A passionate Afro-Latina first-generation American with Costa Rican and Trinidadian roots who has lived on four continents, Doni Aldine is the perfect person to launch a magazine aimed at cross-culture populations – people who live outside their passport countries, have frequent transnational or global moves while growing up or straddle race and ethnicity.
It’s a small wonder, then, that seven years after she created digital publication Culturs, which celebrates hidden diversities across the globe, it has become a multi-platform juggernaut read by 1.26 million in over 200 countries – and now has a print version and TV channel. It’s a success story that’s only set to continue in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and BLM protests.
“What’s happened the last year around the globe has opened people’s minds to a lot of things they were closed to before,” says Aldine. “The message I always send out is about empathy and thinking about the other person and where they are coming from, rather than making assumptions. And I think we are doing that more and more and people are really opening their horizons.
“People are seeing populations they have never seen before – the mixed race population, the global nomad population, third culture kids [those raised in a culture other than their parents’ or the culture of their country of nationality], military B.R.A.Ts, expats. Society is more aware of those things and so they are more aware of us. That means the Culturs brand will continue to grow.”
Always keep learning, always keep striving, never stop.Doni Aldine
Finding a home
What Aldine has managed to achieve with Culturs is more than just establish a media brand. Using the three pillars of media, products and experiences, she has given those who are culturally fluid and have hidden diversities a real sense of belonging. By reading Culturs online or in print, or watching its TV channel, those who are racially or culturally blended can tap into lifestyle articles and research done from their unique perspective.
Features include a look at the rise of “digital nomads” who cross borders and only need a stable internet connection to work; how rapper M.I.A’s past as a refugee fuels her present; and how pop star Shakira has gained fans through her cultural fluidity.
While many media groups have been forced to cut back on their staff during the pandemic, Culturs is actually expanding, crisscrossing the globe to put a diverse workforce in place.
“We are about to bring on a New Zealand native and someone in Japan,” says Aldine. “We have brought in an African editor, someone in the Caribbean and someone in South America. During the pandemic we started speaking on different outlets like (invitation-only social media app) Clubhouse. That really expanded our reach with people we met there and we now have writers in around 25 countries.”
To connect with people through video, Culturs has struck up a partnership with creator-centric platform XOTV, with Aldine curating a Culturs Global Multicultural TV channel that features compelling guests like Holocaust survivor Barbara Steinmetz, who works with the same refugee organisation that helped save her and her family.
The company has also moved into e-commerce, selling sustainable self-care products and planners through its website. With each brand extension, Aldine has stuck to the same motto: “Always keep learning, always keep striving, never stop.”
“Any time you want to expand you basically just have to learn the area that you want to go to,” she says. “You can’t feel daunted – don’t let it push you back because you are not knowledgeable. Just gain the knowledge how to get into that industry. People think education is an end point. but I think it’s a journey. I think you should always learn.”
The benefit of experience
Aldine brings a wealth of valuable experience to the Culturs brand thanks to a winding and impressive career path that includes work with companies like Hallmark, Johnson and Johnson, Pepsi Cola, the Denver Post, NBC Denver’s 9 news and Colorado State University, where she is still part of the Journalism Department and teaches a Media and Global Cultural Identity course.
Aldine decided to start Culturs magazine when, while doing research on third culture kids, she discovered that 328 million people live outside their passport country. “That changed my life,” she says. “I wanted to do something for people who grew up like that and may not have known what it meant.”
She launched Culturs as a digital magazine after putting careful thought into the name. Note the absence of the ‘e’ in Culturs.
“The missing ‘e’ stands for the hidden diversity of our population,” Aldine explains. “When people look at me and hear my accent they think I’m African American but that very much puts them on the wrong trajectory. What they expect me to be like, and what I am really like, are two different things.
“There are a lot of people that have backgrounds that we don’t understand – we take a look at them and make an assumption of who they are and how we will interact, and that is what diversity is all about.”
The power of print
After launching Culturs as a digital magazine, Aldine added a print version in 2018, something she feels has taken the brand to the next level.
“We went digital first because it’s a requirement these days, but when we added print our stature just kind of blew up,” she says. “It’s like, because print is tangible, it makes you legit.
“It’s just wonderful to hold the print publication. We call our print our ‘luxury spa experience’. It engages you and encourages you to sit down and just absorb it – it’s very transformative. Our digital editions are read in 208 countries that’s a huge expanse and we got to all those countries because we’re in print.”
And the future of print looks bright as well, predicts Aldine. “Print is not going away. At university when I teach a class, Gen Alpha and Gen Z actually embrace paper. They expect to do everything on digital but they embrace paper. I think it is because we have too much information coming at us. Paper is just a more luxurious, a more grounded experience that engages more senses.”
While print will continue to play a crucial role for many publishers, Aldine stresses the importance of embracing multi-media and events.
“In multi-media you have all of it. You have the digital, you have television, you have print – and events are an important part of that mix as well,” she says. “Through experiences, combined with media and products, we create a real belonging for our community at Culturs.
“Events are probably going to be hybrid going forward and that’s going to be interesting. Events pivoted to virtual because of Covid and experienced record numbers but there is something missing – the people and networking. The future is multimedia and an important part of that will be experiences.”
For media companies the size of Culturs it’s important to take calculated risks, says Aldine.
“Being on the frontline when the media industry is changing so much is exciting, but also scary because your guesses have to be on point,” she says. “We’re not a Meredith or a Hearst so we have to use our funds wisely and make calculated guesses that pay off.”
When I catch up with Aldine via Zoom she is on a breakneck work trip around Colombia – something that brings up the issue of burnout. Having worked tirelessly to build a media brand over the last few years, Aldine has learnt to make time to relax. It’s a balanced approach she is keen to pass on to her entire workforce.
“It’s really important for the people at the top of a company to show that it’s not all about work,” she points out. “You can’t stay energetic if you push yourself too far. It took me two years to get some members of my staff to understand that this is real. I block out times of my days for lunch or block out times when you can’t schedule any meetings with me so I take a breather.
“I still have staff members asking me whether I can move things around and not have lunch. My reply is that I’m doing this for them. If I squeeze in a meeting I’m going to be grumpy and then it will be a perpetual cycle. So it’s a mission for my staff to stay grounded and hopefully I can set a good example.”