In 2016, Shana Black was working odd jobs at a community event and posted a picture on her personal Facebook account. The comments began flooding in: “I wish I had known about this,” “Will this event take place again?” and “You always know about everything that’s happening in Cleveland.”
That’s when she got the idea for Black Girl in the CLE as a way to showcase Cleveland’s culture and events, eventually producing events to re-engage African Americans in Cleveland’s social scene.
After two years of success with Black Girl in the CLE, the site moved from a passion project to a business. Shana founded Black Girl Media in 2018 to tell the stories of underrepresented people and to provide communities of color with needed information in a compassionate way. The brand has expanded to podcasting, video shows, and a platform for community members to tell their stories.
In 2021, Shana joined the Local Media Foundation board of directors. She agreed to share thoughts on her experience, new project Amplify Ohio, and lessons learned so far.
Shana, we are excited to have you serve on the board. Can you tell us how you first got started in the media business and what the local industry looked like in Cleveland at that time?
My first introduction to the media industry was in college. I went to a small liberal arts school here in Ohio that did not have a formalized J-school curriculum. Instead, we had a radio station that no one really listened to, which allowed me the freedom to all the aspects of media production like promotions, productions, and sponsorships.
When I started “Black Girl” the media landscape in Cleveland seemed to be all legacy papers and mainstream media outlets. It seemed the only way to get into the space and begin sharing stories and informing people was as a blog, and there were a lot of bloggers in Cleveland at the time. I had not heard of terms like hyperlocal or community media.
What were some of the early learnings and influences at Black Girl Media?
Black Girl Media started as a blog, so the early learning was all based on building an audience and analytics. I think those early days have helped us understand and engage with our audience on social media better than other community media platforms.
What’s changed at your company for the better since the pandemic?
Everything. Before the pandemic, Black Girl Media was a lifestyle brand. We focused on dating, and nightlife in Northeast Ohio, but then the events went away. Black Girl expanded the topics we covered. We began getting opportunities for grants to do reporting on the election, misinformation and other topics, which really helped us stay afloat. With this expansion, more opportunities opened up which really reshaped the company.
Black Girl Media is one of three media companies in LMA’s Amplify Ohio collaborative. Can you share why you wanted to be involved in this project? What will you all be working on?
The short answer is Nancy Lane. I still remember our first conversation during COVID. She challenged me to expand my thinking and “dream big.” At that time of lockdowns, a lot of news about layoffs, and businesses and other publications shutting down, she helped me believe that Black Girl would make it through and could come out to be a better company post-COVID.
With Amplify Ohio, we are working to inform and engage Ohioans about issues and policy that are being discussed and implemented, and the impacts on African Americans and LGBTQ residents.
What opportunities do you see for the future of your news organization and its business model?
I see a tremendous amount of opportunities for Black Girl Media. We are currently focusing on creating with the end in mind – our legacy and our lasting effects on the industry. We are looking toward better product developments, updating our current shows and platforms, and overall expansion.
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