Hayti is the first Black-owned mobile app to feature over 2,000 Black podcasters on Android and iOS. (Image: Tim Mossholder/Unsplash)
Like millions of people around the world, tech entrepreneur Cary Wheelous suddenly found himself with a lot of free time during the COVID-19 pandemic. That's when he heard the news that the owner of The Carolina Times — the only Black-operated and owned newspaper in Durham, North Carolina — had passed away and the paper was shutting down.
“I thought, ‘Here we go, another Black newspaper is going out of business,’” Wheelous told TriplePundit. “And I thought, ‘Why does this keep happening to the legacy Black papers that have served our communities for many, many years? What’s going on with them?’”
Wheelous examined news aggregation apps like Apple News, Google News and Flipboard to see what content from Black publishers he could find. He didn’t find much, despite the fact that Black audiences are the largest consumers of mass media in the United States.
“I couldn’t count more than 30, and therein lies the problem that I found,” Wheelous said. “Black legacy publishers are not getting distribution across major mainstream apps that we use every day. I said to myself, ‘I can do something about this.’”
In 2020, Wheelous started developing Hayti (pronounced HAY’-tie) a mobile app that aggregates content specifically from Black publishers. He named the app after a historic African American community in Durham of the same name where The Carolina Times was founded in the 1920s.
“Hayti was a very prominent Black Wall Street. In fact, it was probably just as big, if not bigger, than Tulsa,” Wheelous said, referring to the city’s Greenwood District, one of the most prominent concentrations of Black-owned businesses in the U.S. during the early 20th century that was destroyed in the Tulsa Race Massacre in 1921.
With a majority of Black audiences already using social media apps to keep up with the news cycle, a news aggregation app from credible Black publishers enables them to connect with culturally relevant, fact-checked information and push back on the spread of misinformation, Wheelous said.
“The app is a news aggregation app, just like any other app that you use on your mobile phone today. The only distinction is we aggregate traffic, or aggregate content, specifically from Black content creators,” Wheelous said. “We have the same features. You can save articles. You can share articles. We have everything broken out by news, business, sports, politics. You name it, it’s in the app.”
In just over three years, Hayti became the largest mobile app to feature more than 200 Black publishers on Android and iOS, and the first Black-owned mobile app to feature more than 2,000 Black podcasters on both operating systems, too.
“We’ve been able to successfully increase traffic and also increase revenue for not only publishers, but also podcasters who were never able to get the listeners on other platforms,” Wheelous said. “Now they’re getting some of those listeners. The ultimate goal is to drive traffic, but ultimately to boost revenue for these Black content creators to keep them in business.”
The decision to expand the app’s reach into podcasts was in direct response to the needs of its target demographic. Sixty-two percent of Black podcast listeners said they listen to podcasts “at least in part for exposure to hosts that look and sound like they do,” according to a report from the podcast agency JAR Audio. Because of the app’s success in attracting Black podcasters, Hayti is now the official app of the Black Podcasters Association, Wheelous said.
The app promotes podcasters by recognizing a podcast of the week. “But in addition to that, that story actually gets pushed out to our mobile users," Wheelous said. "We’re working hand-in-hand with the Association to conduct webinars and handle promotion to make sure that we can get their stories out via both organizations.”
The Hayti app generates revenue from advertising that enables it to be available for free to users and publishers. The long-term vision for Hayti is to bring in retailers, too, Wheelous said.
“You will be able to come to the app to not only get news or access to podcasts, but you will also be able to support and purchase products from retailers,” Wheelous said. “We want to be a digital Black Wall Street mobile app that will enable users to support our community via the smartphones that they use on a daily basis.”