As an entrepreneur, Michelle Ferrier has experienced startup pains and joys with her local food news site LocallyGrownNews.com. But as a researcher, she was puzzled as to why few people of color seem to make up the ranks of media entrepreneurs.
Ferrier, an associate professor in the School of Communications at Elon University, shared her continuing journey to find answers to that question at the National Association of Black Journalists convention in New Orleans on Thursday. The panel “Black Media Entrepreneurs: Where Are They?” profiled three enterprises: Dominion of New York and founder Kelly Virella, Q City Metro and founder Glenn Burkins and LocallyGrownNews.com, founded by Michelle Ferrier.
Moderator Jan Schaffer of J-Lab sought to bring together a panel of success stories to inspire and educate the audience. Nearly 50 attendees from educators to media practitioners and students with their own blogs listened to the growth and development strategies of the three startups.
Ferrier explained the intricacies of the media entrepreneurship ecosystem, describing how content startups differ from tech startups and how each type of startup takes different paths in seeking financing. She shared how pattern matching – the practice of financiers seeking to invest in people that look like them – derails the efforts of many entrepreneurs of color.
“The research demonstrates there are deep structural barriers that deny opportunities to entrepreneurs of color especially in the media fields and Internet startups,” Ferrier said. “And these barriers show up starkly when you examine the paths to capital and access to the networks of money that fuel startups at various stages.”
Ferrier also described how people of color can sabotage their own efforts when they perceive a “stereotype threat” as defined by Claude Steele in his book Whistling Vivaldi.
“When people stretch into new arenas where stereotypes exist about them, whether gender or ethnicity based or other stereotypes, they tend to spend mental energy fighting to disprove that stereotype,” Ferrier said. “They’ll redouble their efforts, working twice as hard to make sure they are seen as the exception and not the rule.”
However, this solitary “nose to the grindstone” approach leads to a downward spiral in self-doubt, isolation and potential failure.
“Minority media founders tend to be single-person startups who hold their ideas close to the chest,” Ferrier said. “These founders need to do the opposite and talk about their ideas, create strong teams that can further the ideas, or join groups that can help them realize that their struggles are not of their own making.”
Ferrier is also the chief instigator of the Journalism That Matters Create or Die series of startup events for people of color. She started the events to meet other entrepreneurs of color in the media space and encourage idea generation and team building. She is also surveying media entrepreneurs to determine the skills and knowledge necessary to be successful in the media space.
Rick Hancock, digital platform manager of CT1 Media, a Tribune Publishing Company, said the session was invaluable in helping him think about media entrepreneurship.
“This is exactly the kind of information that we need to hear more of,” Hancock said. “No one is talking about access to capital and media entrepreneurship like this.”