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By Thomas Baekdal - January 2021

Episode 14: The problem with diversity and how it impacts independent media

Play the Baekdal Podcast

I have some really exciting things to talk about. Because this month, I'm doing a special type of focus on independent media, and more specifically, on the diversity of independent media.

And to do this, I have invited an absolutely brilliant person. It's Isabelle Roughol. She is the former editor, international editor for LinkedIn and also done some other work for other newspapers. But now she has become an independent publisher herself, or what he calls a media artisan.

And in this episode, we are going to talk about her experience around that. We're gonna talk about diversity. And we're gonna talk about what it's like to be a part of this new, exciting world.

So let's get to it.

You can listen to the episode above, watch the video interview or look at the transcript below:


Thomas Baekdal: Thank you, Isabelle for joining this chat about diversity in independent media.

I have long been a very great admirer of what you do, because not only do you have a very interesting background, but you're also one of the people who are now doing this independent media that is defining this new world. So I'm very, very excited to have you here today.

So welcome to the show.

Isabelle Roughol: Thank you. I'm very excited to be here to take this beyond Twitter and via talking Yeah, that's great.

Thomas Baekdal: I was actually asked, a couple of days ago, I can't remember who it was, how long ago, I met you because they were noticing we were talking on Twitter.

Isabelle Roughol: So yeah, it's funny, because I actually don't think I've followed you that long. Because also, I actually wasn't very active on Twitter until a few months ago, I have spent years building a following on LinkedIn. And so wasn't on Twitter that much. And, it's funny how when you start interacting with someone, then Twitter just keeps feeding you more of that person. And so I noticed that there's just like, maybe three people and you're one of them on Twitter that I'm just interacting with pretty much on a daily basis now, which is great.

Thomas Baekdal: Yeah.

Isabelle Roughol: I wonder who else exists in my feed.

Thomas Baekdal: This crazy media analyst was complaining about the media all the time.

Isabelle Roughol: Yeah, well I do that a lot too.

Thomas Baekdal: Well, again, thank you for joining this.

So, just so our listeners know what's going on. You have a very interesting background. So could you tell us a little bit about where you're coming from and what you did before what you're doing now?

Isabelle Roughol: Sure, okay, so the last 15 years in three minutes.

I'm a French woman. I may not sound like it. But I went to journalism school, Mizzou, Missouri in the US, and I was trained as a newspaper reporter and editor, I worked in Cambodia and Cambodia daily in Phnom Penh. I went home to France, worked at Figaro on the foreign desk for a couple years. And then kind of by luck and happenstance, landed at LinkedIn, in the early years of ... the early year, the first year of the platform, building its own editorial team. And so I was editor like number four, I think on the team. There's now like, close to 80 editors, I think. And I spent the next almost eight years building up the editorial team within LinkedIn, which is this really fascinating mix of media and tech work within the product team at LinkedIn and built up, especially internationally. That was my big goal. So I was the first non-US editor. Actually, that is not true. I was the second. But I ended up kind of carving a niche out of international concerns and building the team beyond the English language and growing to four continents and a bunch of different languages and kind of always keeping in mind the non US user, which is often forgotten in Silicon Valley.

Thomas Baekdal: It's very forgotten. Yeah, that's, I mean, that's one of the amazing things.

Isabelle Roughol: So yeah, so that was it until January 2020 when I decided to go on sabbatical because I had been really busy and traveling a lot for a long time. And I had plans to rest and explore and travel and prioritize the rest of my life for once and while we know how that turns out.

Thomas Baekdal: Yeah, not the best circumstances for that.

Isabelle Roughol: That kind of went out the window, that plan. And, heah, kind of from lockdown and the intense boredom and you know, personal crisis of faith that came from, you know, the dumpster fire that 2020 was, I woke up with an idea one morning, which was borderline and it kind of went with it. And I, yeah, I have been growing that for six months.

Thomas Baekdal: I mean, what I find most amazing about your story is How wide is this? Because one of the things we see in the media is, you know, I mean, obviously, the international newspapers have a very wide focus, because the international have people all over the world, but most new sites, they are extremely local. I mean, even the national newspapers that they are, they are just within their own borders. They don't I mean, they have foreign reporters, but they don't have a foreign look. But you have been all over the place. From the US to Cambodia, to France ... Australia. And just that look of having all those cultures and all those places. I mean, as a media analyst, that's one of the things I'm just I wish I had that, I mean, that that's just wonderful.

