About Talia Whyte

Posts by Talia Whyte:

Breaking News, Fallen Heroes & New Business: My Year In Review


Breaking News

I first decided to become a journalist when I was a kid.  I just loved breaking news.  Whenever there was a big story happening, my eyes and ears would be glued to the television or radio.  I would ferociously devour every articles about that story in newspapers and magazines.  Whether it was the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal or the 9/11 terror attacks, I became a news addict.

But something changed this year.  2014 was just full of bad news, starting with the MH370 disappearance.  How does a plane just disappear into thin air?  It really hit home with me because I once flew Malaysia Airlines to Kuala Lumpur years ago on business and know of at least one person who has actually flown on that flight to Beijing within the last year.  At first I was addicted to that “breaking news,” for the first month, although there hadn’t been any real news about MH370 since the day it disappeared.  But after that month it became so clear that the plane may never be found and it just made me sad to watch the story play out.

And then after that, it just became one depressing story after another.  Another Malaysia Airlines plane is shot down over Ukraine, airstrikes in Gaza, school shootings, Ebola, Boko Haram, the CIA torture report and the ongoing war on black males.

This year we lost some really great people like Maya Angelou, Ruby Dee, Amiri Baraka, Nadine Gordimer, Pete Seeger, Tom Menino, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and most sadly Robin Williams.  One of my heroes Stuart Hall also passed away this year.  He was one of the reasons I minored in post colonial studies in college and his communications theory even influenced my ideas around branding and marketing for my business.
However, when I heard about the beheading of Jim Foley by some “aspiring rapper” in ISIS, I had to just stop looking at the TV because I literally felt sick to my stomach that something like that could happen to a fellow journalist.

Now I just try to meditate to take my mind away from the horrors happening on this planet, even if it is just for a few minutes.

Fallen Heroes

I grew up watching the Cosby Show literally.  I remember when I was a kid, I was only allowed to watch TV one night during the school week and that was on Thursday nights when the show was on in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  My parents were big supporters of Bill Cosby’s family values philosophy.  Sometimes I would wonder what it would be like to be Rudy or Vanessa and have Dr. Huxtable as my dad.  I would still watch reruns of the show well into adulthood because the show is the most enjoyable, family oriented thing to watch on TV these days, compared to the sea of garbage reality TV shows.

But this all changed in a matter of days when I saw video of Hannibal Buress’ now infamous rant.  And then came all of the women.  All of them had the same story of being drugged and raped.  So many women.  How did I not know about this when a woman sued him in 2005?  Maybe I wasn’t paying attention back then or maybe I was in denial that he would do such a thing.  As more women come forward, I say to myself “Who is this man?”  This is not something the morally upstanding Dr. Huxtable would do.  Or would he?  Dr. Huxtable was also a gynaecologist, which makes the whole rape thing even more creepy.

I really want the charges to be false, but if they are true, I hope the women get justice and can find closure.  But, if they are true, my childhood is ruined.

New Business

In business news, it’s been a good year for me.  This new journalism startup I have been working on for the last two years is starting to pick up steam with the possibility of going live in mid to late 2015.  The project will be focused on economic development in the Caribbean.  I also had the opportunity to work on two documentaries and instructed three media development courses for journalists from Senegal, Lebanon and Cambodia.

I got my certification in web design this year after months of learning and mastering four programming languages.  I created a test prototype Women Talking which gave me the opportunity to combine my journalism and programming skills.  I was invited to speak about interaction design at Columbia University and teach a web design class for a group of journalists from developing countries at UN Week.  I am also developing a brand new media development project that I will be announcing next year.

I also presented an instructional web design prototype at ATE PI, a conference for educators and policymakers looking for new ways to improve STEM education in community colleges nationwide.  It was an honor to be invited and play a role in how STEM is taught to future leaders in the field.

I launched a creative design studio within my company called Global Wire Design over the summer.  I hired three new employees for it.  Global Wire Associates as a whole is doing very well.  We have seen our highest profits ever this year.

As I go into my tenth year of running this business, I am grateful for my success and all the great people who helped me get to this point.  There were a lot of “haters” at the beginning who didn’t think I could do this, but I have proved them wrong.  When you put your mind to it, you can be successful at anything.  I am here and ready for whatever new challenge comes in the new year!

