Jamie Broadnax is the founder of Black Girl Nerds (BGN), a blog and podcast that covers a lot of topics, many of which are related to entertainment and pop culture. But BGN also covers issues related to tech and STEM in general.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Broadnax about things like the creation of BGN, how she decides what issues to cover, how she balances pop culture and sci/tech, and the importance of diversity for STEM.
Communication Breakdown: When did you found Black Girl Nerds (BGN), and how did it start? Was it originally a hashtag for use on social media, or did you start with the blog?
Jamie Broadnax: It started with the blog. Black Girl Nerds began on February 1 of 2012, and I believe I had started the Twitter account and the Facebook account a few weeks after the blog had launched. And then other, third-party social media sites like Pinterest and Tumblr and StumbleUpon and Reddit and so on, started later. That’s how it began.
CB: Did you have any specific goals in mind when you launched BGN?
Broadnax: I did not. Black Girl Nerds started by me simply going to Google and looking for content that spoke to women like me, seeing images of women that looked like me. And when I typed in “Black Girl Nerds” nothing came up. So, it was because there was a void amongst nerd media, if you will, featuring women of color, and black women particularly, that’s when I started BGN.
I had no idea, I had no strategy, I had no long-term plan – or even a business plan for what I was doing. I just saw there was a void and I wanted to fill it. I had a Blogger account set up already and it was that night when I did the Google search that I started the blog. And just titled it “Black Girl Nerds” because I didn’t see it come up in Google so I figured, well, I might as well make that happen myself since no one else has. That’s how that started.
It’s slowly, over time, grown organically and various goals have been set due to its popularity, due to demand from fans asking for certain things. Specifically, I would say the podcast is one of them. I never had a goal in mind for that. I never planned to do the podcast. But it was because of fans and followers, and even suggestions by other, fellow podcasters, like Geek Soul Brother, who suggested I should look into the podcast space. Because of that, now we have a podcast that’s been going on three years strong now.
CB: BGN covers a wide range of issues, with a focus on pop culture. However, BGN also includes posts on STEM-related issues, such as health and technology. Did you want BGN to talk about STEM from the beginning, or is that something that evolved over time?
Broadnax: That’s something that evolved over time. BGN from the beginning was basically like the way a blog initially was when that term was first coined in cyberspace. It was a personal diary, a web diary of someone’s personal thoughts and perspectives. I really wanted BGN to just talk about things that I don’t see on the interwebs.
So, it was just about me and my musings. I’d talk about politics, I’d talk about my favorite TV shows, music artists that I liked. It was very much a web diary.
It did evolve over time with STEM-related issues by way of having contributors, and also people emailing me, saying “I’d like to have you talk to this person who is a business owner, who is someone doing really profound things in the STEM industry and I’d like to have them featured on your blog.” So, by people giving me feedback and making suggestions, that’s how the STEM articles began.
CB: How do you decide whether a science, health or tech story is a good fit for BGN?
Broadnax: First and foremost, I want it to speak to our audience. So, if it’s featuring a black woman who is exceling in any of those respective fields, then it’s going to be a good fit for BGN.
If it’s a story that’s going to be beneficial to our audience in some way, a story where we’re reaching out to women of color to present diversity content to our company, or we’re in the healthcare industry and we want more black women to be featured as personal trainers, or we’re a coding company and we’re hiring right now and we want black women programmers. Any of those kinds of things is going to be a good fit for BGN.
Basically I’m looking for articles that speak to our niche. And if there are experts in those respective fields that can offer great and diverse perspectives, that is what I want for BGN.
Again, this is a website that is for an under-served, marginalized audience that you just don’t see a lot of mainstream websites giving opportunities to.
To put it bluntly, if it features women of color – and black women particularly – then it’s going to be a good fit for the site.
CB: STEM fields have a huge diversity problem. For example, according to the Census Bureau, 11 percent of the U.S. workforce in 2011 was African American, while 6 percent of STEM workers were African American. And while women made up 48 percent of the 2011 workforce, they were only 26 percent of the STEM workforce. Do you think sites like BGN can play a role in advancing STEM diversity?
Broadnax: I certainly hope so. I aim to cover a lot of areas on BGN, and STEM is definitely one of them. I feel like I need to do more coverage on STEM than I have on other topics, but I hope BGN plays a role.
I feel like just by showing some representation, by allowing stories to be heard by way of the podcast or interviews to be featured. We recently interviewed the head of diversity for Facebook, a black woman. Having those kind of people featured, and putting a face and putting a name to what diversity looks like right now, I think is important. And if it inspires another woman of color out there to get into STEM because they’re seeing that the head of diversity for Facebook is a black woman, then I feel like I’ve done my job.
That’s what I aim to do with BGN. And if it makes an impact, if it makes a difference, that’s a bonus.
CB: Do you think the way African Americans and women are represented in pop culture – TV, movies – could influence STEM diversity? What would you like to see more of from TV and movie creators, writers and casting directors?
Broadnax: Yeah. Absolutely. I think the entertainment industry has a huge impact, even more of an impact, I think, than any other medium or any other outlet. Because our pop culture is so inundated with images from TV shows and images from movies, seeing that represented in that medium is very important. It goes back to that whole saying and that hashtag, #RepresentationMatters – representation does matter. If we see ourselves reflected in that, then we are going to feel like we are included and we are going to want to be a part of that community.
