That train has left the station.
A cacophony of unbridled voices like Southern, lesbian, political commentator Pam Spaulding; Shawn Williams of “Dallas South” blog; “Afronerd,” and bi-racial writer Liza Sabater of “Culture Kitchen,”‘ have jumped the tracks and crashed the party in ways no one could have predicted.
Since Dec. 17, 1997, when the term “weblog” was used to describe a list of links “logged” on one person’s Internet wanderings, the Black online blogging community has been blazing a trail for others who still have absolutely no idea about the limitless opportunities available in cyberspace.
Dubbed the “Digital Renaissance Movement,” never before have the shackles of our rich, yet painful past been so rusted and non-encompassing. Collectively, technology has freed Black people, making information of and about African Americans infinitely more accessible to millions of people all around the world.
The timing couldn’t be better.
A recent Radio One study about African Americans and the so-called digital divide, shows that minorities are not as behind as once was thought. About 68 percent of blacks spend time online, the survey found, compared with 70 percent of all Americans.
And as more blacks embrace the Internet and become comfortable using the information super-highway as a means of maintaining community, companies seeking to reach these online consumers are turning to tech-savvy entities that recognize the value of reaching people through traditional and non-traditional means.
Take for example the Farmers Insurance Group Angel City Classic being held in the Los Angeles Coliseum on Sept. 27. In addition to adding a 5th Quarter music concert produced by Marc Brogdon of N2U Marketing Group, the decision was also made that the event needed an Internet strategy. As a result, my firm 3BAAS Media Group, Web coordinator Isidra Person Lynn, and Hollywood’s Tri Destined Studios were all retained to promote this 3rd annual football tradition through online as well as traditional means.
“In order for young people to discover the experience and give academic achievement its due, we had to go viral,” says John Fleming III, COO of Black Educational Events, LLC (B.E.E.) which showcases the importance of pursuing higher education at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) through producing the Classic.
“I am convinced that adding blogs, e-blasts and video to our previous efforts, similar to the presidential campaign Barack Obama has launched, is the most effective way to reach our core demographic,” Fleming added.
The shifting paradigm is obvious.
Overall technology employment is up in America and the wages associated with it are also up. This stands in stark contrast with reports from the Labor Department indicating that companies slashed their payrolls by 84,000 jobs last month, sending the country’s unemployment rate to 6.1 percent from 5.7 percent in July.
In an otherwise anemic economy having a disproportional impact on black businesses, church tithing and the survival of community based organizations, Internet advertising has risen 20% in the U.S.
Google, having just turned 10-years-old this week, ended June with nearly 20,000 employees, up from 3,000 workers at the close of 2004. When it was incorporated on Sept. 7, 1998, Google started with four computers, an initial investment of $100,000, and a belief that with a little ingenuity, one Internet search engine could change the world.
Today, the financial behemoth has a $150 billion market value exceeding those of Boeing Co., McDonald’s Corp. and FedEx Corp. combined. The world’s most popular search engine, Google’s online advertising had a $4.85 billion profit during the past four quarters, and has a current market share of 78.4 percent.
The emergence of new technologies, such as the growing numbers accessing the Web from their mobile phones, will soon allow you to lock the front door of your home while you’re away, or even listen to Internet radio shows in your vehicle.
With Web traffic having grown 53 percent from mid-2007, it’s understandable why bloggers’ African American Political Pundit, “Raw Dawg Buffalo,” “Field Negro” and “Young, Black and Fabulous,” see themselves as pioneers committed to ensuring that blacks have control over their own content.
Whether it’s hurricanes or earthquakes, Jena 6, black gay bashing, BET’s Hot Ghetto Mess, or the Darfur crisis, tech-savvy African Americans are also getting assistance from social networking tools such as Myspace, Facebook, Youtube, Blogtalkradio, and the latest craze, Twitter.
How are they doing this? By speaking passionately to power, racism, and yes, even sometimes meaningless pop culture. Whether it’s through their unique perspectives or by breaking stories, the powerful cultural hammer they’re wielding through their expanding audiences, however, cannot be denied.
Even more amazing is that these bloggers have grown organically, propelled by word of mouth versus print or electronic media. With all its information, the Internet has made the world less reliant on ordained “experts” or “pundits” simply because they travel in the right circles.
When the Democrats recently held there national party convention, seven bloggers dubbed “The Denver 7” made history by being the first independent group of black bloggers to actually obtain media credentials to cover the event.
What each of them did wasn’t exactly complicated. They felt they had something to say so they registered for a free blog, started writing, obtained a loyal dedicated following, and applied to become apart of the pool of political bloggers. Unhappy about not getting that book published or your business up and running? Is your radio or television career not skyrocketing through the roof? Now, there’s no excuse. “The Denver 7,” which includes Gina McCauley of “What About Our Daughters”, Baratunde Thurston of “Jack & Jill Politics,” and “Oliver Willis,” are living proof that the Internet has emancipated us all.
Still not convinced? Consider the first annual “Blogging While Brown” conference this past July. The historic conference held in Atlanta served its initial objective, which was bringing together a small cadre of blacks who have mastered the intricate dance of pursuing high journalistic standards, monetizing their efforts and bringing social change through cyber-networking.
One of the highlights was a session by Black Web 2.0 entitled the “Ultimate Blog Experience.” The workshop gave invaluable information to help minority blog publishers enhance the functionality and appearance of their blog, implement traffic building strategies, utilize widgets to their advantage, and develop engaging content.
Demonstrating the power of vision and solidarity, the conference proved that blacks are capable of flexing their collective online muscle. Something we simply do not do enough of, despite the fact that the African American community –a consumer segment that represents 13 percent of the U.S. population, has spending power that in 2007 reached $845 billion. And that figure is expected to leap to more than $1.1 trillion by 2012, according to the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth.
Rainmaker President and CEO Gregory Campbell shared with me how African countries, as well as places in the Caribbean and the United Kingdom, are very interested in news and information coming out of the United States. Tri Destined Studios CEO N.D. Brown also noted that Hollywood is aggressively looking for content, and black people have so much material to give them once we effectively harness our resources.
Clearly, there is much work to be done.
Exhibit A: If you perform a Google image search under “Black Man”, the first eight pictures reflect two minstrels, the Klan surrounding a terrified black man whose clothes are being pulled off, and an off-color cartoon concerning the genitalia of black males.
This is what currently defines Black men. Everywhere!
Celebrating the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the historical nature of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and its use of technology, a case can be made that the mountaintop is clearly within our reach.
And with black bloggers in the driver’s seat, there’s no turning back. So please remain seated everyone. We’re almost there!
– Kevin Ross is president /CEO of 3BAAS Media Group (www.3baas.com), a strategic marketing and branding firm specializing in online messaging. He also blogs over at 3 Brothers and A Sister (www.threebrothersandasister.blogspot.com), and has an Internet show on Blogtalkradio.com.