LaToya Drake: “It matters which communities are being covered and how”

Be intentional in seeking out and amplifying voices that aren’t regularly heard, and don’t look like you. As a part of our series about “the 5 steps we can take to win back trust in journalism” I had the distinct pleasure of interviewingLaToya Drake. LaToya Drake is the Head of Media Representation at Google, and leads […]

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Be intentional in seeking out and amplifying voices that aren’t regularly heard, and don’t look like you.

As a part of our series about “the 5 steps we can take to win back trust in journalism” I had the distinct pleasure of interviewingLaToya Drake.

LaToya Drake is the Head of Media Representation at Google, and leads the company’s efforts to create a more inclusive and equitable media ecosystem. She works hand-in-hand with product teams, and builds industry shifting partnerships that reach and elevate intersectional and often underrepresented voices. Prior to this role she was Global Outreach Lead and a founding member of the Google News Initiative (GNI). In the role she oversaw events and brand experiences, and managed programs and partnerships designed to build the future of media. In 2019 she was a finalist for AdColor’s Innovator of the Year award for her work in diversity in tech and media. Prior to Google, LaToya spent time at Waggener Edstrom as an Account Manager for Microsoft, overseeing national broadcast, consumer product launches and marketing integrations for Windows, Windows Phone and Surface. And earlier was a communications strategist and on-air spokesperson at AOL, managing brands including the Huffington Post, MapQuest and

Thank you so much for joining us. Before we dive in, our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit better. Can you share with us the “backstory” about how you got started in your career?

I actually intended to be a career student and get all the degrees, simply because I love school! Fittingly, my career in technology began while I was in grad school at Georgetown. I applied for an internship at AOL, worked in various roles at the company first in corporate communications and as a writer for the then site Black Voices. The rest is history.

Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?

I am an insatiable bookworm, and have gone so far as reading the dictionary and encyclopedias (remember those?) for fun. Most recently I’ve been obsessed with Caste, by Isabelle Wilkerson. It has really transformed how I see and understand the events around me.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

When I was starting my career I struggled to find a job. I had a master’s degree, internships under my belt, I interviewed with every media, digital, communications company you could imagine, and simply could not land a job. And then I read the book Who Moved My Cheese. It completely changed my outlook and allowed me to see that things will not stay the same or happen how I think they will happen. And I came to understand that even when things aren’t happening at the speed at which I think they should happen, it doesn’t mean that I am a failure.

Can you share the most humorous mistake that you made when you first started? Can you share the lesson or take away you learned from it?

I’m going to rebrand this as a “learning”! After several months of trying to land a job after graduate school, I took the first thing that came my way. I was desperate. A day after accepting the job, I got an offer for the job that I actually wanted after hearing nothing from the company. I was so embarrassed that I had to go back and decline an offer I’d already accepted. This is in days of phone calls, so I had my sister call the company and rescind the acceptance. We sound remarkably alike on the phone, so I had her pretend to be me because I didn’t have the nerve. The lesson I learned was to be less desperate, and more patient.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Now, more than ever, it’s important that we continue to support media covering and telling the stories of underrepresented audiences. I’m very proud of the projects unfolding through the Google News Initiative’s second Innovation Challenge, which funded 33 projects that look at diversity, equity and inclusion through many different lenses. In my current role I’m continuing to work hand-in-hand with our product teams, and build partnerships that reach and elevate intersectional and often underrepresented voices who may not be fully represented across Google surfaces and the broader media landscape.

What advice would you give to your colleagues in the industry, to thrive and not “burnout”?

In order to protect my peace I have learned the necessity of setting boundaries, and with that comes the importance often saying no. I am at peace with the fact that I may not be everything to everybody. I am ok with not being available on demand, and I protect myself by pouring into myself.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the main parts of our interview. According to this Gallup poll 45% of Americans trust the mass media. As an insider, are there 5 things that editors and newsrooms can do to increase the levels of trust? Can you give some examples?

  1. Be intentional in seeking out and amplifying voices that aren’t regularly heard, and don’t look like you.
  2. Embrace the role news plays in people’s lives and how to enable the citizens of our societies to have the information they need to be informed citizens.
  3. Gone are the days when news organizations — or tech companies — can “go it alone.” Collaboration is key to building a strong future for journalism.
  4. Related to number three, it would be irresponsible for me to take the posture of giving tips to newsrooms without equally receiving them. I’d like newsrooms to know there is someone like me on the inside listening.
  5. It matters which communities are being covered and how. The more you represent the community in your journalism, the more you will win back trust.

As you know, since 2016, the term ‘fake news” has entered common usage. Do you think this new awareness has made a change in the day-to-day process of how journalists craft stories? Can you give some examples?

This isn’t something I am dealing with in my day to day work but as an everyday consumer and lover of news, I am saddened that it’s a term that has been used to debase the valuable work that professional journalists do day in and day out — working hard to hold truth to power and providing information that educates, entertains and enlightens.

When it comes to journalism more generally, I would like to see more stories that represent all of us and that reflect back to us the communities that we are part of.

Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Strive for excellence, not perfection
  2. It’s ok to not know everything, just know where to find the answers
  3. Sometimes you have be the first one there, and the last one to turn the lights off
  4. You might not write your first book by the time you’re 25, be ok with that
  5. Not all jobs have a perfect job description, sometimes you have to make yours up

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’m already part of a growing movement to create access and opportunity for communities of color. I’m obsessed with seeing this happen not just in news and information, but across all facets of systemic oppression. For example, take a look at what Google for Startups is doing with their Black Founders Fund. Access has to be created with technology, education, business and innovation. That’s a movement, not a moment.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m on Twitter but also check out Google News Initiative’s blog to stay up to date on what I’m working on.

Thank you so much for your time you spent on this. We greatly appreciate it, and wish you continued success!

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