Zeroing in on the Black Tech Sector
By Liz Leyden
Sherrell Dorsey, International Trade and Marketing for the Fashion Industries ’09, founded ThePLUG, a newsletter and digital platform covering black-owned tech companies
As Sherrell Dorsey built a marketing career in the technology world, she paid close attention to industry news. But the more she read, the more she wrestled with one question: Where were people of color in the narrative?
“I’m reading about all these white guy geniuses and I’m wondering, ‘How do I identify and tell stories about black geniuses and innovators and inventors and investors?’” In 2016, Dorsey found her answer. She began waking up at 5 am to search the internet for diverse, under-the-radar stories for a daily newsletter she dubbed ThePLUG. The project was a low-budget labor of love demonstrating that “black innovation is of the norm.” Three years later, thousands of readers start their day with ThePLUG, which has won grants from the Facebook Journalism Project and The Information Accelerator, a technology website whose accelerator program supports efforts to build subscription-based news organizations. Along with the newsletter, there is now an expanded digital platform featuring original reporting from Dorsey and a team of freelance writers, and a data library tracking everything from black-owned co-working spaces to patents acquired by historically black colleges and universities. Dorsey, who also received a master’s in data journalism from Columbia University in 2018, casts an intentionally wide net, seeking stories that both analyze diversity challenges and spotlight successes across the tech sector; past subjects include black engineers working to address water safety issues in urban communities and former Tennessee Titan–turned–impact investor Derrick Morgan. The idea, Dorsey said, is not only to illuminate but to expand the conversation. “We want to change the way the world—particularly the world of academia, financial markets, and public policy professionals—are all thinking about what’s happening across the black innovation economy,” she says. “We aspire to be the black Wall Street Journal.”