Journalism 101: What New Writers Can Learn From Sadia B.



So, I lost my phone the other day. (So long Blackberry! Hello i-phone!)

I know I lost my phone near the Urban Outfitters in Montclair, New Jersey. (I was on my way to buy another headband. It’s a long story. Right Lil Miss Brown?)

Anyway. So I lost my phone somewhere near Urban Outfitters. I came home and Googled the store to get the number.

I ended up on a site called Yelp, a pseudo social networking site where users post reviews on restaurants, clothing stores and anything and everything else in their area.

And that’s how I discovered Sadia B.

Sadia B. Stolen from her Yelp page. Sorry Sadia. I only mean the very best!

This is Sadia B. Stolen from her Yelp page. Sorry Sadia. I only mean the very best!

Sadia wrote a review of Urban Outfitters. And after I scribbled the number to the store, I scanned Sadia’s review.

Out of habit, I read people’s words. Not just their official words in glossy magazines and newsprint. I like to read unedited words from people who probably think no one is really reading—or closely paying attention to how they string their sentences together.

Sometimes I scan for good writing in the book reviews. I love reading letters to the editor. They are rarely edited. So if it’s done well, I know its the work of a gifted writer.

I love reading comments on other blogs. While 95% of the commenters on the gossip blogs I read make me mourn the state of Blacks in America, there are a few shining stars. Cracks me up when a commenter makes a tight, succinct point that’s better written than the original post.

So anyway. Back to Sadia B.

Here’s what she wrote about Urban Outfitters.

As someone who values construction, quality, and craftsmanship, I am necessarily irritated by places like Urban Outfitters (IKEA, H&M, Forever 21). And as someone who hasn’t yet made her first million, I necessarily slip inside places like Urban Outfitters (IKEA, H&M, Forever 21).

Jersey’s only outpost of the copyright infringing, sweatshop fueling, vertigo-inducing store is just like the others, only it’s staffed by blase hipsters with Jersey accents (a little oxymoronic, if you ask me) and populated by Range Rover pushing parents who are genuinely as excited about the merchandise as their teenaged daughters are.

I may look askance at the flimsy slips being marketed as dresses, the pilly sweaters, and the criminally constructed hats, but where else in town could I stock up on Dr. Dre pint glasses, Super Mario Brothers sound effects keychains, and Freud action figures (now that Copabananas has closed)?

Let’s go back to the lede. It’s snappy, kicky and funny. I instantly get what kind of chick she is. In the entire review, her writing is tight. She gives me lots of detail about the store–the merchandise, the clientele, the layout, the history of the store. All of it is wound tight and concise in less than 150 words.

This is notable. It is very difficult to write tight. Easier to give me 1000 words on every nook and cranny of the store than to get your point across in 144 words.

Sadia B. is nice with hers.

Now, I don’t know Sadia B. from a hole in the wall. A quick Google search gave me some basics. She’s done a bit of modeling. She’s of West African and Filipino decent and is in her mid-20s. She’s a snazzy dresser and gives good face on her model profile.

copyright Lynette Astaire. Photo snatched from Sadia's model profile.

copyright Lynette Astaire. Photo snatched from Sadia's online model profile.

I’ve written down Sadia B.’s name and the contact info I’ve been able to Google and placed it in my Future Writers file.

Now for all I know, she could be a best selling novelist who has been writing all her life.

But if she’s new to the craft and likes to write, I’d find an assignment for her.

The point: Don’t wait for an assignment if you’re just starting out. Give yourself an assignment.

Join Yelp, set up a profile. Review every restaurant and clothing store you patronize. Don’t just throw something together. Write it well. Act like someone assigned it to you and you’re getting paid for it.

Review books you’ve read on Amazon. Write short, snappy reviews.

Of course, you should be blogging too. But it’s hard to bring traffic in at first. (Hard to bring in traffic, period.)

So go to the traffic. Comment on blogs. But don’t just toss off your opinion. Give some thought to what you want to say. Back it up with facts. Don’t go too hard. But fit the tone of your blog.

(It should come as no surprise that I approached five of my guest bloggers based on the strength of their comments on my own blog.)

When a new writer introduces themselves to me, one of the first things I do is Google their name. I usually see college clips, (always a good thing), perhaps a random mention here and there. If I see healthy amount of good writing in  other avenues–reviews, comments–I take notice.

Lesson of the day: You can create your own portfolio with a set of bootleg clips thanks to the Internets.

You can get “published” every single day.

So get to it!

(Oh, and if anyone knows Sadia B. find out if she’s trying to get on in the writing game. I’ve got a guest blog assignement for her…)

Dear Readers:

Do you give yourself your own assignments? What pops up if an editor Googles you? Do you have a decent online profile? Even though it’s not an official portfolio, it helps. And to my fellow writers and editors, would you give a small assignment to a new writer based on the strength of various reviews you read?  I know I would.

As always, I’d love to hear from you!

12 Responses to “Journalism 101: What New Writers Can Learn From Sadia B.”

  1. janie_crawford Says:

    I’ve been getting steady checks for writing for years and I still love your journo advice posts. Always learn something new and it’s beautiful seeing my Jersey sistren doing the thing. Thank you!

  2. Daree Allen Says:

    I often think about these points when I am commenting on a discussion or someone’s blog. I’m not afraid to talk to famous people and not-so-famous people and provide feedback. I realize that people want substance, not just “That was great!”, and that they value feedback on their work. I try to say something meaningful about how their article or advice helped me, in addition to any follow-up questions I may have (and this post is no exception). You never know how you touch someone or help them, and vice versa.

