What does it mean to be influential in today’s digital world? Is success only measured by how you’re perceived online? And if you have influence, how do you use it for good?
In the midst of lockdown and eager to find out the answers to these questions, journalist and broadcaster L’Oréal Blackett, created her own podcast, The Edit, which delves into the world of influencer culture. Unpacking the truth behind the likes, shares and hashtags, L’Oréal is using her voice to find out what it’s really like to have a personal brand, exploring the impact of having a popular presence online and how this has affected the individuals and brands dominating our social media feeds.
Having worked for the likes of the BBC, Bustle and Body Confidential, in a variety of reporting and broadcasting roles, alongside a number of gigs as an ambassador and presenter for businesses including Bumble, Selfridges and Harvey Nichols, L’Oréal is by some people’s definition an “influencer”. However, like many women in journalism, she sometimes struggles with the idea of curating her own brand. Hence the creation of The Edit, a way to better understand the realities and expectations of influencer culture and the role that we all play in this shifting digital narrative.
Born and bred in Manchester, L’Oréal knew from a young age that she wanted to work in the media, “I was just set on it, it was either that or be a dancer”, she tells me over zoom, seemingly the most popular medium for conducting interviews, podcasts and webinars under lockdown. Taking a traditional route into the industry, she studied Broadcast Journalism at the University of Leeds before landing a placement aged 21 at MediaCity, the BBC’s Salfordian home, and as they say, the rest is history.
Well not quite, because to gloss over L’Oréal’s various career achievements, which include an editorship at Body Confidential, would diminish the hard work and determination that she, and many other women working in journalism – an industry dominated by white males – have put in over the years.
According to a report written for Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism by Suzanne Franks, a professor of Journalism at City University London, women substantially outnumber men in media training but very few secure senior jobs and the pay gap between female and male journalists remains considerable. In another study by Reuters, released in 2016, it was reported that journalists were 94% white. Whilst publications such as gal-dem, Black Ballad, FEM Zine and Yellowzine have sought to make media and its reporting more diverse, recent events show just how much work still needs to be done in order to create a more representative media landscape.
For L’Oréal, a regular contributor to online platform Bustle, the roadblocks to success were apparent very early on. “It took me a while to really understand that media is a business before anything else,” she says. “From the SEO, to the clicks and links and everything like that, as much as some media organisations want to show themselves as quite radical, or tell the kind of taboo stories, you know the reality is they’re quite scared – scared of offending their core audience.”
Just a few weeks earlier, L’Oréal had written a piece for Bustle, who she credits as one of a number of platforms giving writers such as herself, a space to write about her own experiences and those of other women of colour, about the lack of mental health provision for black women and why it is imperative that this is put on the agenda. Exploring the narrative that Black women are stronger than others, L’Oréal sought to show that this doesn’t tell the whole story and that provision, access and representation with regards to mental health services is simply not where it needs to be to positively help and support women of colour.
L’Oréal explains that she feels now is the time to delve deeper into these subjects, which, in the past, she didn’t feel she could because the conversation wasn’t yet open enough. “Obviously the industry has changed. I would still write about mental health but in a broad way, but as a journalist it now feels like the right time to talk about something that does resonate with me but also with a lot of people,” she explains. “It’s great when I’m working with Bustle or other womens’ magazines, they’re open to sharing a wealth of stories, so I feel empowered by that. I feel comfortable writing about those things. I’m pleased to be able to speak about something that can be quite difficult in the black community.”
Part of the reason L’Oréal remains hopeful – in spite of both the racism and sexism she has faced in the industry – is because of her strong relationship with her family, who have always supported her dream to be journalist or fashion editor. “Maybe it’s a weird naivety in me but sometimes I feel I will always succeed, it’s been drummed into my head from my parents,” she says with a smile. “I never thought I couldn’t do something, but I did realize soon enough that it might be slightly more difficult. I wouldn’t say I’m thick skinned but I am so determined.” This dedication to her craft is supported wholeheartedly by her family who she credits for always inspiring and uplifting her, especially during the earlier phases of lockdown – a time that gave her the chance to press pause and consider her next steps.
Despite her year not getting off to the start that she had planned, the arrival of lockdown set off something inside of L’Oréal, who after taking some time out to focus on her health and wellbeing, through running and outdoor workouts, began to consider new ways to channel her media skills, which eventually resulted in the creation of The Edit podcast.
“Not to diminish what the virus is at all, but lockdown has grounded me and made me think about what I do. I think of ideas all the time and I don’t know where to put it sometimes,” she says taking a sip of her freshly brewed coffee. “You like talking so just do the podcast. I started there and just focused on one project. I centered in on the things I want to do and the podcast has been a natural fit and also a great distraction; what a time to explore another facet of yourself that you’ve never had time to do.”
Applying what she had learnt from her time in broadcasting, L’Oréal began to ask, what does it mean to have an influence in today’s digital world, speaking to guests such as Haçienda legend DJ Paulette, designer of positive vibes Zara Khalique and tech entrepreneur Melissa Snover about their experiences of influence, the sacrifices they have taken to keep up appearances and what it means to have a voice in today’s society. The podcast has also led the esteemed journalist to examine her own online presence and the side effects of time spent online.
“Instagram is a minefield, especially when it’s so image-led. I struggle with that. I love fashion, music, all of it, but I love to write and read, but I don’t always know how to marry it,” explains L’Oréal. “With the podcast, that’s me being me, you have to be yourself. That’s what a personal brand should be.”
Having seen the good, the bad and the ugly side of social media it seems like L’Oréal is already understanding what it means to have a significant degree of influence and has made sure to use it to challenge stereotypes and ask the difficult questions that need to be answered in these particularly polarized times. Meanwhile, she advises those looking to pursue a career in media to use Instagram and other platforms on their own terms. “There’s so many more opportunities for journalists now thanks to social media. Go get more than you ever could, whether it’s talking on panels, speaking, doing courses – you can supplement your income using it,” she concludes. “So don’t be afraid, don’t be controlled by how everyone else is using it, don’t let it be a negative thing, because it doesn’t have to be.”
Interview: Jenna Campbell
Images: Courtesy of L’Oréal Blackett