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Black female readers don't have enough choice: campaign

TOBI OREDEIN: Challenging the status quo through content, commerce and community

THE TRUTH is that black women are grossly under-represented in mainstream publications across the UK. While the media landscape has improved in creating space for diverse voices in recent times, journalist Tobi Oredein alongside her beau Bola Awoniyi have taken the proverbial ‘bull by the horns’ and created a platform for Afro-Caribbean females. Hence Black Ballad, which was born in June 2014.

Initially launched as a free website that addresses the lifestyle and identity experiences that the average black woman in Britain goes through, Black Ballad has produced award-winning journalism, hosted its first event in association with Olympian Christine Ohururogu and grown in grassroots popularity. Where these narratives would have to be approved by an industry that’s 94% white and 55% male in order to be published and accessible, Tobi is doing things differently. The term ‘a sister who is doing it for herself’ might have been applicable here, were it not such a cliché. Still, you get the idea.

Oredein explains:

“Black women have an entirely different experience in navigating their way through society, but our experiences are often written or packaged in a way that appeals to media’s default audience - white men and white women.

Black Ballad wants to be the ultimate space where black women discuss everything from periods to politics, from black British identity to our beauty habits on our own unfiltered terms.”

Prior to Black Ballad, the Kings College University graduate begun to freelance at a number of mainstream publications such as Elle, Glamour and Buzzfeed, gaining valuable industry experience.

She shares:

“I read American Studies at university and extensively wrote around the topic of race. So I always knew I wanted to carry on writing about race and how it shapes the world.

From 2013-2014, I'd applied for countless jobs then I finally said I give up and I am going to give myself a job!”

Now, just over two years down the line, Black Ballad is relaunching its website as a lifestyle subscription platform for British women of black origin through a crowdfund campaign in order to give subscribers an ‘uncompromising experience’. From just £4 a month, access will be given to articles, podcasts and video content, as well as the ability to connect with a community of black British women, through exclusive membership to an online chat platform, plus entry to physical events and experiences.

Many of the same topics as before will be covered including beauty, commentary on current affairs, real life stories and discourse.

Though there are, and have been, publications which cater to the black woman’s experience such as Pride magazine, Tobi swiftly points out the difference with Black Ballad:

“Other forerunners have done a great job of serving the market and it’s our hope that Black Ballad will build on the work that they have started.

Our focus will be on building a publication for today's 18-35-year-old black British woman”.

The crowdfund will last until 18 December, with Black Ballad aiming to attract 1,500 subscribers. As part of their efforts to gain attention, the co-founders hope to visit different parts of the country to engage with the black British audience. It is hoped that money from the crowdfund will be used to redevelop the website and hire the team over the winter in time for a Spring launch.

Critics would insist the news, particularly that which is accessed online, should be free to all readers including those groups who are particularly marginalised and, in many ways, disenfranchised; such as black women. How does Tobi defend her publication’s crowdfund?

“Yes this should be accessible freely as it is available from a large range of sites and platforms but, that isn't the purpose of Black Ballad.

Black Ballad's goal is to create lifestyle content and experiences exclusively for and from the point of black British women, to empower the united voice of black women through content, commerce and community”.

She continues:

“This wasn't an easy decision. It took us months to agree that this would be the only way to make Black Ballad have longevity. Black digital media companies can't survive on advertising like our mainstream counterparts. Black women make up less than 2% of the British population and advertisers prefer mainstream platforms and magazines to advertise with as they reach larger audiences.

“We just can't compete with that and before I give up, I will do everything in my power to make sure Black Ballad has a future and can stand among the media giants that often ignore and pigeonhole black women”.

For more information, click here.

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