Isabelle Roughol: I mean, you know, you I mean, not right now you can't but all it takes is a passport. And yeah, you know, well, a few more things, too. But

Thomas Baekdal: You also worked, You didn't just travel.

Isabelle Roughol: Yeah, no, I well. So with Cambodia, essentially, I graduated, and I will actually get the job offer before graduation, because I had to have a job because I had student loans and everything. And my only criteria was I needed a job on the day of graduation. And I want one outside of the US and Europe outside of my comfort zone, because I'd done that. And it was easy-ish. And I applied all over the world. And I landed in Cambodia, but I could have landed in... I applied in Honduras and South Africa. And so just, you know, kind of depends on what your criteria is. But if you're casting that wide enough, you know, it happens.

Thomas Baekdal: Well, what I really admire is just a you did this, but you think about how many people are for journalism school, they're just thinking, I'd like to be a journalist at the newspaper that's close to me, or I mean, here in Denmark, everything is close.

We are two hours away from everything. So just this idea that first of all, you travel to the US to become a journalist, and then you go to Asia to work. I mean, I'm just that's one of the things I'm really find very inspiring. I think it's very important when we think about independent media to have that kind of background.

Isabelle Roughol: Yeah, I mean, it's something that I think that I grew up with so my first experience abroad was actually in high school. I will do you a decent length, because I was an exchange student in the US and I spent a year. And when I was 17, in a host family in the US. And both my older brothers had done that before, as well. So I was kind of used to it. And we'd had exchange students, my parents were hosting exchange students all the time. So it's kind of something that I grew up in. And when my older brother left, I was 11. And I was like, I want to leave tomorrow. Like, I just couldn't wait. And so it just, when you're able to do that early on in life, before you learn to be afraid, it's a lot easier to do it again. And again and again.

Thomas Baekdal: And before we have a worldwide pandemic for several years.

Isabelle Roughol: I mean, you're you're European too, right, growing up in the 90s. It was very much an era of, of positive globalism, and of, of, you know, celebrating everything that European Union growing and the reunification of Germany and all of that, and it just feels like you know, at least I know, wasn't necessarily the case everywhere around the world. But at least in Europe, it was you know, learn a second language, learn a third language, get a penpal, it was that atmosphere that we've lost in many ways, this generation, this new generation, unfortunate isn't growing up in.

Thomas Baekdal: Yeah, well, that's amazing. But... So Borderline.

Isabelle Roughol: Yes.

Thomas Baekdal: I've listened to a couple of the episodes. And it's great, obviously. But what I find interesting is what you said that you hadn't planned to do this when you quit LinkedIn.

So when I look at independent publishers, I basically see two types of people, one type of people are the people who are so fed up with whatever it is they're working on right now. And they want to change something. So there was this person, for instance, in Kenosha, United States that was working for a local newspaper, and they were covering the Black Lives Matter protests in a really bad way. And he said, nope, I'm not going to be a part of that. And he created a GoFundMe page and raised a lot of money. Now, I don't actually know what he ended up with. But he started it because he was angry at his current situation. But you didn't do that you basically had an idea later on. And I find that very interesting.

So what made you wake up one morning and think this is something.

Isabelle Roughol: Yeah, I wish, I wish I could explain it. I mean, so there were about six months between the two decisions of leaving LinkedIn and starting Borderline. They weren't completely unconnected, you know, some of the things I when I left LinkedIn, I was essentially just really, I reached a level of exhaustion that I just didn't have the creativity energy to even come up with something like Borderline, I just felt completely tapped out. And so it takes rest first to be able to recharge those creative batteries and to even have ideas and not only have ideas, but then have the energy to pursue them. And for the first, you know, 4... 3-4 months of my sabbatical, I had so much nothing, that I was terrified that I was never going to be creative again, that it was just, you know, that creativity is something that happens in your 20s. And then you're done. And you're burnout, and it never happens again.

Thankfully, that's not true. I found out, but it really felt that way. So if anyone listening is like completely burning out right now, just just get some sleep, literally all I did is sleep for three months, and it just made a world of difference.

But when it came to Borderline, I, you know, in a way a lot that's in it is everything in my life has led up to it. You know, it's about being a global citizen. And as we've just discussed, that's my life.

Thomas Baekdal: And well, maybe we should just explain what it is.

