Credit: Photo by Clint Adair on Unsplash

A lot of the talk about membership seems to revolve around being a source of income for news organisations. Yes, reader revenue has become an important stream of money, but its value goes beyond pounds and pennies.

Today (27 April), the Bureau Local held an online community coffee event with Black Ballad, an online publication written for and by Black women and non-binary people.

It has more than 1,000 people signed up for paid memberships, but although this is an important revenue source, the true value lies in how its members interact with the publication.

Stories, callouts and hires

Speaking at the event were social media executive Nicole George and senior writer Jasmine Lee-Zogbessou, two people who used to be Black Ballad members themselves.

Black Ballad actively looks in its member community for story pitches, callouts and even potential candidates for new roles. Lee-Zogbessou, a qualified journalist, had pitched unsuccessfully to the publication in the past, but got her first opinion piece commissioned in 2017. It was not until the start of 2022 that she joined the team officially.

George studied media and communications at university, but it was her previous experience working for a Black-owned startup in social media which made her a good fit for the team.

"As long as you can produce really good content and you can prove that and clearly speak to the audience, that's how I managed to get this role," says George.

Member or not, Black Ballad accepts story pitches from Black women or non-binary people. According to Lee-Zogbessou, the team is receptive to hearing from their readers and getting their stories published because this reflects their mission of conveying and reflecting the experiences of Black British women and non-binary people. She understands that this requires patience towards amateur writers.

"I understand the importance and value of helping to mould someone's journey, be a bit patient with them. But you can’t do that with absolutely everyone, because it’s very time-consuming," she says.

"It's about trusting your gut. iI someone pitches to us, and maybe the idea is a bit fumbly but [they are] able to get their points across well, and you know in your gut it could be a good topic, then usually we would commission them and then help them along in the editing process.

"It's always valuable then to get their feedback. Not a lot of publications will do that, and that's not a bad thing as everyone is busy, but that’s one thing I value about us. We do see the value in raising up Black women at whatever stage they are at in their careers."

It has also published a pitching guide to ease this burden on the team.

Underpinning your journalism

There is a heavy focus editorially on practical career content. From day one, CEO Tobi Oredein has set out to appeal to an audience described as: 'professionally ambitious, culturally curious, socially conscious'.

Its readership is also "outspoken", continues George, "unapologetically Black, very much proud and intentional about from buying Black-owned (businesses)."

Black Ballad has two tiers of membership, a standard one and a premium option.

The standard tier gives members access to its Business Directory of discounts with partnering Black-owned businesses. The premium option grants access to an online Slack community. This community is another great way to find out more about member interests, as well as providing an almost instant temperature check on the stories it produces.

One key interest which has emerged within its readership is motherhood. In 2020, Black Ballad launched a survey to collect data on motherhood from Black British women and more than 2,000 people responded. That has subsequently borne out a wealth of ideas, including The Survival Podcast, now in its second season hosted by editor Jendella Benson. It is billed as "an honest conversation with Black British women about what motherhood looks like for them and how they survive it's ups and downs."

Newsletters and events

Readers can actually access three free stories a month simply by registering with their email, and not having to pay. So far, Black Ballad has 22k email registrations.

One of the big differences with having a loyal and engaged membership is the newsletters, says George. Readers are especially engaged with the Founder's Letter, published every Sunday evening, which is a personal message from CEO Oredein.

Events have also proved highly popular; standard members get discounted entry whereas premium members get free access to events.

The publication held a virtual event last month called Careers For Creatives, which comprised of three days of workshops, sessions and exercises on working in journalism and content creation. Members told organisers that they gained relevant contacts and resources to develop their careers, a further example of the two-way nature of the membership model.

The Bureau Local is holding monthly community coffee events until October, sign up for those here.

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