Welcome to a series on Proudly dedicated to sharing the stories from a variety of influential LGBTQ+ content creators who come from all different backgrounds within the media. This series will enable us to showcase their achievements and experiences within the industry and give the advice to inspire future content creators from the LGBTQ+ community.
Proudly wants to shine a light on the people who have made strides in a very competitive industry. Hopefully, this series is the start of something special for Proudly where we have been lucky enough to interview inspiring people such as Dan Morrissey, Matt Horwood, Joe Wilmot, A Gay and A NonGay podcast hosts James Barr and Dan Hudson , Jon Holmes, Amazin LêThi and Jamie Wareham who have shared their incredible stories with us already.
Today’s article is dedicated to our latest LGBTQ+ influencer. Benjamin Cohen (he/him) is the founder and Chief Executive of PinkNews, the number one LGBTQ+ digital publisher globally. Benjamin had a keen interest in web-developing at a young age and became known as a teenage dot.com millionaire.
Alongside Benjamin’s many talents in web-developing, in 2006 he joined Channel 4 News as a business and technology correspondent at the age of 23. This made Benjamin the youngest correspondent to have been appointed in the programme’s history. Benjamin also writes regularly for the London Evening Standard.
All of Benjamin’s full answers were recorded on Zoom and available to watch by clicking play on each video accompanied by a brief summary of each answer in the text below.
Introducing Benjamin Cohen
Starting out as a web-developer in 1998 at the age of 16 Benjamin founded the website JewishNet.co.uk, an early social networking community that later became SoJewish.com. Alongside this Benjamin founded CyberBritain.com. These online ventured lead to Benjamin becoming a tennage millionaire.
Whilst Benjamin was renowned for his dot.com enterprises he had a high profile dispute with Apple Computer in 2005 over the domain “iTunes.co.uk”.
In May 2012 Benjamin co-founded ‘Out4Marriage’ (alongside Mike Buonaiuto, the director of the Coalition for Equal Marriage viral video) which is a multi-platform’ political campaign that aims to raise awareness about the issue of equal marriage and to provide a voice for the people who support it by spreading the message that most people in Britain and indeed the Western world support gay marriage.
This campaign was founded sadly during a time that it was still illegal for gay people to marry inside the U.K. (became legal on 13th March 2014). This law stopped Benjamin from marrying his boyfriend at the time and now husband Dr Anthony James. A well-respected activist and Chair of the trainee GPs at the Royal College of General Practitioners. Anthony was also named in the list of the most powerful GPs in the UK by Pulse magazine.
Although in 2006 Benjamin founded a new LGBTQ+ news online platform that has now became the number one LGBTQ+ digital publisher globally with PinkNews. With the mission of ‘to inform, inspire change and empower people to be themselves.’
PinkNews is a news platform that covers all the biggest LGBTQ+ issues and stories to help spread awareness and improve LGBTQ+ representation within the media. PinkNews has helped so many people and inspire businesses to use their platform to make a difference including Proudly.
PinkNews Standout Stories
Proudly asked Benjamin about what he considers a standout story for PinkNews which saw their rise to become the biggest LGBTQ+ digital publisher in the world.
‘The thing that put us on the map was Ashley Cole in 2006 when The News Of The World published a story about a bisexual footballer’
Sharing a pixilated photograph of a footballer with a DJ, the PinkNews team found the unedited picture from social media site MySpace. This finding allowed PinkNews to share the news that this is the footballer who the News Of The World implied was bisexual. When found out, Ashley Cole sued The News Of The World and PinkNews because they did not libel with him. Although this story went national and PinkNews began to become more recognised.
Another standout story in PinkNews history happened in the same year which was the interview PinkNews conducted with Francis Maude who was the chair of the Conservative party who apolgised for the Tory’s track record of addressing LGBTQ+ issues.
Wanting to be a separate media brand from all other LGBTQ+ news organisations, PinkNews wanted to talk to all political parties and this interview helped share even bigger stories that wouldn’t have been accessible before. Appearing at the Q+A with all the party leaders for the 2010 General Election when Gordon Brown publicly announced he was against gay marriage whereas competitors Nick Clegg and David Cameron supported the right of same-sex marriage. Something Nick Clegg and David Cameron both backed when elected which allowed Benjamin to marry his husband Dr Anthony James.