Isabelle Roughol: Yeah, yeah, we haven't done that. So Borderline is media for the defiant what are called the defiant global citizens. So it is a podcast and a newsletter, and a community and it aspires to be many things. For people whose lives straddle borders, really, it's an experience that I've found that obviously, is my life. And I found that a lot of the people that I've met, and that I've some of my closest friends to people that I can kind of instantly connect with, a lot of them have that similar experience. Because even if, you know, the different experiences individually are pletely different, there is a kinship to immigrants and and people who, third culture, kids, people who've kind of learned to adapt to a lot of different cultures. And in a way, you never really belong at home anymore, because you've been changed by your experiences, but you also never fully belong to the new places that you go to. And those are experiences that I found to be very under represented in the media. And that just really spoke to me. And so in Borderline, it's a mix between speaking with a lot of people who've had those live experiences about their own lives and the realities of it and talking about geopolitics a lot as well, because it's just something that I've always been super nerdy about foreign affairs, diplomacy, you know, relationships between countries and power structures in the world. And so it's both of those things. And it's motivated by the fact that we are living in an era politically that is increasingly hostile to this particular lifestyle of being a citizen of the world. You know, I still sees in anger when I think about that citizen of nowhere speech that Theresa May gave in 2017. Because it just, it was so insulting to everything that I am coming from a place of total ignorance. By the way, the idea that just because you belong in many different places, you belong nowhere, and you don't have a sense of identity. It's just so false. That, yeah, that's kind of what that is what I put into Borderline. Yeah,

Thomas Baekdal: Yeah, we see this in many countries right now, this very nationalistic problem that we see. And the problem, you know, as a media analyst, I see it not just in the politicians and the other things, we also see it generally speaking in the media, that in the way we talk about things and report about things, it's become way more antagonistic, and way more dividing over the past. And I would say four years, because something happened in the past four years. But it's been longer than that. It's been the past 10 years. And we've seen this problem.

So, yeah, but with Borderline. So what I'm thinking is, what are you trying to do with it? What I have, I have in my notes here, a quote from your website that says:

Listening to Borderline, I feel for the first time like I belong to some sort of community.

And I just absolutely love that quote, because it's exactly what independent publishers, and again, I think about it as a media analyst, but it's what independent publishers need, they need to create a community and something that people belong to, whereas traditional media are just focusing on mass media and random people. Yeah. So what is it with Borderline and that community that ties together?

Isabelle Roughol: Well, yeah, and that's exactly... and that quote is from a, actually a guest on the pod who became a member of the pod and supports Borderline. And yeah, absolutely love when she said that, because that's exactly what I want to do. I want to bring people together, give them, you know, podcasts and a newsletter that expresses their experience, but also give them a place that is their own and isn't just mine, that that we're able to together share those experiences. And, yeah, the goal isn't mass appeal. And the goal, you know, isn't to grow as fast as possible, whatever it is, just just bring people in who find value and who feel seen and feel like they're part of something when they join Borderline. That's really the goal.

Thomas Baekdal: So one question I have is, if you think about your audience, is this for people like you, or for people who are also globally minded? I mean, take a person like me, I have lived in my own country all my life, and I have obviously traveled sometimes, but I've never lived somewhere else. So is the podcast for people like me also? Or is it for people who have that more or no longer living in the country I was born in?

Isabelle Roughol: No, I think it's absolutely for both. It's really more about the mindset and sort of how you view the world. And it's so it says much for people who have had this particular lifestyle, but also people are just curious about it, or who are interested in hearing those perspectives. I mean, the thing that kills me with a lot of the more traditional media is we have very national media structures, right? We have national newspapers and national television services and you have a few internationalists media, you know, whether that's so there's a few different kinds, you know, if you look at like BBC World Service, or things like that, but they still come in with their national lens into it in a way or you have media that exists worldwide, like CNN, but they feel like they need to serve something different to their American audience than they do to their non American audience. So they actually have two different channels.

Thomas Baekdal: The funny thing, I don't think CNN is international.

Isabelle Roughol: No,

Thomas Baekdal: It feels so American, who is then trying to sometimes tell something to people outside America, but it's so dominant. American.

Isabelle Roughol: Yeah. And so in most media, they really have that national lens. And when they talk about immigration and immigrants, and I guess that's how we're gonna really dive into the question of diversity, they talk about immigration as the others coming in, and how it impacts the nationals and sort of how the country is dealing with it.

