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NABJDigital Interviews Black Girl With Long Hair Web Site Founder

By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group

First, please allow me to acknowledge a milestone for the NABJDigital blog: this post marks our 100th since we started back in October.  I’d like to thank all the contributors that have helped us reach 100 posts.  Now, on to today’s post.

One of the things I like best about NABJ’s Digital Journalism Task Force Yahoo listserv is the variety of people who post comments.  You just never know who will pop up and what they might contribute.

Leila Noelliste, Black Girl With Long Hair

I am always looking for inspirational stories on journalists who are taking that leap of faith and taking their fate – and their career – into their own hands.  This is how I found Leila Noelliste, creator of the Black Girl With Long Hair Web site.  She had a good career as a journalist, writing for publications including the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Defender and the Associated Press.  She started BGLH as a blog in April 2008.  She went natural in late 2006, and started the blog after about a year and a half later after realizing that resources for her didn’t exist.   Our chat is below.

NABJDigital: How did you come up with the idea for the blog?

Leila Noelliste: It was because there was a lack of representation for natural hair. I went natural in late 2006.  I wanted to see pictures of what it looks like to have different styles, like Afros or exquisite styles and there wasn’t one location I could to go to for inspiration.  I gave out my email and asked women to send in pictures of their natural hair.  I wanted it to be real women, not models, and feature people who had stopped straightening their hair, and that’s how it began.

ND: Why did you think it was important to create the blog?

LN: I don’t know if it’s a slight sense of narcissism, but I wanted to be reflected in the media.  I felt it wasn’t fair that go through entire day and see nothing but straight hair.  I couldn’t do a TV show, but I can create this pocket where women can come and be inspired.  I needed style ideas and I wanted to know what other women were doing.  Natural hair has its own trends and I wanted to see what women were doing.  Natural hair is not just twists with Cori shells, and I wanted to see that.

ND: Are you still freelancing?

LN:  No. The blog is what I’m doing full-time.  It was very scary to quit my job.  I went to Wheaton College and decided to be a reporter and had a good run.  I worked at WGN Radio News as an intern.  I worked for StreetWise magazine, which was a newspaper combined with a non-profit organization for the homeless.

Then I went to the Chicago Defender, where I was full-time staff.  I was 22 at the time, and they saw potential. A few of my stories were picked up by AP and I got to interview some cool people.  But the paper fell on hard times and they had to let me go.  I found a job doing courts and legal affairs reporting for the Daily Journal.  I was doing well there, but I just thought blog was filling a void. It became popular so fast I knew it needed attention.  It was a huge leap of faith, and I decided to quit in November 2009 because I had to see what happens with the blog.

My parents are supportive and I make money on sponsorships.  All my advertisers are black females.  A lot are women who also work on the blog.  It’s been so exciting to help them get to a broader audience.  When comes to beauty, we need things that are unique to black women, and it’s cool to be able to help support that.

ND: How do you attract the advertisers for your blog?

LN: I think it’s been really organic.  I made an announcement on the blog to sell ad space and it snowballed.  There is a large community of black women online.  Because there are so few services and media directed at black women, we’ve created online communities for ourselves.  There are blogs on fashion, art, hair, beauty and politics; there are huge assets out there.  As the word spreads, I don’t have to seek advertisers.  I have actually had to turn away ads.

It’s important for black journalists to know that when you’re doing a blog, there’s so much potential, because there’s so little established media for us.  My blog has about 3,800 subscribers, but I’ve seen natural hair forums with 100,000+ members.  It’s amazing that there are so many women who want to be part of a community.  I feel very blessed.

ND: How did you develop the skills to create and format your Web site?

LN: I’m the content person.  I’m blessed to have Shari Nicole Neal Design on my team.  Shari did the Web design.  I actually made the transition from blogger to my own domain.  On the old blog, I couldn’t have tabs.  When I transitioned, I went to my archives and found recurring themes and created the tabs.  I have amazing pictures and I chose my favorites, and that is the most popular part of the site.  My list of natural hair salons all came from my readers.  There’s also a tab where people can buy products and that all comes from my readers.  You get information that’s current and validated when it comes from readers.  Everything has been tested and proven.  I don’t endorse anything.

ND: What advice would you give to those who want to do what you’ve done?

LN: The first thing is to really think through it.  Make sure you have a quality, unique product.  Even though there’s a lack of representation in the black community, there’s still a lot of repetition.  Blogs are a dime a dozen, so think about how yours is unique.  And have a financial plan.  My parents help me, I do freelance and I live with my finance.  In hindsight, I might have stayed at my job a bit longer, but I’m now bringing in money.  You do have to think about monetization.  It doesn’t pay if you don’t think it though.  Just go for it, because there’s such a low representation of black culture, and what’s out there is dated.  You need to take time to bring it to light.

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Branding is the New Journalism in 2010

By Talia Whyte, founder and director of Global Wire Associates, freelance journalist and 2009 Environmental Justice Fellow at the Institute for Justice and Journalism, University of Southern California

John Thompson, founder and publisher of came up with a top ten list of what journalists need to be doing in 2010 to stay competitive in the ever-changing news media landscape.

A topic on the list that sparked my attention was what Thompson said about branding. As more journalists consider the next steps in their careers, online marketing is becoming a major component to success.

…You need to build yourself an online persona, one that earns you a reputation of trustworthiness and one that allows you to build fruitful relationships with your readers and contacts. You can no longer necessarily rely on having a good reputation by proxy of association with your employer’s brand. And your reputation is no longer fleeting, as good as your last big story – there is an entire archive of your content building online that anyone can potentially access. Obvious ways to do this: Twitter, Facebook, personal blogging, but you can also build a reputation by sharing what you are reading online using social bookmarking sites like Publish2 and delicious.

This reminds me of a quote someone emailed me about recently: “Internet users aren’t destination focused–stop trying to drive people to your site and start driving them to your content.”

This is so true! Whether it is a potential new employer or gaining a fan base, in recent years, I have found out quickly that having a strong online presence can really make or break your career today.

The days of the paper resume are numbered. Not only is it essential to have sleek but functional website for employers to find examples of my work, but I have found that it is equally important to have my content located on other digital real estate.

For the last two years, I have been building up my online persona with an inventory of content on Twitter, Facebook and my many blogs, YouTube and Vodpod accounts, and it has really helped me stand out to potential employers who would not have found me online otherwise. Maintaining accounts on professional social networks like LinkedIn and MediaBistro have also been useful.  Online branding has helped me enhance the different ways I can tell stories on topics I care about to different audiences with articles, photos and podcasts.

Most importantly, I have also connected with many great people online by sharing information with each other, which has helped enhanced both my professional work and relationships.