Am I My Brand?
Swagger's Founder Feels Out New Direction
As I sat stressed in the corner of my mom’s room, working late-night through a high school paper I remember her bringing me a cup of coffee. She handed over the mug, and said “Relax. The key is to only write, and talk, from your place of knowing.” Though the subject at hand was difficult, the best I could give that paper what I knew to be honest, and true.
Her words were invaluable in the witching hour, but they continue to resonate today as I build a TV career as an entertainment journalist and evolve this online magazine, Swagger. At 30, everything seems to be taking off - Swagger has undergone a major makeover for our millions of fans, and I've been spending lots more time on HLN and CNN talking pop-culture. But as I begin this new season, and tack on yet another year in my life, I’ve taken a moment to do a gut check.
Am I still writing and talking exclusively about what I know to be true?
Am I being honest to myself?
Am I my brand?
Swagger began as a street style site in Paris before street style sites were en vogue. At 24, I roamed the streets in the City of Lights, snapping photos of people who had unique style. I interviewed them about their fashion and music tastes, and then I shared their stories with the world.
In its infancy, Swagger was youth fashion culture as I saw it – rambunctious, loud, raw, and cool. But to sustain my passion, I needed to turn this culture-spotting hobby into a business. Swagger needed numbers to lock in advertising dollars, and, in short, street style wasn’t cutting it. As the hustle for unique views became real, I began to chase what the middle thought was cool, and ignored what my gut knew rocked.
Swagger Paris, 2010 (Via Ghubar)
In 2011, I veered from doing what my mom told me in the living room; I was no longer being truthful.
I hired writers and gave them one directive: Get hits to the site, I don’t care how. We expanded the scope of what we covered, and noticed that celebrity stories drove 10x the views of street style photos, no matter that the stories out of Hollywood did little to meaningfully effect culture. We explored Kim Kardashian Christmas cards, Kim Kardashian at Fashion Week, and Kim Kardashian’s derriere just about everywhere. Our numbers neared ½ million uniques per month – a feat for a site with no significant funding and a team of 3 - but we all began feeling a little vapid.
As the editor and founder, I effectively green lit stories based on whether they’d return views, willfully ignoring the stories of the people – the influencers - who initially inspired the vision for Swagger. Those loud, rambunctious, and genuine folks that I once called my peers.
Swagger became a version ofPeople
with a dash ofGawker
. But what we needed to be was ourselves - an outlet that explored the issues that made us feel something deep down. The feelings that make us human, and interestingly, those same feeling that make us share on social: Anger, happiness, discomfort, squeamishness, or confusion.
And so as of today, you’ll see a different Swagger, and a different me. On our newly developed mobile-responsive site - the first of its kind to bring the app experience to the mobile web, btw! - we’ll be talking to more people that influence our lives daily – up and coming music artists that make us tingle, leaders in the social justice community making an impact, celebrities who are REAL and SMART, and other young people doing or creating shit that makes us excited again to be young, savvy and passionate about SOMETHING. These people will be plucked from our network, from the voices we know (or want to know), those we’re inspired by, and those we trust.
As for me, I’ll be using what I’ve learned on TV to produce lots more video for the site, and to interview my peers in NYC about issues that are pressing (police brutality, love, addiction, sex, LGBTQ rights, and more). Sure, Swagger will continue to ruminate on celebrity - it’s a valuable part of culture - but we won’t run stuff for shock value as we have been…our readers can get that elsewhere. Those salacious stories are not what we love, and they’re certainly not what we really know – they’re often just what PR people tell us we should know.
So I hope readers will show up to the site for something that they can’t find anywhere else – an elevated sense of entertainment. While I'm realistic that, maybe, the masses don't want all that, I also know I'm not here to be a pawn of the masses. I’m here to be me. What’s your truth?
PostedAug 24, 2015