We were thoughtful. But we weren’t enough.
When I conceived of b-yond tv, the mission was twofold:
a) To diversify the pipeline of voices behind journalism
b) To diversify the nature of content in international news
Long an advocate for diversity in the newsroom, I decided to work at the grassroots, training and mentoring aspiring journalists who lived in under-resourced communities around the world.
I started in South Asia, training journalists in Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh. Soon, I was training people in the Middle East. Then central Europe and the rest of Asia. As we began publishing our stories, we established our first content partnership with BBC Capital (now BBC Worklife). Successively, we had people writing to us from around the world, requesting training or mentorship. All of the 51 journalists we trained were eventually brought on board for paid employment.
Over time, some of them went on to better opportunities and set us up with “second-generation” b-yond journalists in their countries. All our journalists came from under-resourced communities; roughly 50 percent were female.
Our team in the United States, made up of one Producer and rotating paid interns, has consistently been diverse. This has not been reverse-discrimination; it has, in fact, been picking the best candidate for the job. At b-yond tv, we needed people with alternative worldviews.
The key to inclusion is not filling a diversity quota based on skin color; it is building a business that recognizes the essentiality of varied life experiences.
Together, we were also able to create a library of unique content, touching on gender, sport, music, food, style, entrepreneurship and mental health.
Every story was a collaborative process with those journalists and the small production team we built in the United States. This model helped us avoid the typical pitfalls of the “foreign correspondent.” Pairing the domain knowledge of a local voice on the ground with our expertise here, we were able to sidestep the long-lens view that “Otherizes” while consciously crafting stories for a global audience.
The other cornerstone was the expansion of the ecosystem of international “news.” With most global media organizations understaffed in their foreign bureaus, we aimed to fill the gap between the 24-hour news cycle and the people on the ground.
True to our slogan, “They cover the world. We uncover it,” we reported not what happened in the world today, but where it was headed tomorrow. We aspired to chip away at stereotypes and foster cross-cultural understanding.
We were able to accomplish some of that. Citing only a few examples is like drawing attention to only some of your children, but in the interest of brevity: from aspiring female footballers in Afghanistan creatively skirting a ban on the sport, to the pandemic pushing India’s deity sculptors to the poverty line, from Mozambique’s unique approach in getting guns off its streets, to Palestine’s first ride-hailing app, from Pakistan’s emerging ecosystem for its CPEC-fueled influx of Chinese nationals, to the dying village in Ecuador whose mainstay was the Panama hat (no, they’re not made in Panama), and from Hong Kong adapting to running out of space for its dead, to South Korean women shunning marriage but paying for “single bridal photo shoots,” our stories taught us so much about the world around us. Every piece had an abbreviated 60-second version.
We launched a series of factoids called Culture Facts, which quickly became a crowd-pleaser. Taking only a few seconds to consume, they were scroll-friendly, had an image, and shared a lesser-known fact about a country, community or culture.
In terms of where consumption patterns were headed, that was as good an indicator as any.
Another well-received initiative was Breakfasts of the World, a series of 60-second pieces that left most of us hungry. Many crossed hundreds of thousands of views on social media without a single cent spent on marketing; the segment from Afghanistan (our lowest production quality), crossed a million views on YouTube, spotlighting the fact that content trumps style.
We received accolades for our series Young and Stateless, which aimed to humanize the statistics around statelessness and provide a counternarrative to the typical one of victimhood.
We aspired to increase diversity in our industry, tell important stories that weren’t being told elsewhere, and build an audience that looked forward to our pieces. We accomplished that. We wanted to diversify our revenue streams to avoid relying on advertising. We did that, too.
We kept our structure lean and our revenue model creative, championing “remote work” before it became avant-garde. We believed in equipping our journalists with what they needed, and allowing them to work from wherever convenient.
But when it came to converting our audience members into paying subscribers, we were unable to reach critical mass.
I view b-yond tv as a rewarding journey for us all, teaching us lessons we would otherwise not have learned, giving us skills we would otherwise not have acquired, taking us to parts of the world we would otherwise not have visited, and familiarizing us with people we would otherwise not have known.
Beyond that, I don’t subscribe to the socially-sanctioned concepts of “success” and “failure,” which each of us is free to custom-define for ourselves. I define success as the state of living and working in alignment with my values.
As of July 1 2021, b-yond tv will discontinue publishing its journalism. All published video stories and articles will remain available online.
I am very sad to say goodbye to the incredible team that made up b-yond tv, and whom I am helping place in other jobs as I fold this startup. I am incredibly proud of the journalism we have produced together, and I cannot recommend them highly enough to future employers.
To our angel investors, our Indiegogo crowdfunders, our recurring donors and our Patrons, we will remain forever grateful for your patronage, and we hope you will continue to support other ad-free journalism. The fourth estate, the first draft of history, and all the other declamatory phrases used to define journalism only illustrate how we need solid, independent journalism more today than ever before, and the industry needs your support now more than ever.