Not necessarily that they're covering it in an indicative way, even media that are sympathetic to, you know, immigrants and non nationals, they, it just feels like it's talking about them, instead of, you know, immigrants being part of the media itself, and being part of the conversation.

Thomas Baekdal: Well, I mean, Yeah... but let's talk about diversity.

So when it comes to independent media, what I see is two things. Basically.

The first problem I see is that there is a difference between how men approach it and think about it. And part of the reason is that a lot of men just go into it, saying: "Oh, I'm going to just create a podcast or newsletter, where I'm going to say my opinion."

Or, you know, there was this saying, in 2019, when podcasts were really booming, still booming, but that there is now a podcast for every two men to have an opinion. And it's just everywhere, where with women, and not just women, but also people with color, there is a more focused view on this, because I don't think, I mean, again, I'm a man, which makes this difficult to talk about. But that value that men think they have in just, you know, going out and telling their opinion, we don't see that as much.

So for women, we see a more focused form of media, which I think is very, very exciting. But that is much, much harder, it's much, much harder to create something that has a more specific value.

The other thing is a very big problem right now, which is why we have this focus here in January is, in the media, we only talk about men. So over the past couple of months, we have heard all about substack. And there have been hundreds of articles about celebrity men, who have quit their high paying jobs, and are now, you know, creating a substack. And some of them even brought with them the email lists. For me, I would like to be able to do that. And they have a 10% conversion rate. And it's also glorious and amazing.

And this is not the reality.

And that is a weird kind of view that we men create. So when you started yours, I mean, you had a kind of an interest, entry into this, because you already came from LinkedIn, which was also a kind of high paying job. I assume.

But how did you see, you know, this world? Did you feel that there was a problem getting into it that that was defined by how these are the focus on men and all the focus in on what was the problem for you

Isabelle Roughol: Yeah. I mean, there's a lot to unpack here. And so I'm gonna try to take it in in order, I think I don't know that there was a specific barrier. For me. I think I have a lot of advantages that women don't usually have. And so in a way, I'm the exception. Or rather, I have a set of circumstances that are far more common in men than they are, and especially in white men, than there are in women and in there are in people of color, which is that I already had a platform because I was at LinkedIn. And I built a large following on LinkedIn, as a LinkedIn employee, aided by the product team at LinkedIn, the circumstances that I was in.

I had a nicely paying job in tax so that I could build savings to Just go off and do my thing for a little while without being cashflow positive and I'll be in cash flow very negative for a while, you know, and I don't have family responsibilities. I'm not a caregiver for anyone's all those circumstances are far more common for women.

Thomas Baekdal: Yeah, all of those are very 'men''.

Isabelle Roughol: All of these are very, are very, you know, approved privileges that are less common in women. So that's that's one thing. And the other I mean, what you were saying about, you know, men with opinions, that's something I'm well familiar with, because I, you know, I was working for a social media platform. However many years, where I was creating content daily, I was in charge of the daily business newsletter that LinkedIn runs for many years, I started it.

And so I'm well used to, you know, guys in the comments, having opinions, including very uninformed or less informed opinion and teaching me about all the things that I, poor woman, don't know. So I'm well used to that.

And, you know, I don't think that it's something inherent to men or two women, it's just the way that we've been socialized, right. And we know that women and marginalized people are socialized to be listening more to be less assertive with their opinions. While we know that men are generally encouraged to show what has been considered leadership for a long time, which is being very confident about the things you know, and even the things that you don't know.

And obviously, all of this media ecosystem is then built on a tech ecosystem that has also been built by men. And there's also favors, you know, outrage and a lot of certainty about things. Which is something that I personally, I don't know if it's because I'm a woman or whatever, but I'm just not that interested in spewing all of my opinions. I mean, I do write opinionated things. But I'm, you know, the one thing I love about the podcast, my writing tends to be more, you know, here's how I see the world. But what I love about the podcast is I'm able to ask other people how they see the world. And that's,

Thomas Baekdal: So I'm flipping the script on you now. So now I'm asking, but, anyway, yeah, I mean, so the problem I see or hear about is women, generally, when they try to start something I just met with such a high, much higher level of barrier in pretty much everything. I mean, there's a much higher level of harassment, just when they do things and post things. And there's a lot of negative comments, there's a lot of sexism. You know, if a woman does something, and she's smart, well, then we cover her clothes, instead of actually talking about what she's doing, we do that, and that's a media problem in general, and look at the new vice president.

