The 3 Things Content Creators Can Do To Drive Transformational Change
In 2017 Newsela launched a reading challenge called A Mile In Our Shoes. The program helped students deepen empathy and inspire inclusivity by reading about different communities in the US and abroad. Through our partnership with DonorsChoose.org and Teaching Tolerance, Newsela’s content sparked meaningful discussions in classrooms nationwide (more than 12 million Newsela articles were read by nearly 300,000 students from 16,300 schools).
To build on that success, we relaunched A Mile In Our Shoes beyond the classroom as a speaker series designed to inspire greater empathy, diversity, and inclusivity across the broader content and tech industries. The theme of the inaugural event was “Transformation Through Content,” and we were thrilled to have an impressive panel of content creators from film, media, education, and advertising share their stories.
The main takeaway of the night: for content to inspire real change, you need Authenticity, Courage, and Trust.
Editor in Chief, Okayplayer + OkayAfrica
SVP, Executive Creative Director, United Entertainment Group
Chief Content Officer, Newsela
Board Member, ReelWorks & General Counsel, Cadent
Make content resonate with authentic voices
Rachel Hislop, Editor In Chief of Okayplayer + OkayAfrica, uses her platform to elevate voices and stories that have historically been overshadowed or ignored altogether. “I’m not the best person to talk to Egyptians about what’s going on in Egypt -- I grew up in New York City,” says Rachel, who together with her team, shifts the spotlight by giving the microphone to a community of voices eager to share their own stories. “We highlight people from their respective communities, who may not traditionally have access to media outlets. It’s then our job to give them the tools and training to elevate their own voice.”
When you elevate underrepresented voices, those voices can start to change the tone of the future. Today with only 4% of films directed by women, and only 6% by people of color, there is a blatant lack of inclusion in media. Without voices like their own being given a platform, young people can grow up thinking their stories don’t matter. Working to combat this issue, Chris Poindexter, on the Board of Reel Works (a nonprofit empowering NYC teens through filmmaking), mentors teens to build media skills so they can share their own stories in their own way.
Both panelists are supporting the birth of a new guard of content creators, empowered to ignite conversations that might otherwise be overlooked. These stories, which help broaden our perspective of the world, often mean we have to challenge norms. That takes courage, which leads us to the second takeaway of the night.
Spark meaningful dialogue through brave stances
“Stories can be the spark to ignite cultural change,” says Executive Creative Director Mike Nuzzo. One person or bold decision can make the difference. For instance, Mike helped lead a marketing evolution that catapulted Oreo from a safe brand on the sidelines, to one at the center of news and media. “It took a lot of courage for the client team to approve the first rainbow Pride flag Oreo post, which had its fans and critics on social media. In the end, taking that risk invited a national dialogue that would have otherwise been limited to a small segment of Oreo customers.”
If you’re a content creator, you have the ability to open up conversations, to unite, and to educate by including voices, ideas, or perspectives in your writing that don’t normally get air time. Doing so may make you vulnerable to criticism, but your courage can also empower others to join the conversation. Taking that risk requires a lot of trust within your company and with your readers. Here’s what our panelists had to say on that.
Build trust in your audience to lay the groundwork for conversation
“You have to lean in to sensitive issues,” says Chris. Chief Content Officer Jennifer Coogan agrees, “Kids are constantly exposed to life’s realities through the news and everyday interactions; it’s our job to build trust with teachers and students so that they have dialogue about what’s happening outside the classroom in a safe and appropriate way.”
Whether in education, journalism, advertising, or film, content creators who take risks and engage authentically have the power to spark conversations that lead to deeper understanding, empathy, and trust. When we’re lucky, these discussions shift how people think, create more inclusive norms, and inspire action that can transform the future.
If you’re interested in attending upcoming A Mile In Our Shoes events here in NYC (or getting recaps via email), sign up for our mailing list here.