believe that the brands that are winning are making great products and delivering profit, but they are purposeful and specifically trying to change the world with the audience that they serve.”
He continued: “One of my favorite things about REVOLT is that REVOLT is not a media company. We are an engine for transformative change. We measure ourselves on that change and on that impact. One recent thing we have done that I am super proud of is that we have a vertical called ‘REVOLT Black News.‘ Around Sept. 22, they decided to start a campaign looking for Black women. I am not sure what the stats are; but around 5,000 Black women are missing and nobody is looking for them. So we launched this campaign at REVOLT WORLD to tell that story. Right after we launched that story, we went on social media and started putting up the faces and the names. Last week, we got our first found case. Because there was Black media screaming about this issue, people came together and we were able to save that woman’s life.”
The dialogue continued and the media leaders shared how they saw the future of their space. As the world continues to change and tech is more involved with sharing information as well as providing entertainment, the panel shined a light on changing the way we strategize in media and how we speak to our audience with a global intent.
Samuels expressed: “You have to have a strategy for your enemies’ strategy. My frustration is that, at this moment, there are so many Black voices. But I feel that there is no strategy. As far as the future of Black media, for REVOLT specifically, we are trying to build the Black Disney. I am not trying to be a company that is making hundreds of millions dollars. I want to be a company that is making tens of billions of dollars. All of the things people have tried to make footnotes and turn it into blockbusters. Mansa Musa, the richest man that ever lived, was a Black man. Who is telling that story? Many people think that Ethiopia was really Atlantis. I have never seen an Atlantis with Black people. So who is telling that story? The Haitian revolution was Haiti being one of the first places that sent their colonizers back to where they came from. That is the reason we have the Louisiana Purchase. We need the capital in order to tell those stories.”
He added, “When I think about the future for all of us. It can’t just be one Disney. There should not be one of us. There should be five to 10 of us all telling those stories. That is the dream we are pushing for.”
The Shade Room founder shared her point of view, as well. “In 2024, TSR is going to have a whole new rebrand. We are going to focus more on Black celebration. We have partnered with a huge company for a conference that will be taking place next year. We are also trying to get into more programming. I think that the problem here is that when you are starting a Black media company, a lot of times, people are funding scale. When you are funding scale, it is generally focused on the integrity and quality of the content. So, all media companies are forced to diversify and cannot solely be editorial.”
She concluded: “To be honest, I think we are all just experimenting and figuring it out. The media landscape is shifting right now in a big way. So, I am excited during this time and I am excited that I don’t know what the future of Black media will be. I am going to be watching, looking, experimenting, and figuring it out.
To close out the conversation, Richardson mentioned an inspiring quote that Samuels has said before and how it is an example of why intentional storytelling is important, especially in the Black community. The CEO encouraged the attendees to keep this way of thinking in mind when it comes to the media.
“When ya’ll think about Tamir Rice, we think about a son, a cousin, or a kid in a hoodie. When the police pulled up on him, they saw a criminal or a thug. This is the difference between perspective and media. When they tell our stories, we are thugs and criminals. So, it is no surprise that they can run up on a 12-year old-kid and shoot him to death at that moment. When we see him (Tamir Rice) and we tell the story, we tell the story of a baby that didn’t get the chance to experience high school. A child that didn’t get to fulfill the dreams his mother set out for him. That is who we see. That is the story that we tell and that is why Black media is important.”