BP: As a female leader, what are some of the challenges you’ve faced? What are some of the advantages you think you have as being one of the few women in this industry that are running a publication?
PR: It’s been pretty challenging in the sense that sometimes it’s very difficult for people to take you seriously. My voice for example, on the phone, sounds younger than I even am and sometimes people will just dismiss me. “Oh, why is some little girl calling me? Why do I need to call her back? I don’t need to take her seriously.” Sometimes I combat that by going through e-mail first and establishing a relationship so that they can’t ignore me.
I also face the challenge – and it isn’t as much anymore because we’ve been around for a while – but in the beginning, I would always get people who would say “Why don’t you feature eye candy in your magazine?” Similar to XXL or a lot of other magazines, Complex and what not. You know, they go for the very scantily clad women, or the voluptuous women, and they use that as eye candy in their magazine. People would always ask me, “Why doesn’t Urbanology have eye candy? Why don’t you put it in there?” And then they’d just be like, “Oh because you’re a woman, you don’t want it in there,” but really it’s because I actually genuinely feel we can feature women and they can be beautiful and sexy. They don’t need to necessarily be dressed like that. We don’t need to focus on them as eye candy. We can focus on the talent just like you would with a man, who looked good, who had lots of talents.
As for some of the advantages of being one of the few, I don’t know, I never really thought about the advantages. I don’t know if it’s an advantage, but I do think that it’s great to have it because it possibly could encourage other young women to pursue leadership opportunities and it is possible, and you could do it, even though it is going to be a little more challenging.
BP: I’ve been discussing the Wu-Tang concert that happened late last year with people that I’ve been interviewing. I know that Samantha, your Associate Editor, was there at the show. There was a discussion prompted by it about people within Toronto who genuinely want to promote hip hop culture and people who are pushing their own agenda. As a publication that genuinely promotes the hip hop culture, how do you think that you manage to do that without letting your agenda, or Urbanology’s agenda, or the writers’ agenda get in the way of that?
PR: I really work for my journalistic integrity and a journalism-ethic type of standpoint. Because my background is in journalism, I kind of always approached what we do with Urbanology from what I learned in school and from what I learned on my own from working in other journalism platforms, like at The Toronto Star or the Scarborough Mirror or wherever I worked. I soaked in their journalism experience and then tried to apply it to Urbanology, versus some people who are in the Toronto industry are coming at it more from a fan perspective or from their own collective perspective. If they are part of an entertainment group or like a hip hop group or something like that, they sometimes come at it from that perspective.
I’ve been a fan of hip hop my whole life and just been a fan of the music and the culture but I don’t come at the journalism side of it from that perspective. I come at it from a journalistic perspective. For example, I always say, if there’s a song, video or album that people are talking about, that the demographic is talking about but I don’t personally like it, of course we’re going to cover it. This is not ‘Priya Magazine.’ This is not about me. This is about what our readers want to read about, what they’re interested in reading about, and there is so much music out there. Of course I don’t like everything that Urbanology covers personally, but we cover it because there is a journalistic value to it. I think you really have to take yourself out of it and I do think that sometimes people have difficulties with that in Toronto and in other places probably too. Therefore it gets blurred.
I also think that sometimes in this city the lines get blurred because people take on all these different roles. They’re journalists, but they’re also pushing a certain camp. They take on all these roles and sometimes the roles get blurred. You have to try really hard to establish clear lines and if you are a publication, establish the fact that yes, we have to do what the readers want us to do and what they are interested in, not what we are interested in.
BP: How do you maintain the balance between what the readers want and being a tastemaker? You obviously have to the filter content and can’t just publish everything. How do you maintain the balance between what the readers want and what you think could be the next thing based off of your expertise?
PR: One of the things that I think we’re really blessed with having with Urbanology is a diverse team that represents in age, represents in different interests, and represents in knowledge based off the readership. Then they have their expertise in studying the culture, the music and all of that. I really rely on all of those diverse voices being at the table so that we can be that tastemaker. Urbanology had our finger on the pulse of people like Drake and Melanie Fiona and Boi-1da long before they became the superstars and smash celebrities that they are now. It’s because we had people who were tapped into the very underground, under the radar of what was happening. We’ll dig up that talent. It’s because we have people at the table who represent all these different [interests]. We have people who are really into R&B, or people who are really into trap, or 90s-era music. I’m hoping that at the table we have a little bit of every readership represented and therefore we can be tastemaker and feed what our readership wants.
*Interview by Sandra Stanisa; words by Mehek Seyid