But there's also the barrier that there is a kind of weird expectation between what women need to achieve before they're successful. And this happens, both. I mean, from what I hear is both something women feel, but it's also what men feel that, if a man is doing something is only kind of half assed good and is not really that spectacular, people are saying "oh my god, he's the best person ever. I'm gonna follow him on YouTube?" But if a woman does the same thing? Everyone is saying it's not good enough, it needs to be slightly better. And that really creates a barrier?

Isabelle Roughol: Well, it's the reason that you know, during a pandemic, everyone was waxing poetically about how countries with female leaders had done much better. It's not that women are intrinsically better leaders, or crappy, you know, women, as well. It's just that the bar is so much higher for us that you really only get the best of us. And the rest is never we never hear about. In a way that mediocre men are allowed to stick around in a way that mediocre women aren't.

So that's something that is true of the media. And it is true of a lot of places. But I think the concept of barrier to entry is really interesting. I think in independent media, we're very much in danger of making the same mistake that tech made, which is assuming that because technology has lowered the barrier of entry, and there is no barrier of entry to creating a Substack or creating a podcast today. Technically, there is no barrier of entry. It fools people into thinking that therefore, you know, we solved a problem. And it's all fair. And everyone has an equal chance of success. But actually, the barrier to success is so much higher in a way now that the barrier to entry is so low because there's just, you know, it's a big war. There's just so much going on.

Thomas Baekdal: That is exactly the point. I mean, when I started my company 10 years ago, I was, I mean, we had sites like Nieman lab and Poynter and I can't remember if Digiday had started back then. I think they had I mean, they hadn't done anything paid. Yes. So I was kind of the only site out there that was doing kind of paid media analysis, obviously, back then. I wasn't really known in the media circles. But if I had to stop what I started back then today, I mean, it's just brutal. There are so many things out there.

Isabelle Roughol: Yeah, I'm very jealous of the advance that you have from those years of doing it. That's true. And that's actually why, like today, when I speak to young people entering journalism, I think the most important thing that you should do is to put a stake in the ground, like get that start building that audience now and make sure that it's an audience that you own. That it is platform agnostic, that you know, you have those email addresses, you have those phone numbers, and because we know that the platforms are going to keep changing, where you can't rely on a Twitter following or whatever, you know, TikTok, whatever it's going to be in 10 years will be different. And so building the audience, man, if I could have done this, I mean, in a way I did.

But now you know, I have this massive audience on LinkedIn, I'm spending literally every day trying to like get 0.01% of my 1.5 million followers on LinkedIn, to subscribe to the substack. And to listen to the podcast and to, you know, God forbid, become a paying subscriber. And that conversion is so slow, and it's so tiny.

Thomas Baekdal: Tell me about it. I have been doing this for 10 years? I mean, it's a ... *sigh*

Isabelle Roughol: Which is also which is also why, by the way, I don't think that independent media is the panacea, you know, if tomorrow, I get I get an offer for a really interesting leadership role in a more traditional media organization, you know, I'm not probably not gonna say no, because, yeah, the reality is that, you know, I will definitely have want to try to keep keep building this platform and Borderline of, you know, but while doing something else, but you know, realistically, how long can you keep not earning a living wage, and keep a business running? You know,

Thomas Baekdal: Yeah, and that's where both you and I came from slightly better circumstances. I mean, when I started my business and turned into PayPal in 2010, I had about a year and a half to two years salary in my bank account, saved up, so I could go on not making any money for one and a half years, and I don't know what you'll find this, but you said, You spent six months before you started Borderline. So...

Isabelle Roughol: Oh, yeah. And I'm still you know, now I'm monetizing borderline, and also started actually monetizing borderline, barely covers, you know, my software costs and hosting costs. And all this, I've actually got a couple consulting clients that are, you know, actually making money, but then it becomes really difficult to keep switching your brain back and forth between the work that pays the bills.

