Advice from a journalist: How to jump into the conversation

KalinDeb“The goal is to transform data into information and information into insight.” — Carly Fiorina

Still wondering how to get news hooks to work for you? Well, Dr. Kali Gross, a 2015 University of Texas at Austin Public Voices Fellow, offers some insight into using the news as a way to step into the public conversation with relevance and insight.

In her latest piece about Cookie Lyon, the just-released-from-prison mother and ex-wife played by the fierce Taraji Henson on the hit TV show “Empire,” Kali uses timing and temperature (of the public conversation) to make a consistently killer argument about mass incarceration and black women. Here are her “secrets.”

  • She moved fast: Kali wrote this in 24 hours, while people were still talking about the season finale of “Empire.”
  • She finds new points of entry to a recurrent theme: the intersection of black women, violence and mass incarceration of black bodies. “Empire” is just one point of many.
  • She feels valued and at her chosen outlet of choice: The Huffington Post. She’s making the most of this by building a brand identity there by leveraging the heck out of her theme and posting there regularly.
  • Her larger theme — mass incarceration — now has a place in the public imagination thanks to the foundation of other thought-leaders, namely Michelle Alexander of “New Jim Crow” fame, so Kali’s building that out in a big way.

Kali stays true to her thematic foundation, but she also engages the elasticity of time, giving audiences what they crave (more Cookie) — and more by taking something highly entertaining, much talked about and considered fluff to some, spinning it till it’s a matter a life and death. Because it is.

Now, that’s how you enter a public conversation.

Kali Nicole Gross is a Public Voices Fellow and an associate professor and associate chair of the African and African Diaspora Studies Department at The University of Texas at Austin. Deborah Douglas is an OpEd Project senior facilitator with the Public Voices Fellowship there.

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