The ShoutOut Network is a U.K.-based podcast network whose mission is to solve the issue of media representation in the U.K. by providing podcasts that cater to diverse audiences. Blavity’s Creative Society sat down with the Co-Founder and CEO, Imriel Morgan, for a conversation about content creation and diversity in media. Read the interview below.
Blavity: There has been a huge shift recently in millennials of color creating their own businesses, production companies and more. What are your thoughts on this shift toward autonomy and how does the ShoutOut Network fit into this shift?
ShoutOut Network: I think it’s amazing that we are starting to create the content we want to see in the world. For years, I’ve heard if you want something then you should build it yourself. For the founder of ShoutOut, Efe [Jerome] was inspired by Taxstone from the ‘Tax Season’ podcast. Taxstone spoke to his community and created a whole new audience of podcast listeners. Efe wanted to replicate that here in the UK. Personally, my turning point came shortly after Mike Brown’s murder in Ferguson. The Black Lives Matter movement and the high-profile cases were hitting us hard over here. I mourned every loss. It began to impact my mental health.
We have very different experiences here in the UK, and we wanted to provide content that focuses on what’s happening here. It’s important that we don’t internalize or conflate our experiences with African Americans because our issues manifest themselves in very different ways.
Black voices are virtually non-existent here. We wanted to create a platform that allowed people from underrepresented backgrounds to represent themselves through podcasting. It’s important that people see and hear the diversity of thought and opinion that exists within their communities.
B: Despite how much black people contribute to culture and content online, issues pertinent to the black community still go unnoticed and unreported. This, to me, illustrates the need for exclusively black publications and production companies. What are your thoughts? 
SN: Personally, I have split opinions on this. I advocate, contribute and encourage these spaces because they are necessary and they are helpful. We created ShoutOut because there was a huge gap in the market for content that catered to young black millennials in the UK. I think it’s important that people see themselves in the content they consume.
My concern is that these spaces become unnecessarily exclusionary and we end up in an echo chamber. Certain topics are for the community, but if we want to make a change, I believe that we need to be willing to have others engage, comment and critique what we are saying.
B: Talk to us about what it takes to launch (and successfully run) a network such as ShoutOut. What have you learned from your successes and failures? What has been your biggest challenge? 
SN: We are still so brand new, so this is a tough question. To be honest, you need to be quite smart and strategic about what it is you want to do. The network was just a theory for about a year before we made steps to start developing it. It was almost two years of planning and development before we launched Melanin Millennials. At this point, we don’t generate any revenue from our content so it’s all self-funded from our savings and monthly earnings. We were very clear that if someone wanted to start a podcast all they would have to do is show up and record.
When it comes to setting up a podcast network (or any business), both Efe and I always remind each other why we’re doing this. Our mission statement was to increase media representation in the UK. We wanted young people to know that there are people that look and sound like them discussing books, history, politics and being weird in the public domain. We want to normalize these experiences for young people of color. Every time we add a new show or episode and the listener count goes up we are fulfilling that mission.
The biggest challenge we have is trying to strike up a relationship with iTunes, we have done everything possible to improve the sound quality, get fantastic artwork and remain consistent. I’ve seen other shows featured in New and Noteworthy, and the Editors picks for weeks. The larger networks and publications get instant recognition, so that’s frustrating. When it comes to diversity, we only have the African-American shows which are great but don’t cater [to] the UK/European experience. Every attempt we make hasn’t quite worked out as anticipated, but we’re making steady progress and we’re learning not to rely on them to get the word out. We discovered that many of our listeners didn’t bother checking iTunes for podcast suggestions because they rarely found content that catered to them.
B: Talk to us more about media representation in the UK and the barriers  you to seek to take down. 
SN: The UK is pretty horrendous for media representation. There was a poll that revealed that the portrayal of ethnic minorities promoted racism, which is pretty crazy. The BBC reported that ethnic minorities make up 14 percent of the population, but only 6 percent of media jobs.
I think that the first barrier is establishing a presence within our communities. A lot of black people here don’t know just how much content people are creating for them. The message is spreading fast, but we still have a long way to go.
The second is having people financially support us. Resources are limited, so we need to find innovative ways to monetize our content that benefits the listeners. So we are looking for advertisers and sponsors that cater to our niche demographic. When people know and understand our story and why we are doing this, they want to support us.
B: How does your team stay inspired and motivated? 
SN: The ShoutOut Network family joined because they believe and support our vision. We are committed to making the best content we can and to actively improve the representation. We have had a few setbacks (deleted audio, changing schedules and new software glitches) along the way, but we always see the bigger picture. Podcasting as a medium is a safe space, and that translates off the air.

Everyone is their authentic self and nobody judges each other, we just unite under a great cause. Our motivation comes from our audiences. We see the listener count go up and it confirms that our work is wanted. Everyday listeners interact with us, comment on the shows and have conversations with us so that keeps us inspired

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