By Amari D. Pollard
It was during one of his coding classes at Syracuse University that Aarick Knighton first realized a career in IT wasn’t for him. And once he realized people could get paid to be on Twitter all day, he started to take his interest in social media a lot more seriously. He was able to secure a social media internship while still in school, going on to work at Syracuse.com as a social media producer after graduation. Next, he landed his current gig as the social media editor at The Root, where he has gracefully stepped out of local news and into the national arena, helping to push the eternal spread of black culture. Ed caught up with the young editor to see how he does it all.
Can you tell me a bit about your current role?
I work for Gizmodo, which has about 11 different websites. There’s a social team with about six or seven of us working on the different social sites. My main focus is The Root. On a daily basis I’m planning content, working with the video and art teams, publishing, and covering live events, stuff like that.
Can you describe your experience doing social for a local publication versus a national one?
Since I’m from Syracuse, I was familiar with a lot of the topics that would come around for the local publication; I knew the hot points that would get the public riled up and get the most interaction. With national news, it’s way more fast-paced and there’s just a lot going on, so you have to be aware of everything, from politics to sports to the news cycle. There’s a lot more to focus on then just the city of Syracuse.
The Root plays a big part in the spreading of black culture. How does it feel to be a part of that?
I think The Root has a cool niche for providing the black perspective on news and a specific voice that resonates with readers. I know there are other websites that try to provide a black perspective, whether it’s a black writer or freelancer, but coming from an all-black team where we workshop ideas and discuss the topics that are going on in the news, is like a family feel.
The Root has a distinct voice, so how has your experience been channeling that in your work?
When I first got here, it was a culture shock, coming from a local newspaper. I had to loosen up a little bit. But it didn’t take long because that’s how I normally talk in real life and I usually code switch, which is just a natural thing for most black people when they go into the workplace. It was cool to turn that off and be myself, even around co-workers. I just love that I can be myself and that I have the freedom to be innovative, be aggressive, and try new things with the language. My editor promotes and encourages that.
People tend to label social media as a feminine trade—Wired even did a whole piece on it—and I was wondering, as a black man in this field, how do you feel about that and have there been any particular obstacles you’ve come across?Not really. Our social media team is pretty mixed; there are about four guys and four girls, so I didn’t really notice that there were mostly women in this field. Now looking back, my former managers and bosses have all been women, but I’ve never really considered that to be a thing. Maybe woman have just bossed up and decided to make this field their own and make some money off of it, which is dope and I would advise more men to do it.
In terms of engagement, what do you think the future holds for social media?There’s so much noise now and it’s kind of reaching a breaking point, where everyone is doing it and brands are trying to be like real people and real people are trying to be like brands. Everything is getting confusing. There needs to be something to shake things up. I think it’s coming soon—I don’t know what it is, but I think things are getting a little stagnant in the social media game.
I also think social media managers should try to develop more skills outside of just social media, whether it’s video or graphic design. I think it always helps to have different skills just in case there is a pivot. Always have something to fall back on and make yourself needed within the company.
What advice do you have to offer those who are looking to get into social media or journalism?
Try to make your own brand. Become known, whether it’s through your own blog, photography, or Instagram. Just be consistent in your own work, because sometimes companies look at your personal accounts to measure how well you can contribute to their company. That’s good and bad, I would say, because if you don’t feel like tweeting sometimes, you shouldn’t have to—your personal Twitter profile shouldn’t have to be your resume—but in some cases, it is. So that’s just a decision you have to make for yourself. But I would say if this field is something you’re passionate about, tweet and Instagram all the time. That will give companies some awareness of how you’ll work there and that you understand the game.
How do you maintain your work life and then also have a nice balance between that and your personal life?
It can be tough since we have a small team for The Root. I’m the main social media editor and then we have a weekend editor, but if news breaks at 11 p.m., I have to hop on quickly and tweet something out or send it out on Facebook. So it can be challenging, but we’re always on our phones anyways so it’s not too taxing—I don’t have to lug around my laptop, I can just send a quick tweet through my phone. I think this field in particular allows for a bit more flexibility than other fields, which is great. You may be on the clock for longer hours, but it’s not like you have to go into the office to do something.
Amari D. Pollard is the Social Media Editor for The Week. She has written pieces for Parents, Popsugar, Elite Daily and Inside Lacrosse. She’s a news junkie obsessed with her collection of glasses, vintage shopping, and brunching. Check out her work at amaridawn.com and follow her slightly above average life on Instagram and Twitter.