Black In Media Career Profile: Sylvia Obell, the Entertainment Journalist We Can’t Get Enough Of
"Operate from abundance and understand that it's okay to divert from the plan because that's often where the magic happens."
Sylvia Obell is known for having hella opinions and being that friend in everyone's head on social media.
"You most likely recognize her as the girl who said exactly what you were thinking on Twitter the other day," is what Obell's website bio reads. And it's beyond accurate. She’s exactly who the culture loves to hear from, whether it's through her social media accounts, co-hosting the Okay, Now Listen podcast, or when she lends her pen to major outlets discussing all things entertainment.
As a graduate of North Carolina A&T State University, the pride for her alma mater and all things Black culture run deep. Obell got her start at a local newspaper in Kentucky and has since gone on to interview some of our favorites in the entertainment game, write numerous viral culture pieces, and offer commentary on a variety of trending pop culture moments through her work at outlets such as Essence, BuzzFeed, Bustle, and BET.
We're so hype to get to hear her share the details of her career journey and the advice she has for creatives interested in entertainment and culture content during our final Black In Media Career Workshop of the year on December 17.
And to help you get to know Obell a little bit more before our chat, read our profile of her, where she shares the lessons she’s learned in her career, what drew her to entertainment journalism, and her favorite media icon.
CAREER Q&A WITH SYLVIA
What is your hometown?
I’m from Ewing, New Jersey.
Where did you attend college?
I attended North Carolina A&T State University for undergrad and the Columbia University School of Journalism for graduate school.
What was your first media job?
My first media job was for Essence — if you don't count the local newspaper jobs I worked during college.
Where do you get your news?
I get it from The New York Times, BuzzFeed News, Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, and verified sources on my Twitter timeline.
What books would you recommend to anyone trying to break into the industry?
A newer one I enjoyed was More Than Enough by Elaine Welteroth.
What is one important lesson you learned early in your career?
Make yourself vital to the success of whatever newsroom you're in so they can't get rid of you without it impacting multiple people's jobs.
Throughout your career, what has been your favorite story to cover and what did you learn from working on it?
My Lizzo piece for Essence was my favorite because it's the one where I got the traditional "profile interview at a fancy New York City restaurant" experience but it also taught me to trust the process. I came with so many questions and had my laptop all set up and ready as we began. But the more we talked — and the more wine we ordered — the conversation turned into organic girl talk between two Black women. And I learned that's how I wanted my profiles to feel moving forward.
What’s one piece of career advice you will never forget?
When I first started getting offers to start doing more on-camera work, I was afraid to walk away from writing full-time. My friend Danyel Smith said to me, “Writing isn't going anywhere, you can be more than one thing."
It was a pretty simple piece of advice. But it's so easy to wrap your identity around one dream or stay stuck in what people may tell you your journalism career is supposed to look like. But we need to not be afraid to take chances. Operate from abundance and understand that it's ok to divert from the plan because that's often where the magic happens. And if it doesn’t, none of your abilities are going anywhere. You can always circle back if the risks don't work out. Don't rush your career and enjoy the journey.
What made you want to use your creative gifts to focus specifically on entertainment and culture journalism?
Pop culture is Black culture. Nothing moves without us, and yet we were so underrepresented when it came to chronicling and critiquing a sector that we created. I wanted to do my part to change that and to make sure our art gets the coverage it deserves for someone who understands the roots of the society it was created in.
Who is one of your entertainment or TV icons and why?
Issa Rae because she built a media empire being herself. And no matter how big it gets, she still feels like one of us. Her content benefits from that level of relatability. I aspire to be a critical darling who still keeps one ear to the streets.
READ ABOUT SYLVIA
These 3 Black Women Are Aiming to Change the Face of Talk Shows
In this interview, Obell chats about the show Hella Opinions, which was produced by Black women in its entirety with no need to translate cultural norms.
How Hella Opinions Is Redefining Black Media on Twitter
Obell speaks with XoNecole about her love for pop culture, reading Black magazines, and seeing the influx of Black creators creating their own lanes in the industry.
LISTEN TO SYLVIA
#HerStory Q&A with Sylvia Obell
Obell walks through the launch of Hella Opinions, being a journalist of color, and why she always creates for Black women first during her #HerStory interview with Twitter.
Quarantine Radio with Larry Wilmore, Sylvia Obell and KevOnStage
During this interview with Quarantine Radio, Obell talks about the podcast Okay, Now Listen and the process of launching the show during the nationwide stay-at-home orders.
The Hardest Thing for a Creative Is That First Chance
In this video in collaboration with The Creative Collective and Cassus, Obell shares how difficult it is to land that first big opportunity and encourages the next generation of creatives of color to not lose hope.
CONNECT WITH SYLVIA
A PARTING THOUGHT FROM SYLVIA
“I create for Black women first, everybody else second. I feel like that's such a rare thing where usually we’re used to being last. So I love to put us first and I love that it kind of gives a sisterhood that I wouldn't have if I wasn't a writer.”
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The Black In Media newsletter is written by Treye Green, a journalist, content strategist, and the founder of Black In Media. If you have any questions about the Black In Media newsletter or just want to connect, you can reach Treye at firstname.lastname@example.org.