I mean, I'm sure you know that, at least, like you're a media analyst, so you know, the things that you're doing, and consulting educates you into, you know, my consulting has no correlation to Borderline whatsoever. It's just completely, you know, I, I help people with their LinkedIn strategies, and I do media leadership training and things that are, you know, interesting, and that I enjoy, but they're not the thing that I really want to be building. So actually, the thing that I'm thinking about doing this year is how I can monetize Borderline in different ways. But in ways that is still you know, whether that's publishing freelance or consulting, but in ways that the topics at least are connected. So I don't feel like I'm holding completely different options,

Thomas Baekdal: I have a kind of an interesting experience with that, because I am also doing consulting now then. And it has varied greatly. I mean, some years, it's only, you know, three, four jobs, Other years, it's much more. So in recent years, I'm not really doing it that fast anymore, because I'm focusing on building Baekdal Plus. But what I found was, the more you try to do other things, that is not your, in your case, your bottom line, focus on my case, pick my platforms, the harder it is to build up that part of the business. So the more time I spend doing consulting, even though it's kind of the same thing, the less subscribers I get to Baekdal Plus, because I'm not... running Baekdal Plus is a full time job. And running Borderline is, is essentially also a full-time job.

Isabelle Roughol: You know, haven't been doing it for I'm just now today, essentially, back on Borderline full time, because I had a couple big consulting things that I needed to finish. So I haven't been on Borderline a few weeks, which means, you know, it's been on hold, and it hasn't gotten you subscribers, and it's I haven't published, I need to start working on the next season of the podcast.

So yeah, it's a challenge. Because the more you work to pay the bills, the further that time when you don't need to do that extra work goes, you know, you're just kind of pushing into the future. And so in a way, yeah, it's better if you, I mean, the thing that I would recommend that I didn't do, if you're if you're in the right mindset to do it is, you know, build it while you still have your full time job as much as you're able to at least put the elements in place, you know, do the boring grunt work of building a website and researching what tools you're going to use and in all of and getting organized and putting workflows in place, all that mindless stuff, I mean, not mindless, but that tedious stuff that you can do at night and on the weekends, so that when you quit your day job, then you can focus really on the content element of the business 100% of time, which is something that I didn't do because obviously I just left LinkedIn into you know, oblivion for six months.

And also, you know, you look at people like Casey Newton and others who were able to leverage the announcement of the fact that they were leaving something to build up that audience for the next thing, which is obviously something I didn't do at all. Because I left and said "bye guys, I'm tired. I'll see you in a year."

Thomas Baekdal: Yeah, I mean, I'm Casey Newton on other people like him, I don't have any negative things about them. But what really annoys me is not only did they get a ton of exposure, when they quit their job, I mean, it was all over everything. And secondly, he brought with him 20,000 subscribers to his existing newsletter. So you could just take his newsletter list and say, Well, now you're subscribed to this new thing I'm doing myself. And then he could use those two things to get a 10% conversion rate. I don't know anyone outside of people like him who can do that.

Isabelle Roughol: But that's how independent magic media replicates the power structures that we have in traditional media. Which is, you know, if you're already a known entity, if you already have a big brand name, in traditional media, then you have that platform to build on to create your own business, you have the power, you know, the real power and the sort of intangible confidence to even have the balls to ask the employer to leave with the email list as part of your severance package. Those are the kind of things that only happen when you're already extremely confident about your place in the media ecosystem. And we know who the people who have that assurance and that power and that confidence, they tend to be so, yeah, I mean, it's reality.

Thomas Baekdal: But I mean, in a way, I also think that's part of a kind of a male culture to just try to do that.

Isabelle Roughol: Yeah, because of that, there's kind of two different messages to have.

One is the message to the power structures, which is we need to dismantle that.

The other is the message you have to the individual, to his marginalized individual. And to them, all I can say is like "tough love Baby". Like, do what these guys have been doing a lot, because that's the way it works. And so don't be shy about networking. Don't be shy about asking for the things that you want.

I used to be a manager and I hired about half the editorial team at LinkedIn. And I learned so much about managing my own career from managing other people in hiring other people. And I learned so much about the job seeking process. And consistently, every time, women asked for about 10% less when it came to job negotiations.

So you just got to the point at every woman that I've mentored that I've had this conversation with, I have said whatever number you have in mind at 10%, because I promise you, that's what the guy in that compensation is asking for. And he took me, as a manager, and to his credit, my boss, who's a man, Dan Roth, and the company to refuse to pay women less than end up giving women a lot more than they asked for, just so they could be on par with the men on their team who were doing the same job. And obviously, not every company and not every manager is going to do that. And so, you know, it's and it's just across the board, it's just if you don't have that confidence, just fake it, because I promise you the rest of them do. But we need to acknowledge also that there is a different price there is a retaliation, you know, if a black woman walks into a room with the level of confidence and self assurance and a knowledge in her own expertise that a white man does, she will be retaliated against for having the balls, excuse me the expression, to know her value in a way that the white man wants. So, you know, it's an intractable, well, not intractable problem, because it can be solved, but we need to want to solve it a lot more than we have so far.

