By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group
One of the many benefits of being a member of the National Association of Black Journalists is the people you get to meet. At this year’s annual conference in San Diego, I made my usual appearance at the Bay Area Black Journalists Association’s (BABJA) Italian dinner. All those in attendance had to introduce themselves and say what their connection to the Bay Area was (I was born in San Francisco and have relatives all over the region). Our host was BABJA President Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig, who used her introduction to plug her new magazine, shades – Celebrating All Women of Color. The news publication covers stories on women of color worldwide, an audience she says is underserved. We discuss the creation of shades – which she co-owns with NABJ and BABJA member Z’ma Wyatt – finding news about women of color and advice on creating one’s own publishing company.
NABJDigital: How did you come up with the idea for shades?
Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig: It started as a dream, a vision almost 20 years ago. I have always been involved in diversity and women issues. I had a desire to work with women on empowerment and uplifting issues. I wanted to use writing and storytelling to give women voices they didn’t have in the traditional media.
ND: Why did you decide to cover all women of color instead of focusing on one, like black?
MFC: This goes back to beginning. I just feel that in traditional journals, the voices of women of all colors aren’t heard. We carry uniqueness among us that white women don’t have. There have been magazines out there, but they’ve fallen by the wayside. And when we do see magazines targeting ethnic groups, it’s usually only one at a time and they often times are superficial, covering things like makeup and fashion trends, but not the news. I wanted to be inclusive of all women.
ND: You have a diverse group of writers. How did you choose them?
MFC: They are women and one man who I’ve worked with before. It’s actually the second coming of shades. It was originally launched online in 2002, but that was nothing compared to what people are doing online now. It lasted 1.5 years. Life got in the way, so it was put on hiatus.
Over the last 5-7 years, I’ve been on the editor rather than the reporter side. The people I met and networked with over the years, there was just something about them, and I just knew they would fit. They also said they wanted to do something like this, and it was a perfect fit. But I looked for writing abilities and for people I felt would have a good voice for the various ethnic groups.
ND: How do you decide what stories go into shades?
MFC: Part of it is that we look at what’s in the news to create the news peg. I’ve seen a lot of issues over the years, but I’ve read very little about myself. I’ll see a small angle in a story and say ‘wow, I didn’t know this. The mainstream media didn’t want to do this story.’ Some stories are directly from the writers. And the Internet is a jewel, because you can find everything out there, including pieces of stories on women of color.
ND: Who is your target audience?
MFC: First and foremost, it’s all women of color. Then as I re-launched it, I’m also including underserved groups like lesbians, single mothers and seniors, since I don’t see publications for them. My goal is whenever we write a story, we put out an issue that is interesting to everyone.
ND: You have the weekly mini magazine and the full monthly magazine. Why did you decide to split formats?
MFC: I did this for many reasons. I wanted to get shades out on the Internet before we did an actual print issue. The plan in 2011 is to do a quarterly print edition. And depending on the industry, it may become a print monthly. We want people to have access to shades every day, so we’ll be aggregating stories every day, do shades stories weekly, then do the magazine. Women can go to the site and get the information that they need.
ND: It has been tough for online paid magazines. Why did you decide to take that route? How did you come up with the $10 subscription price?
MFC: $10 is reasonable. I didn’t want to charge something to say I’m in it for the money. I want to target women who will be able to afford to read it. It’s an income. I’m not going to be rich with this. I felt because of time we’re putting in and our writers are putting in, I wanted to make sure people were reading it. When you offer something for free, they don’t want to pay for it. There is enough uniqueness in shades that people will want to purchase it.
ND: What role is social media playing in your promotion of shades?
MFC: We are blessed to have Mark Luckie [of 10000 Words] as our digital strategist. We have a Facebook fan page and we’re on Twitter. It’s not just about promoting shades. We’re putting out links to stories that are of interest.
ND: What is your advertising model for shades?
MFC: There are ads on the site. Most of the ads have been more media sponsorships or promotional ads, but we will sell ads on the website and in the magazine. Those ads will be about anything that would be of interest to our readers. We won’t take tobacco ads.
ND: What advice would you give to NABJ members who might want to do what you’ve done?
MFC: It’s cliché, but just do it. A lot of this for me is just following a dream. If you’re really motivated to take your skills experience and put them out there, there’s a way to do it. Some say I need this money, that money, but…. A year ago, I had the chance to buy a print magazine. The owners said they had started the magazine and made it a success only spending $1000. So I said I can do this too. There’s always a way to do things digitally. The Internet has been a blessing for journalists. Start small and take baby steps.