By Talia Whyte, founder and principal of Global Wire Associates and freelance journalist
There is a growing number of journalists who are leaving traditional media outlets to create and run their own online news sites. Kelly Virella is one of those enterprising journalists. She left her job as the deputy editor of City Limits magazine and website last year to start the news organization, Dominion of New York. I spoke to her recently about life as a journalist turned entrepreneur.
NABJ Digital: What is Dominion of New York and why did you start it up?
Kelly Virella: Dominion of New York is the online magazine of black intellectual swagger. We report about innovative thinkers, artists and leaders. We investigate complex issues and we blog about current events relevant to the global black diaspora from a progressive-to-radical political perspective. We take our name from the hip-hop refrain, “We run New York,” which symbolizes the aspirations of the hip-hop generation for freedom and power. I started DoNY because I knew a lot of people who wanted a black publication that was more cerebral and stimulated critical thinking. I aim to create one that is commercially viable by giving it beautiful and accessible graphics and editorial.
NABJ Digital: In addition to your contributors, how many people help you run it, or is it all you?
Virella: About 40 people have contributed to the site thus far and another 30 are working on projects in the pipeline. My business partner, veteran ad sales executive Darryl Dye, is our sales leader. My social media consultant is Demetria Irwin, the former managing editor of MadameNoire.com. Also helping me is my husband and co-investor Michael Starkey.
NABJ Digital: How does your website stand out from other sites geared towards African-Americans?
Virella: We’re nerdier. LOL! Our mission is to nourish the life of the mind of people who love black culture. So we’re more cerebral and bookish than your average, with a lot of posts devoted to books, ideas and thinkers. We also publish a lot of long, thoughtful, literary pieces that other sites wouldn’t touch.
NABJ Digital: Why do you think more black journalists should pursue entrepreneurial ventures?
Virella: I believe that every black family should aim to generate an entrepreneur because we need businesses to create jobs and economic growth that will help us assume leadership and control in our own environments. Journalists who do this can help elevate the global conversation about race and promote change.
NABJ Digital: Have you ever run a business of this nature before? What skills are required to pursue such a venture?
Virella: Before starting DoNY I worked for almost 2 years as the number two editor for a small New York City magazine and website called City Limits. That helped me learn some of the ropes of editing and understand the business model of websites. But I’m definitely a first time business-owner and that’s an entirely different beast. You have to be patient, teachable, have foresight, vision and perseverance, and be able to use your power as CEO effectively. You also have to be willing to work at least 12 hours per day. It’s not rocket science. It just requires a lot of work.
NABJ Digital: What is the hardest part about running your website?
Virella: Finding experienced freelance contributors who know how to write good pitches is the hardest part.
NABJ Digital: What is your business model?
Virella: Our first revenue streams will be ad sales and event sponsorships.
NABJ Digital: How has the website been received by others so far?
Virella: Very well. Last month — our fifth month online — we had 55,000 unique visitors in 155 countries and territories.
NABJ Digital: What are the long term goals for Dominion of New York?
Virella: I want us to expand the brand into ancillary products like anthologies of our top articles. But more importantly, I’d like to see DoNY become a major voice in the black diaspora.