Thomas Baekdal: Yeah. And I think you made a very important point that, obviously that there is the... again, I'm a white man saying this.

Isabelle Roughol: That's okay, we can do a blanket disclaimer on the conversation.

Thomas Baekdal: Yeah. But one part is for women to have more confidence. But I also think, and this is why we have this focus here in January is that, as men, we need to push for change in our own culture, because as men, we are not doing things right.

I love the book "Quiet" by Susan Cain. Have you ever read that?

Isabelle Roughol: I haven't read it, but I know her work?

Thomas Baekdal: Yeah, it's really about introvertism. But what she is talking about is this male culture of extrovert men who are dominating and loudest person in the room and all those things and how that culture is actually creating the problems for all the other things we see in society with this.

Isabelle Roughol: Yeah, I mean, we have a we have a completely one track mindset when it comes to what leadership looks like. And I think what was interesting, so was the 2016 presidential election in the US now think what you will about Hillary Clinton. I know some people don't like her. I think it's actually interesting the reasons why people don't like her is, and all the sexism that was built into that. But one thing that she was noted for, you know, including good people that were not particularly on her side, is that she was really good at listening. And she did these listening tours, and she was good with people privately in a room and kind of understanding what they needed when they wanted and connecting people.

And, you know, you had on the other side someone who was kind of the prototypical, you know, male version of soco leadership and a lot of us said about Hillary Clinton's lack of leadership and that she wasn't giving like big rousing speeches and all of that. And the problem is, you know, we have this idea that leadership is a guy at the front talking loud and getting people riled up and getting them to do the things that he wants them to do. And, I'm just far more interested in leadership that sits in the middle of the crowd and talks and listens to everyone and connects people. Oh, you know, you want bread? Oh, you have flour? Oh, you're a baker? Like, let me get you guys together. Yeah.

Thomas Baekdal: Exactly.

Isabelle Roughol: That's valuable leadership. But that's not what...

Thomas Baekdal: Yeah, I mean, we've seen this so very clearly, or the past four years. I mean, if you take the current president, at least for a few more days, as we are recording this, and Clinton, I mean, who is the better leader?

And I don't think anyone, maybe in the US, but I don't think anyone outside the US has a doubt about that, who would actually have been the better leader. And the person who shouted and tried to be the strong man was definitely not the better leader and instead caused so many problems.

Isabelle Roughol: It's an election that was such a hit to me mentally, like, psychologically, I think too many women, because it really felt like you can take the most qualified a mungus and put her, I guess, the least qualified of men. And we will still lose. Again, think what you will about Clinton, you know, there might have been better candidates, she's establishment, blah, blah, blah. But it just felt like, you know, if at least there had been a competent man on the other side, I could see the argument. But this was one case, interested.

Thomas Baekdal

I mean, everyone in the media should know this. By now. I mean, there's should be no doubt by anyone that the way we are thinking about who to promotes and who to make it sound like this was the best person because they were the loudest or the, you know, I mean, we saw the presidential debates, and afterwards in the media we were saying, "oh, Trump was better, because look at how he was strong arming everything". Yeah, and we just go, "Okay, please don't do that, again, ever." I mean, it's, we should learn from that.

But I want to change back to the part about pay. Because you're talking about pay when just when the women have a career that takes 10% less, I see the same problem now with independent media that I hear a lot of women who have started independent media companies. But when it comes to asking people to pay for it, I see the same struggle where men will basically just say: "Hey, pay me", I see a lot of women saying, "Well, I have to build it up. First, I have to make it look good. I have to do all these things." And I don't think that's necessarily and again I'm a white man, but what do you feel about that, I mean, when it comes to independent media and getting paid?

Isabelle Roughol: Get paid!

Get paid, it's something that I have become increasingly militant about, because you know, whether we like it or not, money is independence, money is freedom. And so in, but as women, we don't talk about money enough, and we don't dare talk about money, which is why again, when I was a manager, I was really insistent about talking about money, but also about with my colleagues, female colleagues at LinkedIn, we started sharing our salary, which is something that usually we don't do, because if money's dirty, whatever, but I told my friends what I made, and they told me and I was like, I think you can ask for more. And by the way, here's what I made, when I got promoted to that level that you're at now. And you're not there. So there was room, there was room there for you to negotiate.

