Whites at Essence: So What's New?
Monday, August 2, 2010
Returning Aug. 6
The July 19 announcement that Essence magazine has named a white woman, Ellianna Placas, as its fashion director, continues to inspire commentary. Audrey Edwards, who was associated with Essence magazine in various capacities for 20 years, wrote this observation for Journal-isms:
By Audrey Edwards
In all the brouhaha over the hiring of a white woman to be the fashion director at Essence magazine, one fact continued to be overlooked: Essence, once known as ‚"The Magazine for Today's Black Woman," has always had whites in key positions. During the five years I worked there between 1981 and 1986, first as executive editor and then editor, there were no less than three white men running crucial departments. A white art director was at the top of the masthead, positioned side by side with Susan L. Taylor, the editor-in-chief. The managing editor, just under me on the masthead, was also white, as was the circulation director.
In those days, when the magazine was still black-owned, the only people complaining about this were the black photographers and illustrators who weren't getting work from the magazine's white art director. That's because he invariably gave the plum freelance assignments to people who most resembled him — white, male and gay.
"I understand," I used to tell the art director. "You're supposed to give some of the assignments to your friends in the business." The problem, however, and one we constantly fought about, was that most of the coveted and especially lucrative photo assignments‚ namely, cover and celebrity shoots‚ were going to his friends and others in the business who just happened to mostly be white.
Unlike a fashion director, whose role is confined to creating and executing a vision for how clothes and accessories will be showcased, a magazine's art director is the arbiter for the entire visuals of the publication. And much like a fashion director, he (or she) often chooses the photographers, the illustrators, the models, the stylists, and the hair and makeup people critical to the creation and branding of a magazine's visual image.
Just as often at a black-oriented publication, an art director's vision for this image is filtered through the prism of personal sensibilities shaped by history and circumstance, race and politics. What made the presence of a white art director at Essence problematic is that his own vision was distorted by the myth of white male superiority, that old bugaboo still undermining black aspirations, even in black-owned corporations.
The reason the white art director didn't hire black photographers and illustrators, he would actually have the nerve to say during senior staff meetings, was that there weren't many who were "qualified." The fact that he really believed this made him not only blatantly racist at a black magazine, of all places, but poorly qualified in thinking and outlook to be an art director of any stripe. He was fired.
The recent hiring of a white fashion director at Essence reflects new history and changed circumstance. For the last five of its 40-year history, the magazine has been owned by Time Warner, with issues of race and politics now refracted through the prism of a white-run behemoth. All the old bets are off.
Blacks are now sparsely sprinkled in prime positions at major Time Warner publications (read white-oriented ones). So can a black-oriented publication, owned by a white media superpower, dare to discriminate when it comes to hiring whites for top positions? Not really. Besides, it never did in the past.
But what the past has shown is that there is still a clear and ever-present danger of racial belief systems compromising management decisions. Truth be told, it shouldn't matter what race a fashion director is, even at a black woman's magazine. Women, both black and white, all wear pretty much the same clothes.
But specific particulars about such decisions as which fashion models are used to display those clothes; their skin color, size and shape; which designer's clothes get showcased; and who gets hired and paid for lucrative fashion jobs such as styling hair, doing makeup or coordinating garments, are the kind of economic, esthetic and racial issues that will continue to resonate in black fashion media.
The hiring of a white fashion director to be the arbiter of style and taste for black women, interpreting what constitutes glamour and beauty within their own culture, is a leap of diversity, to be sure. Let's hope it won't prove to be problematic.
- Harriette Cole, theRoot.com: The Essence Hire: It's Personal and Professional
- Jozen Cummings, theRoot.com: News Flash: Black Magazines Aren't Always That Black
- Mark Anthony Neal with Tony Cox, "Talk of the Nation," NPR: 'Essence' Names White Fashion Director
- Sophia Nelson, CNN: Essence magazine offers lesson on race
The Barry Bonds Family Foundation has given the National Association of Black Journalists a $20,000 seed grant to encourage and promote journalistic entrepreneurship among black journalists, NABJ announced on Friday.
The grant is to be used to fund an annual award, designated the Ray Taliaferro NABJ Entrepreneurial Spirit Award, "to provide nationwide recognition for an awardees' use, introduction or contribution to new forms of journalistic media," NABJ said. The first winner is to be announced at NABJ‚Äôs 2011 conference in Philadelphia.
