At just 16 years old, Rhonesha Byng realized she had all the skills to become the Emmy-award winning journalist she is today. Byng was reading a book a day, loved to be the first to know about something and was what some people would call nosey. After she obtained her first internship while still in high school, she was able to learn the craft of journalism and perfect her writing. Byng stresses the importance of having mentors, and credits her success to the women in her life such as Nekesa Mumbi Moody, AP Global Entertainment & Lifestyles Editor, and Erika Kendrick, president of the National Association of Black Females in Music and Entertainment (NABFEME). Byng was able to attend DePauw University on a full-tuition, leadership scholarship through the Posse Foundation. She is a firm believer that you can’t be what you can’t see, and is able to walk confidently in the direction of her dreams because of the women who guided her.
“I started blogging in 2005, before it was a thing; getting access to high profile people and showcasing my journey of becoming a journalist,” said Byng as she explained what led her to launch Her Agenda.
“After Seventeen Magazine published my blog URL it blew up, and it showed me that people think you need to be special to pursue your goals.” Learning about feminism and the gender gap in college inspired Byng to create a platform to help women activate their goals. After a friend gave her the idea to create Her Agenda, she came up with the infamous tagline “No one Ever Slows Her Agenda.”
Creative Smart Girl: How do you go about building relationships with industry leaders and partnerships with brands?
Rhonesha Byng: Women have always tried to be likable and that can set them back but if you have good work and a good reputation, and you get in the room with [the right] people that’s how those types of relationships start to form. I think social media really helps: so you meet someone one time at a conference or at a lunch, and you follow them on Twitter, follow their work and engage with what they’re doing. A lot of the time people will share opportunities for what they’re looking for or campaigns they are working and you can say “Hey I think this fits me”, versus having to constantly cold email. Cold emails occasionally work but I think just doing the work and doing it well, and putting myself in the places to meet these people and stay connected with them in an organic way has helped.
Creative Smart Girl: What advice would you give other women who want a career in journalism?
Rhonesha Byng: Journalism today is so different even though I just started too, not that long ago. I was on the phone with a legendary journalist and he gave me some awesome advice that I’m going to share. I would say that anyone who wants to be a journalist today should focus on reporting. Reporting is super important in terms of actual journalism and its something that’s a real lost art, a lot of companies don’t have the resources anymore to send journalists to the scene or where things are happening. Try to get as much reporting experience as you can, sometimes you might have to pay your own way or figure it out on your own but I think in the long run it'll be better for you as a journalist because you’ll have that edge that no one else has. Everyone is so focused on digital and its such a crowded space. Everyone is like "oh have your portfolio, your clips, etc.", but everyone has that now. Everyone has access to school and resources, so what is going to make you stand out? Of course your writing, you need to work on your writing but that’s all pretty much subjective. As long as you have the basics of sentence structure down pact, reporting will really set you apart. I learned from a lot of traditional journalists when I was starting out and I spent a lot of time in the newsroom of a television station where we had to pick up the phone, and we had to go to the scene and capture things because we had a camera and needed the video. So I needed up doing some original pieces for the Huffington Post that ended up winning awards and went viral because no one else had those stories. And of course intern, you have to intern. Intern for experience, report as much as possible and learn the structure and writing as a skill.
Creative Smart Girl: What can someone who doesn’t have any formal internships or a journalism degree to get their foot in the door?
Rhonesha Byng: Just find someone and ask to be their intern, that’s what I did and I was in high school at the time. At that time they weren’t letting high school students intern so it was kind of an under the table internship but I go the most amazing experience out of it. There’s so many websites out there and there’s more opportunity than ever to get your foot in the door, you just have to look for it. Find the place that’s right for you and just start.
Creative Smart Girl: When pitching to editors, rejection is sometimes inevitable. How have you dealt with rejection or things not going according to your plan?
Rhonesha Byng: Everything is a learning experience, so if someone rejects you – cool, let me see what I can do to adjust this pitch. Go to someone who is good at pitching and say "hey, I pitched this to a publication and they turned it down, can you tell me why?" Just really not being afraid to put yourself out there and be vulnerable and show the right people what you’re doing and get their thoughts and feedback so you can be better. Constantly keep going in the face of rejection, you need to send out hundreds of pitches in order to get the perfect one. It’s going to be hard, sometimes you’ll have to work for free but it will pay off if you are consistent and you keep pushing forward and making an active effort to get better. How I learned how to do that? Honestly in the beginning I was annoyed, I hated it, like how could they tell me no, this is an amazing story. You have to eventually get over yourself and humble yourself before you can weigh in a pitch, I remember [this one time] I kept pitching this one editor and I think she was kind of annoyed by me but she ended up recommending me to anther platform that ended up giving me a column. That’s how I got my gig at Madame Noire, I was writing for their business section.
Creative Smart Girl: As someone who’s been featured on lists curated by NBC and BET, what is your advice for building a reputation and becoming a person of influence?
Rhonesha Byng: It really comes down to doing amazing work. Its not about me calling NBC and BET to pitch myself, it’s about how I’m doing what I’m passionate about and I want to show as many people as possible. Mainly what I’m doing with Her Agenda is helping people. The more people who know about it, the more people we can help. It starts with me, I need to become a great journalist and I do that by actually doing the work and learning, and practicing the craft of journalism. When building those types of relationships it came down to learning and actually being a proper student and then executing on what I learned. What helps too is knowing who to connect with in terms of your industry, so professional organizations and groups that I am a part of have helped me building key relationships with people that can help or people I can learn from.
Creative Smart Girl: What is your vision for the future of Her Agenda?
Rhonesha Byng: The vision is for Her Agenda to be the ultimate source for women in terms of any type of news that has to do with women, Her Agenda has it covered. Any kinds of positive and uplifting events happening, we have that in our database. Essentially, be the yellow pages for women empowerment, career women and women entrepreneurship. Long term, I see it being a major media company that houses not only a website but several other parts, maybe a television arm, a podcasting arm, a radio arm, - just anything involving media will exist under the Her Agenda name. I really believe that media has the power to change the perception of opportunities for people and it definitely has the power to change perception. There’s a quote that says ‘Talent is everywhere, opportunity is not’, so I really want to make Her Agenda a platform that can bridge talent and opportunity, especially of course for women. When women get opportunities they not only invest in themselves and their families, but in their communities as well. It makes society and the world a better place.