And it's the same thing, you know, with, you know, when I see women in relationships, and in marriages, where, you know, the guy holds details of the investments and the bank accounts, and they're raising the kids and not making money, and then, you know, then divorce in there or, and I'm, I'm a big believer in financial independence. Because that's how you get to make the choices in life that you want to make. And so you know, your work is a value. I mean, if people are reading it, that means that I like it. So they should be able to put money behind it, you know, which, you know, I understand the impetus towards Well, we want our content to be free, we want everyone to be able to read it, because we think it's a value and we don't want marginalized population to be excluded from that. And that's loadable. But a business that dies doesn't help anyone. So you want to make that money.

Thomas Baekdal:Thank you for saying that.

Isabelle Roughol: Genuinely, it's like, you're not going to help anyone if you have to give this up because you can no longer feed yourself and your children or put a roof over your house or whatever. So your financial success will help your audience and if really you're concerned about people's access, there are ways that you can do, you know, free no questions asked free membership for people who just let you know that they can't afford it, you can make part of your content free, you can do education discounts. And there's a lot of ways that you can make sure there is access for for marginalized people without undervaluing your work, which also means don't bill for the work bill for the client work for the nonprofit for very cheap, because you know, you're going to work for venture capital for 10 times as much, you know, that's, that's how you, that's how you make it work. But we have to get comfortable talking about money and demanding our worth, or we're just never going to, you know, fix this diversity issue.

Thomas Baekdal: I'm very, very happy to say that because, as a media analyst, this is the single most important fact that I see, not just independent media, everyone, you have to get that focus on thinking that you are creating value that is paid for.

And I want to make one point here, when I say paid for, it doesn't just have to be subscriptions, or memberships. There are other ways to pay for, I mean, even something like advertising. And here, I don't mean programmatic advertising, I hate programmatic advertising, generally. I mean, to kind of sponsorships.

Isabelle Roughol Yeah.

One challenge that they do see for women in the independent media space is that it's a lot easier to monetize things that have an obvious business value, things that people can put on their expense report, right. And so, you know, newsletters on business topics, for instance, are a lot easier to monetize. And our CDs are parts of the media that are generally dominated by men, because business coverage, financial coverage, those are sectors that are very male, and those are media sectors that are very male as well in tech and all that. And so the challenge is to stay true to yourself in covering things that are meaningful to you. And I can see how if you're part of a marginalized population, you're not interested in giving the people in power more of the stuff that they're already getting. And you want to make room for marginalized voices as well. But then how do you monetize that? That's something that I'm figuring out right now with Borderline. So for instance, I'm thinking, okay, is there a product that I could sell to corporations that are relocating their employees abroad, and they want to get some help with settling abroad and cultural awareness? And whatever, you know, is there a product there that can be monetized? Like how do you build something that the people with deep pockets will pay for so that you can subsidize access to everyone else?

Thomas Baekdal: Yeah. I mean, you had that quote from your website before? And I don't know if she's paying, but she probably is.

Isabelle Roughol: The one about community? Yeah. She is, she made a very generous donation In fact, so yeah, see proof.

Thomas Baekdal: Yeah, exactly. Well, thank you for being part of this chat. I enjoyed this very much. So many good points.

Isabelle Roughol: Yeah, we went a lot of different directions. But it was, it was enjoyable.

Thomas Baekdal: That's a good thing about this.

So this was the first episode of this new version, the Baekdal Plus podcast.

Now, I have more coming, I have more plans. I'm not gonna tell you what it is right now. But next month, there'll be another episode that is just as interesting about something else, but I have to arrange it first.

But I hope you like this format. And I would love to get some feedback.

And of course, as always, the problem I have with this podcast is that it's free. I mean, you don't have a problem with that. You probably like that. But it takes time. It takes energy and everything to build this. So if you want to support this podcast, please remember to subscribe to Baekdal Plus. You get this podcast, you get all the past reports. And yeah, that's how it works. But thank you so much.

And thank you for listening.


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


—   podcast   —


Episode 14: The problem with diversity and how it impacts independent media


Episode 13: Let's talk about unit economics


Episode 012: The Future of Robot Journalism


Episode 011: The trends around news fatigue and avoidance


Episode 010: Covering the Elections From the Perspective of a Media Analyst


Episode 009: The Future of Interactive TV ... and more