So, yes, I absolutely think black women represented in pop culture can influence STEM diversity. The problem is the TV show runners and the filmmakers ready to create shows and films that are about STEM, that are featuring black women as scientists, as tech geeks, and engineers and entrepreneurs. One of the biggest problems lately is the Ghostbusters movie, where they did a great job – all women cast – and Leslie Jones’ character, who is the “Winston” of the Ghostbusters team, is yet again the everyday man, or everyday woman in this case, instead of being an actual scientist. So the other three white women are scientists, but the one black woman is not.
You know? That’s a problem. If we can change that, if we can somehow get the folks that are behind the scenes in the entertainment industry to focus more on changing the landscape for black women, women of color, then that is going to certainly encourage many of us to get involved in those fields.
I mean, a little black girl seeing a scientist in a movie can make a difference, believe it or not. That’s very important.
CB: BGN has a lengthy list of contributors. How do you recruit writers for the site? Are you open to pitches from writers who want to contribute?
Broadnax: First of all, to answer the last part of your question, I’m always open to pitches. And I accept folks from all over. And they don’t have to always be women, and they don’t have to always be black, to be contributors to the website.
How do I recruit them? It’s usually by an email, they’ll email me and ask: “I’d like to write for your site.” And I say yes. I rarely say no, unless you just can’t write.
I want to give everyone an opportunity to share their voice, because having a multitude of voices is incredibly important. And I learn a lot, gaining perspective from someone else who has an opinion that’s different from mine. Or has an opinion that’s very unique.
CB: If people do want to contribute, what sort of stories are you looking for, and how should they contact you? Are you open to running more science content?
Broadnax: Great question. I am looking for more stories about STEM. It’s very interesting that we’re having this conversation, because lately I’ve noticed that the site’s becoming inundated with fandom-related content, talking about TV and film and comic books. And that’s great, but I think a huge part of nerd culture is the scholastic part of being a nerd and talking about science nerds and tech nerds. I’d love to have that in the website a lot more. And, as pitches come in, I’m on it. If someone says, “Hey, I want to talk about science on your website,” I’m just, like, “Please. Do it immediately.”
So, yes, I’m certainly looking for more science content. I am open for that – you can email me, email@example.com, if you’re interested. And more than likely it’s going to get run, because it is a bit sparse.
CB: Is BGN able to pay its contributors?
Broadnax: Not at the moment. But! We just started a Patreon, it launched last month. And as the Patreon revenue comes in, I am now working on a budget to get contributors paid. Because this website’s been running for four years now and it’s gained a lot of momentum, and it’s gotten a lot of attention, and everybody – including myself – we do not get paid as writers. I do want to change that.
The problem is, I do not have the budget to pay people. So, that’s what Patreon is for. It’s taken me a long time to get to Patreon, but now that it’s here, and people are actually supporting us, I think we’re going to be able to have a budget for the first time to pay contributors. It won’t be a large amount – it really just depends on Patreon, how many people are supporting us, and how much they’re contributing. It won’t be a lot, but it will be something. And that’s a big deal right now, for me. We’re working on it! It’s going to happen.
CB: How, if at all, does BGN make money – how is it able to stay afloat?
Broadnax: Another good question. I do earn revenue from ads on the site, I do earn revenue from the social media account. I’m partnered with folks like Clever Girls, and also Sway Group, that pay people that have a social media influence to tweet about products. There have been a few ads that ran on the podcast, and I earn revenue from that.
How is it able to stay afloat? It’s a Godsend and a miracle, because even though I’m earning money from BGN, I’m still in the red. I’m putting out more financial aid from my own personal bank account than what’s actually coming in. I’m hoping that Patreon is going to change that. But, for right now, it stays afloat because somehow, just by the grace of God, it just has. That’s really all I can say. I mean, I don’t really have a budget in place – I guess I should – but that’s how it stays afloat: me putting my personal money into it, getting a little bit of a return from ad revenue, and hoping to God I can afford it when I get that invoice at the end of the month from my web hosting company or when I get a deduction taken out of my account for having a premium SoundCloud account to put the podcast on, or even putting out money to get a plane ticket to fly out to San Diego to cover Comic-Con. I’m literally in a situation where I’m paycheck to paycheck.
There you go – you guys know all of my financial business.
CB: What can folks do to support BGN?
Broadnax: Patreon. Go to www.patreon.com/blackgirlnerds, and there you can donate from a dollar to a hundred dollars, or even more if you please. There are digital rewards that are given for each pledge level, and also physical rewards, such as t-shirts.
So, if that is something you would like to do, I would encourage that. And the more donations and support that we get, the more opportunities…we’re able to do coverage on several events throughout the country, having really great equipment to do the podcast, to do remote podcasts, to keep this website going.
I recently had to switch hosts, and I’m with one of the most expensive web host companies right now. But because of wanting to have really good quality content, that’s why I’ve decided to do that. Keeping the website afloat, keeping the podcast afloat, paying people to write – these are the things that require a budget and money. And we’re not backed by sponsors. We don’t have any partnerships with any companies, like other nerd sites do. It’s basically Jamie Broadnax and her personal checking account running this thing. My day job allows me to do that. And, God forbid, if that day job ends, I don’t know what I’d do.
I’m hoping that never happens, and Patreon has – so far been – been able to help us with that.
Anyway, that’s what you can do.