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How 2 Millennial Entrepreneurs Use Their Media Platform to Destigmatize Our Fragile Political Climate

Meet Nicole Behnam and Mariella Rudi, two millennial entrepreneurs, who started 'Beyond The Interview' to help blaze a new frontier in media and journalism.

Beyond The Interview founders, Mariella Rudi (L) and Nicole Behnam (R) / Photo Credit: Beyond The Interview

In an age where it seems like we as a society cannot have any thought-provoking conversations or debates without seriously upsetting or offending another party, it is extremely troubling that “outrage culture” has taken over.

For those thinking we need to tread carefully in our fragile society, think again. Engaging in discourse about hot, trending social topics that are often uncomfortable or slightly disturbing, is part of what diversifies our culture and keeps us free-flowing and innovative.

That’s where Beyond The Interview (BTI) founders, Nicole Behnam and Mariella Rudi come in. Their up-and-coming media platform, BTI, combines social media marketing, experimental meetups, and traditional journalism techniques to unearth powerful stories that will transform, enlighten, and provoke the ways in which we think about the world around us.

Get Social, Not Political

Since the birth of social media, the merging of content—including photos and text—has never been more powerful or stimulating. Unfortunately, over the past two years, we have witnessed the online communities become less social, and more political.

According to BTI’s millennial founders—it’s time to get social, not political.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, [we] want to hear your story,” Behnam told me.

“People need solutions to their problems; they need laughter, and they need to heal. On social media, everything looks perfect, but in reality, it’s not. People are desperately trying to live vicariously through their online-created identities and personas. While it can be fun scrolling and looking at user-generated memes, often, social media sparks and/or provokes jealousy, depression, and FOMO (fear of missing out). The only way to change things is to encourage people to be vulnerable and to share their personal stories and perspectives through their own words.”

“Taking the time to share perspectives with one another is extremely important at this time and in this space, because it shows people that behind the social media masks, we are all just human beings trying to figure things out one day at a time, no matter how amazing we may seem online,” Rudi added.

“If you take the time to understand someone, there are so many other places in life where we can bond over a common experience and say #metoo. That phrase was powerful, because it removed the shame and secrecy of a subject that just wasn’t talked about.”

Destigmatizing Journalism

In the world of journalism, the trending topic is often times “scandal.” If you look at TMZ and other websites like Daily Mail, the content you see isn’t quality—it’s reports (sometimes inaccurate) on the intimate and private details of another individual’s life. But, in reality, what do we learn from it? Nothing. The best case scenario after reading one of those articles, is that you now can gossip and communicate what is a useless train of thought that provides no beneficial impact to anyone around.

BTI’s goal, Behnam told me, “is to share the lessons from people’s pain and suffering; their struggles, but most importantly, their triumphs.”

Andrew Rossow: Having said all this, what is BTI doing differently than these entertainment and pop-culture publications?

Nicole Behnam: At Beyond, we know how powerful words are. In fact, they’re so powerful, that we’re buying them all the time. You’re paying for words more than you think. You buy books and magazines. You pay for a cell phone that allows you to communicate with words, and to digest information through words. If you’re paying for music, you’re paying for song lyrics (also words). In fact, Twitter was initially built on words alone.

Also, we conduct our interviews differently. Rather than misquote or spin words, we help people craft the right words or diction they wish to express. Many times in traditional journalism, a celebrity will say something they don’t mean, and will try to retract it from the publication. And they can’t. And the publication will usually use the statement in a headline to garner strong readership.”

Behnam told me that while they are in the process of raising money, they are also working on establishing panels with experts across various fields.

“I’ve reached out to comics, mental health professionals, CEOs, self-help gurus, and doctors. Those are the people changing lives right now. But everyone’s also looking at actors and Instagram models and hip-hop/R&B artists, so we will need to utilize the power of their influence as well during this crucial time.”

Among several big names on BTI’s growing roster of experts are Gary Vaynerchuk, Amanda de Cadenet, Jeffrey Ross, Selma Blair, Andrew Schulz, Neil Strauss, Amanda Lee, Jay Luchs, Danielle Robay, Nicholas Ferroni, Gabby Epstein, and Sheila Nazarian.

“We’ve created a digital space, now we want to create a physical space to openly question and consider common anxieties and concerns the internet world has. We’re here to talk, but we’re also here to listen. We’re here to destigmatize everything that isn’t talked about or displayed as ‘breaking news’” Rudi added.

Minimizing Online Trolls and Bullies

For online trolls and bullies across the internet, BTI steers clear of the clickbait headlines that operate to praise and/or bring those individuals down.

“Every article we put out has the intention of teaching and educating readers on something they may not have known before, or at least providing them with a different perspective on a topic. It’s a beautiful thing and the feedback we have received has been unreal,” said Rudi.

But, in every area, there are those who lie in wait on the opposite end of the social media spectrum. These “trolls” have created a new political divide, causing those who once were outspoken to draw back in fear hoping they aren’t victimized by another’s incessantly offensive commentary.

“This political divide has provoked an ‘outrage culture’ that prevents people from voicing their opinions and standing behind what they believe in, simply because of the backlash that accompanies each individual perspective,” Behnam said.

Behnam and Rudi’s mission is to create an open forum, both online and in person, with their community where people can openly and transparently speak on their personal struggles and achievements. They want to provide a safe space, free of judgment.

“It’s very possible for people to get along with those who have differing opinions or experiences, but the current political and social climate makes it seem otherwise,” Rudi added.

What’s Popular Isn’t Always Right

BTI hopes to take content offline, eventually creating a community of smart, enlightened, purpose-driven youth.

“By collaborating with schools and other media outlets, this can only open up unique dialogue among kids,” Behnam explained.

“When I was in high school, superficial things were popular, and people were secretly struggling emotionally. Even now, we are so used to seeing and judging appearances. We want people to see faces with words that will inspire and provoke. Let’s make it cool to talk about social issues again. Let’s bring humanity back, because politics has divided us all. What’s popular isn’t always right. We want to make what’s right, popular.”

As of today, BTI has over 23,000 subscribers online, and has accumulated over 15,000 followers on Instagram. Having hatched last September, these millennial entrepreneurs have created a very strong network of authors, CEOs, comics, actors, and social media influencers who are very opinionated. But, how they convey the opinions has made all the difference.

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