From newsroom to business model: these startups are embracing diversity

As diverse as the audience they serve, these start-ups are entering a difficult market…

REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee
By Chaymae Samir |  Oct 7, 2019

British newsrooms are 94% White and 55% male. As a result, there is potential for headlines to either miss or even misrepresent people of color. And, this is not a challenge unique to those isles. With more people saying they actively avoid the news (32%), publishers can’t afford to alienate any audience. The link between diversity and business success is stronger than ever. 

Startups such as UK based Gal-dem (an award-winning online magazine run by women and non-binary people of color), or US-based Blavity, (a 30M readers a month digital platform for black millennials), aim to provide a middle ground.

They depict the diversity of experience of what it means to be a person of color today, and are fast becoming lifestyle brands with both online and offline experiences geared toward underrepresented audiences.

What can traditional publishers learn from these successful start-ups in engaging and monetizing a diverse audience?

1. Content and hiring strategy as diverse as their audience

“These magazines are created by mid-20-year-olds that at their age they should be doing other jobs, but they’re becoming publishers and they’re becoming website owners because they’re completely sick of reading media that just doesn’t represent them.”  

Natasha Syed, Co-founder of British Muslim Magazine

While undoubtedly empowering for those who are being represented in the pages of publications like Galdem, for those who are unfamiliar with the issues raised, these publications offer an education around the topics at hand, ultimately sparking a more effective and informed discussion.

Gal-dem’ stories delve into topics that receive little mainstream coverage, like being team GB’s only black swimmer, or the stigmas against autistic people of color. That’s not to say titles like gal-dem don’t cover current dominant headlines too: they devote plenty of space to news such as the Grenfell tower or Boris Johnson’s recent climb to office, challenging the common misconception that journalists of color are only ever commissioned on the topic of race. 

‘’Women of color aren’t expected to be the spokespeople on race and gender, but rather free to create content on whatever topic we choose.’’

Liv Little, Founder of gal-dem

Another publication presenting discussions transcending cultural topics assigned to journalists of color is Amaliah, a platform that seeks to amplify the voices of Muslim women internationally. 

With over 100 contributors writing on topics ranging from mental health and mosques, to dating and current affairs, they challenge the general misconception that Muslim women are often expected or commissioned to partake in topics such as terrorism and the hijab, with little other dialogue. 

To widen their reach, gal-dem’s staff and network of contributors for example, produces content on nearly every platform, whether featuring creative women of color on Instagram, publishing I Will Not Be Erased, an ebook gathering 14 unique and thought-provoking essays on what it means to grow up as a person of color, taking over Dazed’s Snapchat or contributing to other traditional publications.

gal-dem’s latest (UN/REST) issue
To keep biases in check, these companies focus on hiring broadly and staying close to the community they serve. They prove there’s a market and, more than ever, a need for news written by people of color for diverse audiences. In this regard, publications such as Black Ballad have set up a subscription service that means women of color are getting content written by and for them, thus making sure this group is being remunerated and represented properly.

2. Strong ROI for culture and diversity

“The Daily Mail and mainstream publications have so many readers, and you just think one misrepresentation can take a very large readership to start thinking something completely different. And if they don’t put that right in follow-up features and follow-up blogs or whatever, I think they’re painting it a completely bad picture for readers.”

Natasha Syed, Co-founder of British Muslim Magazine

The UK multicultural population has a disposable income of more than £300b and publications such as British Muslim Magazine or The Black Muslim Times aim to address the £30b portion of it made up of young British muslims. They’re joining other titles, such as Sisters magazine, which publishes real-life stories with a religious focus to support Muslim women, and Muslim Lifestyle, a title which focuses on lighthearted aspects of Muslim life, to offer a more positive image of British Muslims. The publication counts 20,000 readers of the print edition and covers Muslim fashion events, halal food festivals and Eid festivals such as the London mayor’s Eid festival earlier last month

LA based site Blavity reaches about 30 million unique visitors a month, and their core demographic, young people of color in America’s major cities, seem to like what they’re reading since 38% of users make repeat visits.

Since their start in 2014, the website grew from a newsletter to a powerhouse made-up of an online publication, a media studio creating films and series for Amazon and Netflix, as well as strategic acquisitions like Travel Noire, a travel and discovery platform for black millennials. 

Through collecting data from their readers, Blavity began to understand relevant vertical interests from the audience it was serving. This allowed them to diversify away from ad revenue and grab a share of transactions as diverse as trips and holiday bookings.

Blavity has acquired Travel Noire, a travel startup for black millennials and media platform Shadow and Act to expand its focus from news to lifestyle

Gal-dem is also making big commercial moves. The publication takes it further than promoting product launches to its audience, to integrating full-fledged campaigns with their o2n editorial focus, much like an ad-agency. Brands like Nike, Penguin Publishing and Glossier, all bought in. For example, their most recent campaign, launching this month and with partner Absolut Vodka, is spreading awareness on how to be a better LGBT+ ally.

Inside gal-dem’s issue sponsored by Glossier

The most recent addition to the commercial side of the business is around insights and strategy, educating brands around the gal-dem audience, by running focus groups and surveys. 

Similar titles like BuzzFeed, Vice or The Huffington Post have also covered social issues affecting minority groups, but have been struggling to gain traction. However, startups mentioned in this piece seem to be thriving. 

This is likely because publications such as gal-dem or Amaliah explore the nuances within these groups of people that the media has traditionally all compiled under an homogenous “diverse audience”. Much of the success in this space is due to proving that people of color are not a subculture but each one of them, a culture of their own. 

Need content created for diverse audiences, made by the newsroom with a diverse, global footprint? Try content from Reuters and other leading media organizations on Reuters Connect.

This article does not express the views of Reuters. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author.