Sonia is the Multimedia Editorial Director at Black Enterprise where she oversees all of the career and lifestyle coverage across all of the platforms, which includes the magazine, two television shows, events and online. She is also editorial director for the Women of Power Summit, a conference that provides women with strategies for advancing in the workplace.
I spoke to Sonia about her journey so far and how it all started.
The full interview is below.
Can you tell me a little about yourself? What’s your background?
I was born in Birmingham, England to Jamaican and Bajan parents. My mother loved reading Ebony magazine and after spending more than 20 years in England, that publication was her inspiration to come to the States. She was a little disappointed once she arrived. Blacks weren’t doing as well as she had read, but it’s where my family has made its home ever since.
I was raised in Brooklyn, NY, and attended Emerson College in Boston. I still live in Brooklyn where I have raised my son and daughter
Take us back a little, how did you get into Journalism?
I was inspired by Barbara Walters. At the time, she was the only female journalist working at that level. I remember when she received her million dollar contract as an anchor. It was a big deal for a woman to be interviewing heads of state and celebrity guests – and making as much as did.
When did you decide to start taking it seriously?
Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever pursued anything seriously. I’ve always ended up in different places and worked really hard once I got there. I attended college with the intent of pursuing print journalism and then switched my major to business communications with a minor in writing. I was an on air reggae deejay for three years and then thought I might want to pursue radio, but didn’t want to pay dues in a small no-name town. While I was in college, the station had a subscription to a digest size magazine called CLASS (Caribbean, Latin, African American Sights and Sounds). I wrote the publisher several letters and made several phone calls. He never responded.
After graduation, I spent the entire summer looking for work in media. Frustrated and in need of job I signed up for a management training position at Budget Rent-a-Car. I was depressed that I had given up on all of my dreams. But that evening when I got home, I received a call from the publisher at CLASS. He was re-staffing the entire office and wanted me to come in.
My first position was as Assistant Editor. I didn’t even know what an editor did. But the senior editor at the time mentored me. I covered everything from international news to entertainment and travel eventually becoming the senior managing editor for CLASS.
I left there and joined Black Elegance a woman’s lifestyle magazine as Associate Editor and eventually became the Editor-in-Chief.
Talking about early days, what difficulties did you encounter in your early days of writing and tell us how you got out of it?
When I think about the challenges of the early days, I guess I could point a couple of fingers to bosses who took advantage or colleagues who were less than supportive, but as I reflect I realize that most of those challenges were a direct result of having low confidence. Although I worked really hard in every position I held and delivered impressive results for the companies, I always felt like I was still proving myself. When you lack confidence, you allow yourself to be vulnerable to all the forces around you. So when I should have been demanding a certain salary or a particular position, I felt that if I continued working hard, I would be rewarded. It’s a common mistake with women.
Who is your inspiration and why?
I am inspired by anyone who walks in faith, anyone who is fearless enough to pursue what’s in their heart and create the life they are passionate about. It takes courage to say no to the ordinary or to playing it safe.
What is most challenging about a career in journalism?
Today, it’s the Internet and the speed at which people want information. Everyone wants to be first instead of correct.
What is involved with being the Editor at Black Enterprise?
My official title is Multimedia Editorial Director. In my position, I oversee all of the career and lifestyle coverage across all of our platforms, which include the magazine, two television shows, events and online. I am also editorial director for the Women of Power Summit, a conference that provides women with strategies for advancing in the workplace. And I am a correspondent on one of our TV shows – The Black Enterprise Business Report in a segment called Executive Style.
What are the best and worst parts of being an editor? Explain.
The best part of this job is the access to such a wide variety of people and information. I learn something every day! What I’m not crazy about are the administrative duties that are part of the job.
What achievement are you most proud of?
Professionally, I wrote the first real business story on Oprah Winfrey in 2008. I also co-authored my first book Good is Not Enough: And Other Unwritten Rules for Minority Professionals.
Thinking back, What influenced you to join Black Enterprise?
I was unemployed. The company I was working for closed its doors. A gentleman who previously worked for me called me about an opening – and I ended up working for him. That’s how it is in the communications field. The roles can easily be reversed and so it’s always important to maintain good relationships with all people at all levels.
How has the journey been so far?
Amazing. I’ve met and interviewed tremendous talent. I’ve learned a great deal. I’ve mentored young women who have gone on to great opportunities.
What would you say has been your most memorable moment so far?
Sitting with Oprah Winfrey in her office. We didn’t think we’d get the interview – and when we did it was set up for a phone interview, but she got sick and had to cancel her trip to New Orleans.
What else do you get up to in any spare time that you manage to have? Is there anything other than writing that you like to immerse yourself in?
I have an immense love affair with the Caribbean and am working on projects to showcase talent and culture. We’ve created a www.youtube.com/gingercandycomedy, a comedy channel. It’s a first step.
What's exciting for you right now in the whole online space right now?
That you can create whatever you want and share it with the world. The Internet has leveled the playing field. Before you had to belong to certain groups, or have a certain expertise in order to market or showcase your talent, product, business. Today you just have to be creative, strategic and determined – willing to do the research, willing to test the market.
What would you say have been some of the key things that you’ve learnt on your journey so far?
It’s important to ask for help and guidance. We like to think that we can do it all on our own, but that’s the quickest path to failure. Always operate by excellence, even when you dislike your job, your boss, or your environment. Ask for the raise/promotion – or whatever you need to make yourself more comfortable in your role. Never think that you will be acknowledged and/or rewarded for hard work. Ask for what you want. And always follow your instinct. Your gut is never wrong. Find time for balance. It’s in the quiet moments that you receive the direction and the insight that you need for clarity and progression.
What key advices would you like to give to aspiring journalists?
Maintain integrity. Never compromise your ethics. And always look for ways to expand your talent and your knowledge.
What are you most looking forward to in 2012?
I’m looking forward to growing in all the new ways that will be presented to me this year and then expanding my opportunities for sharing that knowledge. Stay inspired and then pass that inspiration on.