Good content is redefining how we see the world. Digital Platforms can now reach thousands of people and change their perspective of the world. Digital platforms has enabled Africans to tell their authentic stories, and share their rich and diverse content in a more engaging way. Rachel Hislop is redefining what it means to tell African storie
Rachel Hislop is the Editor in Chief for the leading digital cultural platforms, OkayAfrica and Okayplayer. She exemplifies what it means to work woke and is true to her brand. She has even worked for the BEYONCE! Her career journey is unique and interesting!
She was kind enough to share some career advice with L.F.E.
Knowing what career path to follow can be daunting, especially if you have different interests. What inspired you to pursue a career in journalism? When I was younger my mother used to bring home magazines for me and I loved them. I loved the way they smelled, I loved the little quizzes, I loved the letter from the editor. I even loved those creepy Steve Madden Ads with the models with big heads and eyes. I read every magazine she brought me from front to back and I cherished them (RIP to teen magazines) but the reality of being a journalist was so far off from my life. I don’t think I even understood it as a profession.
I would read the mastheads like these writers were the movie stars of my glossy paper world’s blockbuster. I was a really good student who excelled in any class that had a writing component, but it wasn’t until my Junior year of high school that I fell into a Journalism course by happenstance and I knew from the first time that I red-penned someone’s essay that this was the perfect home for my talents; I was inquisitive, asked a lot a questions, was generally curious (a little nosey) and just loved words and other people’s drama. From there I joined the school’s newspaper and when it was time to go to college, I knew I wanted to explore what a career in Journalism would look like.
I feel like I should also use this opportunity to apologize to the people I edited harshly in that high school class, I was annoyingly into it.
Did you have a lot of access to female mentors of color when you were in college or an early professional? How can young women seek out mentors who are women of color in the industry? I really wish I could talk about a network of amazing women of color who aided me when I was in college but that was not my experience. I am a first-generation college student, and that presented more obstacles than I have the space to delve into here, but those very obstacles shaped the way I look at mentorship and how I show up in the lives of other women and girls in my career. I have never had a traditional mentor relationship with anyone, but there have been so many women (and some men too) who have shown up early in my career cracked doors open and extended a hand towards me. These people have been co-workers, friends, bosses, etc. and they come from all different walks of life and career trajectory. I find if you’re a hard worker, good on your word and generally a good person, people will gravitate towards you and want to help you reach your goals.
If you have the access, I always recommend going to panel discussions, book readings, any IRL ( in real life) event where people who work in the industry you are interested in will be. Ask questions you can’t find the answers to online. If you can’t attend events, engage online. Find Twitter chats, comment on posts, slide in DMs, find virtual ways to connect with these communities and the women in them. Understand that we are all human. I really do believe that instinctually humans want to help one another. But that same humanity imposes limitations. Even women in positions of power have doubts, could still be mapping out their path to fully realizing their potential, have full schedules that may not allow them the space they want to connect with everyone they can, etc. Be tactful, to the point, but also realistic about your ask. Be mindful of what you are asking for: a human person for their most valued resource; their time.
I truly live by the idea of being the person you needed when you were growing up. If we can all carry that concept with us, we become mentors by nature and not by “would you like to grab coffee so I can pick your brain” force.
You joined OkayAfrica when the company was going through a serious transformation. How was your transition to OkayAfrica? What does your typical day look like?I came to the company as the Editor in Chief of Okayplayer. I had just wrapped more than 3 years working with Parkwood Entertainment as the Digital Content Manager and I learned so much during my time there and knew I wanted to be able to really provide some knowledge to a company that speaks directly to my demographic and dust off that Journalism degree. Okayplayer was the perfect place for this. It was a site that had legacy, but needed to be freshened up a bit. I got to work on re-branding Okayplayer’s content and after 9 months of working on Okayplayer the opportunity came to join OkayAfrica as EIC after some restructuring. I am not going to lie, I hesitated at first. It was a big ask and I was already juggling a lot of work with Okayplayer but I’ve never met a challenge that didn’t buy me lunch after I dominated it.
I joined OkayAfrica in September of 2017, and we just closed 2018 as the best year in the site’s history, but the day to day of OkayAfrica is not about me. It’s about our editors, our contributors, our full-time teams in NYC and Joburg, our freelancers all over the world, and honestly, it’s about the community of readers who are so loyal and supportive and even critical at times, which is always welcome. From the outside it looks like a machine, but inside we are just a team of people doing what I call “heart work” writing about topics that are close to us, finding the voices from the continent and in the diaspora who can do the same, and trying to make sure that important stories have the ability to be amplified.
My day to day is about knowing the balance between providing the vision and getting out of the way so it can be executed. I am not here to hand-hold anyone on my team. I am here as a resource and barrier for them if they do blunder in their learning. Nothing magical ever came from creative restriction.
What’s your favorite part about your job? How much I have the opportunity to learn. It is such a blessing to know every day I am going to come to work and learn something new. I could be learning something from an interview on one of our platforms, from getting through a management hurdle I haven’t faced before, from researching, from our slack (a true treasure trove) or something from the business or events side of the brands. As a 360 media company, there are so many parts of OkayAfrica and Okayplayer that run outside of my area of editorial and we can all constantly learn from one another.
Also, to be able to do this for people that look like me is very important. As a Cape Verdean and Jamaican girl from Brooklyn, I understand what it feels like to have your narrative excluded from media. I don’t believe anyone can ever get all the nuances of anyone’s personal experience, but I do believe we do an exceptional job at OkayAfrica when it comes to handing the control of the narrative back to the people and allowing them to tell their stories. That is what a lot of people look to us for. Well, that and great parties! haha!
We are firm believers in “ bringing your authentic self to work”. You bring your authentic to work every day and it is evident your amazing work! How can millennial women bring their “authentic self” to work? This is an interesting concept because I do believe some of “being allowed to be your authentic self” is earned work. Sometimes people show up with what they believe is their authentic selves, but they’re seeking external validation. That’s not you. You’re not authentically you if you are seeking someone else’s approval on who you are.
Every single day for the rest of our lives we will be learning about who we are. So I guess I would say show up as you are, but be ready to learn to address your faults (we all have them) to learn new information and on the contrary, to stand firmly for the things that you believe in and are willing to fight for and allow yourself the room for those things to change. That’s the closest we can get to being authentically who we are in the moment.
What are some challenges (if any) you have had to overcome as a black woman in the journalism and media industry?I actually get this question a lot and I used to really sit with it and try to answer it thoughtfully because people find it easier to identify with struggle and the humanity it provides. But I am going to stop answering it because I don’t ever sit down and mull on all the ways the chips are stacked against me. That’s the trick challengers want you to succumb to. Am I aware of it? Yes. Does it piss me off? Absolutely. But at this point in my career, if there is a company or organization that doesn’t want me or women that look like me on their team than they’re the ones taking the true loss.
What does being an executive woman mean to you? Hm. I have never thought about the word “executive” applied to me in the traditional sense because I work in such a non-traditional space, but being a woman of power in any room is always tied to the giveback for me. How can I empower other people? How can I produce work that we can all be proud of?
I don’t take any of this for granted. I don’t take any set of eyes reading these words for granted, I don’t take my life or the ability to work in media for granted because just a few years ago this was a life I didn’t know existed and I have to be thankful that where I am now allows me the ability to dream even further into the unknown. Being an executive woman means helping other people realize that potential and keeping us all aligned on the goals ahead, and a lot of that means empowering other people to reach into the unknown and do their absolute best.
Parting words: Hype yourself up. Hype your friends up. But also do the work.