Girl Scouts, Digital Cookie & the Value of In Person Interaction

Girl Scouts using the new Digital Cookie platform. Image credit: Girl Scouts

The Girl Scouts have come a long way since the days I was selling cookies.  The original “girl power” group recently announced that it will now allows its girls to sell their famous cookies online.  The Digital Cookie platform allow Girl Scouts to create their own customized websites or mobile apps.

It was only a matter of time the organization would have to engage with e-commerce, since that is the way most people make purchases today.  Online marketing and sales are great skills to have, especially for young entrepreneurs.  I know looking back at my time with the Girl Scouts, I wished I could have utilized Facebook, created a website or run a Constant Contact email campaign.

However, the best and most important part of running a small business is the face to face interaction with a customer.  Talking to clients in person forces you to learn how to make a sales pitch.  When I sold cookies, I had to make the case for why a potential customer should purchase from me.

It’s about making eye contact, really listening to the customer and understanding what they want and what they can get from you.  Face to face interaction also means learning how to deal with rejection when a sale doesn’t go through and starting over.  These are all skill sets that you not only need to be an entrepreneur, but also the kind of people skills needed to survive in life.

While technology is a great thing, I also feel like today’s youth don’t have these people skills anymore.  Digital natives only talk in their own language via social media.  Even my own kids in my family seem to only want to talk to me via text message!

The other side of this issue are the safety concerns among some parents and privacy experts.  According to Digital Cookie, girls can choose to created a webpage on the platform with their picture and their first name.  The girls have the option to write a short letter on the page about their cookie campaign.  There is a concern that the girls could be exposed to online predators.  But most likely if the girls are already online using Twitter or Instagram, their online safety is already at risk.

I see this as a perfect opportunity for both the Girl Scouts and parents.  For one thing, the organization should maintain that the girls sell a minimum percentage of cookies through in person interaction, while learning e-commerce techniques through online sales.  Also, the Digital Cookie program should provide training for both the girls and their parents on how to stay safe online.

I think this new initiative is a great way for the organization to open a new chapter in its long history by being relevant to the needs of today’s young girls.

ACT-UP, Gran Fury & The Legacy of HIV/AIDS Activist Branding

silence equals death

With all the hysteria in the United States around Ebola, it is easy to forget that 25 years ago there was similar fear for another then little known disease called AIDS.  I remember when in the late 1980s there was also a call to actually quarantine those believed to most likely contact HIV, or the “4H Club” – hemophiliacs, heroin addicts, Haitians and homosexuals.  This movement was led by perennial presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche, who thought AIDS was a plot by the “Soviet War Machine.”

Responses from government and public leaders to the AIDS crisis was dismal.  President Reagan did not even say the word AIDS until 1987, when he proposed cuts to AIDS treatment funding and rolling back mandatory testing legislation.  The Christian Right used AIDS to demonize the LGBT community, and William Buckley wrote in a New York Times piece that AIDS victims should be tattooed on their upper arms and behinds like a Scarlet Letter to prevent further spread of the disease.

Fed up with the hysteria and misinformation, a group of activists got together in the spring of 1987 to form ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power).  Over the next five years they would engage in direct actions that would force the Reagan administration, the media and Big Pharma to pay attention.

This was thanks due in large part to the group’s “marketing department” Gran Fury, a volunteer collective of artists and graphic designers who were charged with creating some of ACT-UP’s most cutting edge graphics, posters, films, billboards, performance art and other brand messaging.

ACT-UP is best known for the above graphic “Silence = Death,” which simply states the urgency of the crisis.  During the Holocaust, gay prisoners were forced to wear pink triangles on their clothing in concentration camps before they were sent to their death.  Gran Fury used the symbol to remind people that not speaking out about this injustice was like death.

This soon became the logo for ACT-UP, which made it’s first official appearance at the New York City LGBT Pride parade in 1987 on t-shirts and banners.  The media quickly noticed the “silence”, as the whole parade looked like a perfectly choreographed staging of the pink triangle.  Although at the time Gran Fury didn’t consciously think this was their brand strategy, they later realized the value of having a uniformed message for the media and spectators.

