Changing the Culture One Voice at a Time

After living in New York City and on the West Coast for over a decade, Syracuse native Daniela Molta moved back to her hometown, hoping “to get involved in the community and bring awareness to all the great things it has to offer.”

daniela molta
Daniela Molta (Courtney Glen White)

Molta, a digital marketing expert with a research interest in digital media ethics, joined the Newhouse School in Fall 2020 as an assistant professor of advertising.

Last year, disturbed by the lack of diversity in media ownership uncovered by her research (just 6.2% of media companies in the United States are owned by women, and just .79% by people of color, she says), she directed a pilot project, Black Media Mogul Maker, to foster digital media ownership among Black entrepreneurs in Syracuse.

The project—part of a larger initiative to identify and fortify a new class of media entrepreneurs and owners of entertainment, marketing, news and other media businesses—was a collaboration among Molta; Sean Branagan, director of the Newhouse School’s Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship; and Bishop Ronald Dewberry, president and CEO of Center of Hope International (COHI), a local nonprofit.

“The three of us believe that what we see in media shapes our culture,” Molta says. “Our thinking was, more diverse media ownership means more representative stories.”

Branagan, whose center had piloted a similar project with community colleges and HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities), was working on a proposal for a national project to bring media entrepreneurship to underserved communities when Regina Luttrell, the school’s associate dean for research and creative activity, connected him with Molta.

When that project wasn’t funded, Molta encouraged Branagan to turn his sights to Syracuse—a city with one of the highest poverty rates in the country.

The result was a free 10-week training program for Syracuse-based Black founders and creators  that was co-sponsored by the Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship and COHI and funded by the Central New York Community Foundation, through a $25,000 grant Dewberry received from its Black Equity and Excellence Fund.

The program focused on mentorship, resource sharing and community building. It was formulated in May, launched in July and ran Sept. 15–Nov. 15 at New Life Temple of Praise, which Dewberry founded and where he is senior pastor.

For the 13 budding moguls who took part, the program offered an opportunity to hone their digital and entrepreneurial skills and network with local and national business leaders. Some already had established businesses; others were just beginning their journey. “We had quite a range—but they were all awesome,” Molta says. “They were so engaged. And they had brilliant media ideas.”

Zebedayo Masongo (second from right) was the winner of the Black Media Mogul Maker pitch competition.

Program highlights included a panel discussion on “Opportunities and Challenges for People of Color in Starting a Media Venture,” a Mentorship Day and a Resource Day. Among the guest speakers were Rebekah Boruki, founder of Row House Publishing and its children’s imprint, Wheat Penny Press, and Melinda Emerson, aka SmallBizLady and author of “Fix Your Business.”

The program is also making an impact in the creation and growth of participants’ businesses, in the increased visibility of those businesses and in internship opportunities that may arise for Newhouse students.

After further assessing the pilot project, Molta and Branagan hope to scale Media Mogul Maker to other cities and underserved communities.

“Depending on the available funding, we might  do a women’s-focused entrepreneurship training program, or one focused on the Latinx community or all traditionally underrepresented groups,” Molta says.

“Ultimately our goal is to diversify who owns media companies, because we know that the stories we see in media shape culture and our everyday lives.”

Molta earned a bachelor’s degree at Le Moyne College and a master’s in integrated marketing at New York University before working in digital media at two New York City advertising agencies. In 2013 she moved to the West Coast, where she served as a digital marketing manager and senior marketing manager for Netflix; senior marketing manager for GoPro; and communications planning manager for Facebook.

An entrepreneur in her own right, she is principal consultant for CaliYork Consulting, where she provides advertising, digital marketing, measurement planning and social media marketing services to small and medium-sized businesses with a community focus. Through CaliYork, she has consulted for such organizations as the Community Folk Art Center, Black Cub Productions (an advertising services production company started by two of Branagan’s former students) and Center of  Hope International. 

The program culminated in a dinner and pitch competition, judged by five media and business professionals. Three winners were selected and received a total of $6,000 toward their ventures. Top prize ($3,000) went to College of Law student Zebedayo Masongo, founder of The Grnwood, a platform for Black excellence named for the Tulsa, Oklahoma, neighborhood once known as “Black Wall Street.”

At the end of the evening, all participants received certificates and congratulations.

“Everyone completed the program, which we were really excited about,” Molta says. “They stayed committed and super, super involved.”

Participants have stayed in touch with each other since, through a WhatsApp group and monthly get-togethers. And they continue to seek advice and support from Molta, Branagan and Dewberry. “They now have a community they can lean on and a network of support—that’s one of the greatest takeaways from this program,” Molta says.

Inaugural participants in the Black Media Mogul Maker program—known as “founders”—were: 

Shanay Bradley
Light to the Darkness Photography

Essence Britt
Cream the Collective

Mwelwa Bwalya
The Royal Queena 

Tyrone Dixon
The Quality of Love

Shayla Ashley Graham

Latisia Hall-Cannon

Lekia Hill
Powerful Voices 

Zebedayo Masongo
The Grnwood

Brian Moore
Conversations With B. Moore

Ali Rahman
Excel Media & Solutions

Reggie Seigler
Joined Artists, Musicians & Singers Inc.