    I have reviews on Amazon (including Keep the Faith), and I know that people read them and like them. I like to be personable but still use my own voice. I am a technical writer so I have no excuse for grammatical errors that occasionally occur with the best of us.

    I have also found quality, substantive comments to be a great way to network and build relationships with people I otherwise never would have met. Yesterday is a perfect example, when I commented on someone’s old LinkedIn post (from 2008). She immediately called me, talked to me for an hour, and offered me an interview for a teleseminar to be broadcast on her site! Not to mention all the internet tools and sites she referred me to. I have also been “friended” and “followed” on various sites on the strength of my views, candor, and positive articles.

    Now that I’ve said all that, Aliya (brevity is not my strong suit except on sites like Twitter where it’s forced), my question to you is regarding your lesson of the day: If you send clips to an agent/editor/publisher based on your blog or other “bootleg” clips, are they typically disregarded as unworthy, as opposed to say, a published piece in a magazine?

  3. yvonne allen Says:

    Very good advice Mrs.King….Sadie is a beast…it would take me 2pgs to describe what she does in a couple of sentences…and even though its only about a store…i was smiling as I was reading it…LOL

  4. la negrota Says:

    Two things:

    1. I LOVE Yelp. My best friend put me on and it’s a godsend. “Real people” reviews are the best.

    2. Sadia is my kinda girl! I love everything she said in the opening. I hate Forever 21 and anything like it! I’ll gladly reuse my old, reliable garments before I step foot in there. Bleh!

    Sorry if I offend anyone who shops there. I just really hate it. :-/

  5. Alisha Says:

    Aliya, you always know how to make a post interesting and fun. To answer your questions, yes, I have given myself assignments. I reached out to Claire of the Fashion Bomb about a year or two ago and asked to be an “intern.” I’m not into fashion journalism, but I gave it a go.

    I profiled some boutiques here in Memphis for a column called Hometown Haute. The spin was that everyone obsessed with fashion does not live in major metro areas like NYC, LA and Atlanta. I went in to several boutiques, asked for their managers, gave them a short bio and a link to TFB. I took pictures and wrote the story like I was going to get a check in the mail. It was fun! She actually published it and I use it in my clip portfolio. While most editors look at blogging and online mags as second rate, TFB is such a great and credible site, it helps me out a lot.

    If an editor googled me, they’d find all kinds of writing including my blog, a music blog called Neosoulville, Clutch Magazine and even your Pitch Me! post. I know because I google myself weekly just to see what’s out there.

    I have a tip and a question. Tip: Go to and find every profile, social networking site and page you’re mentioned on. It’s been priceless for me in my journalism stalking. J/K

    Question: Is there a way to make certain google search results go to the top of the page?

  6. Alisha Says:

    I typed out this long response and it’s gone! Oh well. Yeah, I made my own assignment on Claire’s The Fashion Bomb. I’m not a fashion writer, but I gave it a go and wrote a story she named “Hometown Haute”. I’m pleased with what editors may find if they google me. I’d like to be able to rearrance my search results so the better writing clips can pop up first. I guess it doesn’t matter because a real editor would probably look at everything. Check yourselves out on It includes all search results, social networking sites, etc. that you’ve appeared on. I don’t even know how I found it. It’s a little treasure.

    Great post, as usual!

  7. Miss Dimples Says:

    There are many times we need to hear something in various ways, and you’ve done that for me! :-) Write, write, write – no matter how small or insignificant you think the piece is – JUST WRITE!

  8. cherryl Says:

    she’s cute! and i love what she wrote too. i have only used yelp a couple of times but i’m going to start using it more frequently. if you have not found her yet i will find her in a few minutes. i would love to connect with her too cuz of the afropino thing – i am too.

  9. amandawriter Says:

    Oh. My. God.

    The power of the web and social media. I follow you Aliya on Twitter, which is how I came across your blog. Was looking at your fabulous fashion feature about the photo editor in DC (will comment in a bit) when I saw what writers could learn from “Sadia B.”

    Could it be? MY Sadia B.?

    And of course it was. As someone who *does* know Sadia Bruce from a hole in the wall, let me vouch for her skills. I have known her ten years; we got our start together as English majors at Howard University, and she has been composing amazing prose since then. She is a woman of many talents; jazz singer, designer, seamstress, writer, bikram yogi, surfer, I could go on. She’s amazing!

    Follow her on Twitter: She’s @stylenoir and you can check out more of her stylish prose on her blog Style Noir (

  10. Aliya S. King Says:

    @amandawriter Yay! I love the Internets! I will follow her! And drop her a line and forward this post and tell her I said she’s dopeness!

  11. Stephen Chukumba Says:

    Aliya, I was just trying to link with you to do the new music profile, and I ended up reading a few of your posts. I like this one in particular because you give some really good advice for cats trying to get their blog on (or their write or online profile on for that matter).

    Anywho, link up with a brutha when you’ve got a minute and let’s build. I’d like to bring you up to speed on tings and see where we can collabo in the future!


    Stephen Chukumba

  12. Aliya S. King Says:

    @daree: If you send clips to an agent/editor/publisher based on your blog or other “bootleg” clips, are they typically disregarded as unworthy, as opposed to say, a published piece in a magazine?

    Yes, they are disregarded by agents/editors/publishers.

    When I say get an online portfolio together, I mean only for the benefit of folks like me. Someone who might help you get on in the game. This WOULD NOT be an official set of clips. But if you were just starting out and had NOTHING published and you emailed me for help. I’d read your reviews and be able to gauge your skills. And then I might tell you who to pitch at a magazine. Or just continue to give you advice in general. Does that make sense?

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