Legendary artist Keith Haring also used the same messaging of “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” in his piece.

Act up poster by Keith Haring

Gran Fury launched the 1989 New York City bus ad campaign “Kissing Doesn’t Kill,” which looked similar to Benetton United Colors advertising. The ad showed three couples of diverse races and sexualities to highlight that AIDS doesn’t spread through casual touching.  It was created to intentionally confuse viewers. Like Benetton, ACT-UP wanted to also promote tolerance among all races, colors and sexual orientations.

kissing doesn't kill poster

At the time, images of interracial and same sex couples kissing in such a public display was a highly charged issue.  When the ad began appearing on buses in Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Chicago, Gran Fury agreed to remove “Corporate Greed, Government Inaction and Public Indifference Make AIDS a Political Issue” in order to reach larger audiences, but this still infuriated some people.  The Illinois State Senate actually prohibited the ad on Chicago Transit Authority vehicles because it feared children would be exposed to the gay lifestyle.

By the early 1990s the tactics of ACT-UP forced the government to enact AIDS legislation, pharmaceutical firms to provide better, more accessible treatment for AIDS victims, and the media to talk about the crisis on its front pages.  Gran Fury will be remembered for creating hard-hitting graphics that agitated for change.  Both social activists, health workers and even marketing executives alike can take lessons from Grand Fury that can still be used today.

Here are some more graphics from the ACT-UP era:

Act Up posters Act Up posters Act Up Posters Act Up Posters

Native Americans, Alcoholism & The Healing of Thanksgiving

The Mourning Road to ThankgivingFor most Americans, Thanksgiving is a time to gather with family and friends over a plate of turkey and a football game.  However, for Native Americans, this holiday brings up some bad memories that have become a scar on American history.

I recently attended a lecture by Native American writer Larry “Spotted Crow” Mann who discussed his latest book, The Mourning Road To Thanksgiving.  Mann, a member of the Nipmuc tribe of Massachusetts, is an activist and contributor to Indian Country News.  He also works with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health on sobriety issues among Native Americans.

In his lecture, he talked about how the real first Thanksgiving went down, contrary to common belief, and the lingering effects on Native Americans today.

“My existence is because of colonial resistance,” he said.

Mann states that the first Thanksgiving was really an English harvest festival.  Native Americans were not invited to this feast; they actually just showed up to see what was going on.  They stayed, but didn’t sit around a table; they sat on the ground.  Mann says that the meal was a “segregated event,” as the English didn’t want any interaction with Native Americans.  The English were careful to keep their women and children away from Native Americans because of their so-called “voodoo and heathen” activities.

“The English came here for freedom of religion, but weren’t interested in extending that belief to Native Americans,” Mann said.

Native Americans lost all their freedom eventually, as they were actually the first slaves.  Nonetheless, as many of them couldn’t handle the stress of enslavement, Native Americans began to die in large numbers from suicide and smallpox.

Alcohol was also introduced to Native Americans by the English in exchange for their land, which has had a devastating effect on this group ever since.  There is an ongoing argument about whether or not Native Americans are predisposed to alcoholism; however, statistics show they are disproportionately affected by it today.

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 12 percent of Native Americans are heavy drinkers, which is higher than any other ethnic group.  Alcoholism attributes to 65 percent of car accidents on reservations and 48 percent of vehicular deaths among Native Americans.  Alcohol also plays a role in the higher rate of suicides, murders and other forms of violence among the population.  Native American women are twice as likely to experience domestic abuse and rape than other ethnic groups in the United States.  Alcohol also causes higher rates of liver disease and cirrhosis, which is one of the leading causes of death for the population.

Mann had a hard childhood and grew up in a non-Native school.  He was an alcoholic in his twenties, but stopped drinking cold turkey when he learned about how the disease has devastated his tribe.

Mann has many thoughts about how he feels about the English now, but I don’t want to spoil it, so you have to read his book!  But he did say that time can be healing and we should use this time of thanksgiving to educate future generations to not repeat the mistakes of past generations.

“If you don’t know your past, how do we heal the future,” Mann said.