Shade, Ballers, Tea, & Beef: The New Era of Black News



The Shaderoom and Balleralert are two popular news outlets who use social media as their main source of publication including blog style websites, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. My focus was on how these sites specifically target black audiences through their use of language, slang, and material. I hypothesized that the site who used more African American Vernacular English and slang would be more successful in attracting black audiences because it would be seen as more relatable and exclusive. I used Instagram as a platform for my research because it made it easier to monitor the traffic of each site through follows, likes, comments, and hashtags.

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I chose The Shade Room and Baller Alert because they are both well known gossip sites amongst black and brown Instagram users and they report predominantly the same material but in different ways.

The Shade Room which was created by a recent Nigerian-American college graduate in March 2014 has a current following of about 4.5 million. Baller Alert which is an older concept was created by blogger who refers to herself as Robinski in 2013 and has a current following of about 1.8 million followers.

With both of these sites posting almost the exact same material and targeting the same audience, why is one twice as successful?

I believe that The Shade Room’s (TSR) success is largely due to it’s use of AAVE in its posts and its connections to its followers affectionately known as “roommates” in TSR. Roommates feel as if the news they are receiving is custom made for their consumption. Each follower must already have an understanding of AAVE and black culture in order to fully understand each post, which gives a sense of exclusivity. The shade room also relies heavily on slang in it’s posts. Throwing shade and reading are two examples of the type of slang being used; non-mainstream but common amongst black youth and young adults. The informal tone throughout also puts the followers on equal footing with the bloggers and encourages more dialogue on posts

Baller Alert on the other hand uses straight English in the majority of its posts with the exception of its advice posts which feature small pieces of forced slang and AAVE. While followers are getting the exact information that they would from TSR, the method of delivery is much more impersonal. Posts from Baller Alert could easily be understood by someone with no prior knowledge of AAVE or slang meaning that they rely more heavily on material rather than language to attract its target audiences.


imageimageLet’s test this out! Look for correlation between use of AAVE and the number of likes.

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Looks like we thought right!

I concluded that my original hypothesis was correct based on the large disparities in page traffic. The shade room’s success lies largely in their ability to connect with their followers. Baller Alert’s traditional reporting styles have had difficulties attracting the same numbers as TSR despite the fact that they share the same types of material. Both of these pages have massive followings amongst black millennials with some relying solely on these pages for their news consumption. By understanding what attracts followers to these type of pages we can better create news sites and pages that cater to the need of this generation.

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How this connects to what we’ve learned:
“Ramsey: Now, a lot of the interest around Black Twitter is focused on the hashtags and trending topics it creates. You’ve written that those tagged conversations can require a certain level of black cultural competency. What do you mean by that?
Clark: In order to understand the conversation, you have to have what one researcher, [James C.] Scott, has called “a hidden transcript.” You have to have the cultural background to understand the conversation as it’s playing out. There’s use of metaphor, there’s use of culturally resonant language. I told someone last night, “We don’t believe you, you need more people.” And it’s directly from the Jay Z song, but if you don’t know Jay Z and if you don’t know that that’s a rap lyric, you’re going to miss it. And the person I was talking to did. He didn’t get it at all.

So those hashtags in so many ways are indicators of a certain degree of cultural competency. To understand some of them, and I stress “some,” you have to understand African-American vernacular English. To understand others, you need to have historical perspective on the issue. And so a lot of that rises out of a common experience of living as a black person, and specifically to living as a black person in the United States.”
– The Atlantic (The Truth About Black Twitter
Complex, influential, and far more meaningful than the sum of its social justice-driven hashtags)

This quote from an interview of Meridith Clark done by Donovan X. Ramsey, Clark expounds on the use AAVE and background understanding in Black Twitter. The assumption that all readers have that Black Cultural competency as she describes it is what I argue draws in black audiences more to sites such as TSR. The idea that some people just won’t get it because it was not made for them gives black readers a sense of exclusivity along with the idea of being a “roommate”. TSR has created a relationship with its followers that Baller Alert has yet to figure out how to do. The combination of slang and AAVE use is beneficial to sites seeking to attract young black audiences and should be further examined in effort to cater to the information needs of that demographic.

image Thank you for the great semester y’all!!!

– Imani Kamel Parker

A New Era of Black Film: 1990- present

Coming off of the blaxploitation film era of the 70’s  and entering the new wave of black film in the 80’s and 90’s many black actors and directors found themselves limited in the types of roles and films offered. Large conglomerates such as ABC-Disney, Time Warner-AOL, Warner Brothers, etc. began to purchase smaller independent studios which resulted in the smaller unconventional films which would usually be picked up by these independent studios losing to conventional films that showcased Blacks as the “buddy”, “buppie”, or stereotypical “ghetto” character. Films such as New Jack City(1991), Boyz N The Hood(1991), and Do The Right Thing(1989) brought in major profits despite their relatively low production budgets. These films ability to attract both white and black audiences gained the attention of major film production studios, who in turn released a string of films following the traditional formulas for black film: the funny sidekick, the single black mother, the hopeless gang member, the star athlete, the independent black woman who can’t find a man, lazy black man living of his mother, etc.

The 80’s and 90’s brought a new wave of black films ranging from comedy to the new genre “hood film”







The “buddy” character is most commonly seen in film as a black man paired with a white man. This combination was seen as early as 1958 with Sidney Potier and Tony Current in the The Defiant Ones and in current film in movies such as Get Hard  (2015) with Will Ferrell & Kevin Hart. “The interracial buddy film formula was a hit, and Hollywood found more pairings of black men and white men, usually with the white stars in superior roles playing the “straight man” while the black role provided the jokes”(Squires).

imageThe “buppie” character told the story of middle to upperclass blacks, and were usually set in the working world rather than the hood or ghetto. Movies such as Waiting to Exhale, Soul Food, and The Best Man which showcased black actors in roles that could be more widely related to. Despite the commercial success of films such as these, “hood films” still continued to be made and were associated with the black community as a whole.


The “ghetto” character was seen in movies such as Boyz N The Hood, Friday, Poetic Justice, Baby Boy, Juice, New Jack City, Set it Off, The Player’s Club etc. and featured black actors in traditional “ghetto” roles. Black women were usually cast as single mothers, crackheads, prostitutes, and bad mothers all while being categorized as either a “bitch” or a “hoe”.

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Black men on the other hand were usually given three options: the gang member, the athlete, or the reluctant scholar. These three roles are put on direct display in John Singleton’s Boyz N The Hood with Ricky as the star football player, Tre as the scholar, and Doughboy as a member of the LA Crips. These films often included rappers as way to capitalize on the Hip Hop movement of the time, and mc’s such as Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Ice T, and Queen Latifah were able to make nearly seamless transitions from behind the mic to behind the screen. A major theme in these “hood films” is entrapment. The idea that the only way out of the hood is through the entertainment industry be it sports or music. These films also highlight police brutality in its rawest forms, often including covert references to the beating of unarmed Rodney King in Los Angeles, Ca and the riots that followed. These films while problematic in the sense that they were the most prevalent role available to black actors at the time; however they were needed in order to publicize what was going on in impoverished black communities and add to the popularity of black film.

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  • Imani Parker