More recently PinkNews won Editorial Team of the Year and Publisher of the year at the Digiday Media European Awards because of their election coverage of the 2019 General Election based of their interviews with Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn. Something Benjamin doesn’t believe would be possible without the original relationship they had created during the 2010 General Election and the 2006 Jeremy Maude interview.
LGBTQ+ Media Representation
Proudly asked Benjamin about LGBTQ+ representation as a whole and to see if it has been improved since beginning PinkNews fourteen years ago.
‘My current thesis is majority of LGBTQ+ people don’t regulary access PinkNews or any other brand on daily basis so I question how well are we serving the community and we are thinking quite castly about that when launching our new products and brands’Benjamin Cohen on his thesis about improving LGBTQ+ representation within the media.
Focusing on content specifically for social media, PinkNews has a range of brands that purely represent positive uplifting news stories within the LGBTQ+ community such as ‘The Queer Catchup‘ that can be found on Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. Whereas the ‘ThisIsLife’ brand focuses on personal life stories that focus on triumphs over adversities primarily for Snapchat but available on other social media platforms.
These brands are very important for PinkNews to branch out due to the significance of audience consumption within social media. Benjamin stated that audience figures show that often more people watch and consume these social media brands more than people reading PinkNews stories on their websites.
Benjamin strongly believes in diversification due to the fact of majority of people who fit into the LGBTQ+ umbrella aren’t probably accessing LGBTQ+ content everyday and that people need to recognise that there is more to the LGBTQ+ community than their sexuality.
‘I think this is something we have been understanding and recognising as we have built a much larger audience is that we are not representing everybody and maybe we might not need to.’Benjamin Cohen on LGBTQ+ representation within PinkNews.
Importance of PinkNews for the LGBTQ+ community
When PinkNews began LGBTQ+ representation was not like it is today in the modern world of media. Benjamin recalls that in 2005 the term LGBT didn’t even exist.
Once started as an experiment due to Benjamin not being allowed to publish stories based on LGBTQ+ issues, by starting up PinkNews it gave him the freedom to do so. Taking a particular interest in online LGBTQ+ media Benjamin thought this area was an unrepresented market and news organisations at the time such as Pink Paper were all reporting on a monthly basis so by the time the story was published the news was already outdated.
Within the first day of starting Benjamin was surprised by the heavy amount of traffic that came to PinkNews. Focusing on becoming a more impartial news source that wasn’t flooded with explicit ads which were common for LGBTQ+ companies within the UK at the time, PinkNews wanted to be different.
‘I wanted PinkNews to be for everyone and that is important as the community identity has grown so have we and want to serve everyone and contiunes to be as a product for the whole LGBT community that includes straight allies.’– Benjamin Cohen on the importance of LGBTQ+ inclusion within the media
Right from the beginning, PinkNews always wanted to be accessible to straight people, this was another rare stance from an LGBTQ+ media company. Not just by abolishing the sexual advertisements but by making the language and tone being used in articles not assuming preknowledge of the stories and not being as inward-looking as other media organisations at the time.
PinkNews has always been a digital native and that was something that has put them apart from their competitors. Organisations such as Attitude, Gay Times, Pink Paper and DIVA were not digitally savvy and instead were apart of the print advertising and distribution world that made them struggle to reach a wider audience which is something PinkNews never had to fear being on Google News.
Over time we have seen the rise of social media with websites such as Facebook Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, PinkNews has always been the first to appear on each platform. This is how PinkNews still remains the number one LGBTQ+ digital publisher globally.
Benjamin’s advice for LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs
When starting a new venture or business you are going to need a lot of perseverance for the days something doesn’t go your way. Not everybody is going to love your concepts or support your ideas but you must never giver up on your passion. If you do not believe in your ideas then why should anybody else?
Entrepreneurs must know their strengths and have a range of skills too. Although at the same time you need to spot your weaknesses and limits too. If you focus more on what you can do that will then enable you to then bring in people who are experts in these areas. By dissolving these responsibilities and letting go can be very difficult but will be the only way your company can grow.
Benjamin pointed out that he cannot do graphic design and the green screen picture behind his video was created by Daniel who is PinkNews’s creative lead. By allowing other members of the team to take over in these sort of projects gives them a bigger sense of responsibility and ownership which can be crucial to how your business can grow.
A business can’t be built by one person but they must lay down the foundations for it to grow.
‘Be Versatile, be able to do everything but also know when to say i’m not going to do everything and hand over responsibility to somebody else’– Benjamin Cohen speaking about the key traits of what makes a great entrepreneur