Diversity and media entrepreneurship was the topic of Dr. Michelle Ferrier’s keynote address at Xavier University of Louisiana on April 7. Closing Mass Communication Week, Ferrier urged more women and people of color to become innovators within the media industry and to even start their own companies. Ferrier shared that she used her challenges in her career in the media to shape the type of media innovations she has pioneered in recent years. “I like to joke and say that I’ve reinvented myself more times than Madonna,” Ferrier said. This may be true, as Ferrier’s career has ranged from her working at NASA, as a newspaper columnist and editor, to teaching, and now as a founder of several online companies.
Ferrier also stressed the importance of protecting diverse voices; specifically, women’s voices. In January 2015, Ferrier launched Trollbusters; a just-in-time rescue service that provides support for women writers who are being virtually harassed. “We send our virtual S.O.S. team to be that hedge of protection and send positive messages,” Ferrier said.The numbers for women and people of color in the media are lower than where they were 20 years ago, she said.
According to the Women’s Media Center, in 2015, men dominated the media industry at 62.1 percent, compared to women at 37.3 percent, despite the fact that more women graduate with degrees in communication. The gatekeepers of media are not women or people of color, Ferrier said. “So what happens when they don’t see the world [in] the way we do,” she said. In answering her own question, Ferrier explained that women and people of color should be exposed to entrepreneurial programs because they will then have the training needed to fix any problem they face.
An education in entrepreneurship promotes innovation. It prepares students for the many questions and challenges that come along with a start-up company or product invention. She cited a recent European Union study that revealed that students who studied entrepreneurship were able to secure jobs faster and were more confident in their abilities to innovate, Ferrier said. This training also improved self-awareness, self-management, and creativity which are key to being a successful entrepreneur, she said. Starting is the hardest thing to do, Ferrier told students. “You can start right where you are,” she said. There are stereotypes that one has to be in Silicon Valley among the ‘Googles’ in order to have a start-up company; that is not true, she told students. All one needs is an idea and the skills to be successful, Ferrier explained. However, it is not all about the start-up. Being an entrepreneur also means taking what already exists and making it better. Ferrier said she follows a simple design process to success: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test, and share. She told students that after feedback, they may have to start the process all over again.
“It is interesting to hear about… the business side of media,” said Emily Brahan, a senior, journalism student at Loyola University, who attended Ferrier’s keynote address that was open to all New Orleans students.“What was really interesting was the stat that the rate of violence towards journalists has gone up in the last ten years. I think that’s a really disturbing trend I wasn’t aware of,” added Nick Reimann, a sophomore, at Loyola University, who attended the event. Twenty years ago, Ferrier and classmates at Virginia Tech University were dissatisfied with the lack of diversity in their school newspaper. In response, they created their own newspaper called Student Voices. She urged students to start the creative process to increase diverse voices during their college years. So “innovate now” Ferrier said.