Taliaferro has been in broadcasting for almost 40 years. "Ray has literally owned the Bay Area's overnight radio listening audience since 1986 when his *KGO *NEWSTALK AM 810 talk show moved to the 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. time slot. Five days a week, Ray shares his passion and opinions with his tens of thousands of devoted listeners," the organization said.
"Ray was the first black talk show host on a major market radio station in the country. He helped to found the National Association of Black Journalists in 1975, when he attended the pre-founding planning meeting in September of 1975."
Bonds wanted to name the award after Taliaferro, NABJ said, in recognition of the broadcaster's civic and public contributions to the San Francisco Bay Area.
The Bonds Foundation's mission is "to encourage, promote and fund programs designed to improve the educational achievements, standard of living and quality of life conditions for African-American youth within the Bay Area community. The foundation will place an emphasis on programs that use interactive technology-based solutions to achieve their stated goals," according to its website.
When notice of the award was posted on the NABJ e-mail list, some members said they thought the award inappropriate, given that charges against the former San Francisco Giants star are unresolved and some members cover the home run king.
Bonds is likely to stand trial in March on perjury charges in the BALCO steroids case, the San Francisco Chronicle reported last month. "Bonds is accused of lying when he told a federal grand jury in 2003 that he had never knowingly used performance-enhancing drugs. He faces 11 charges of perjury and obstruction of justice," the story said.
CNN's Soledad O'Brien, second from left, received the "Journalist of the Year" award from the National Association of Black Journalists Saturday in San Diego for her "In America" series. With her at a CNN reception are, from left, CNN correspondent Stephanie Elam; Steve Perry, CNN education contributor; and Kareen Wynter, CNN entertainment correspondent. (Credit: CNN)
Paul Delaney, accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Black Journalists on Saturday, said that despite gains, "in 2010, we find ourselves fighting for our professional lives. New media resemble old media ‚Äî of 1955. The atmosphere feels like 1965."
Delaney, retired senior editor at the New York Times and a co-founder of NABJ, continued, "Don't take my word ‚Äî look around, at the faces and colors in management and on TV and in new media. Read Kathy Times' chiding executives at ABC, CNN and NPR about their policies and recent promotions," referring to the NABJ president. "She criticized CNN as 'moving backward ‚Äî to 1955, maybe?" Delaney said in his prepared remarks.
"It is disappointing that it's even necessary to remind American media managers about integrating their staffs here in 2010. But it is.
"So NABJ, when you see journalism organizations with all-white faces, scream loudly about it. When their leaders are all white, protest. When they say they can't find qualified blacks, tell them: You lie. When they make that claim, there's something else at work there.
"Speak up. Shout. Name names. If it looks and smells like racism, say so.
"Unfortunately, NABJ has to repeat the very same tactics we did when we were founded. NABJ members and officials have to duplicate the same tactics of the past. In post-racial America. Fight on, NABJ!"
The convention attracted about 1,670 registrants, NABJ spokeswoman Dawn Angelique Roberts told Journal-isms on Monday.
Members of the National Hispanic Media Coalition and local Latino leaders secured a pledge last week from Jeff Light, editor of the San Diego Union-Tribune, that the news operation "will work with the community to form a 'Latino advisory committee' that will provide recommendations for how the paper may best serve the Hispanic community, according to coalition president and CEO Alex Nogales, Dave Maass reported Wednesday in the alternative San Diego CityBeat.
The meeting followed the latest round of reductions since the Copley family sold the operation last year to the Beverly Hills private equity firm Platinum Equity.
Those layoffs included Ruben Navarrette Jr., the most widely syndicated Hispanic columnist in the mainstream news media. An editorial writer and columnist, he told Journal-isms then that his 2005 arrival meant the editorial board's 10 members included an African American, a Latino and a woman. With his departure, "everybody left on the editorial board is a white male."
"Light acknowledged that the Union-Tribune struggles with keeping diversity in the newsroom, but said numbers are no worse now than they were prior to the layoffs," Wesley Lowery reported for the NABJ convention student project. "Light did not provide numbers.
" 'I don‚Äôt think we have a terrifically diverse newsroom here, and we (haven‚Äôt) made any progress in all of this upheaval,' he said. 'We‚Äôre still in the midst of re-staffing a number of areas, but the ethnic profile will come out pretty much unchanged.' ‚Äù
Maass wrote that Nogales told City Beat after the meeting that "we‚Äôre very positive. We like Jeff, we like Hieu [Tran Phan, Topic editor] and we expect to have a fruitful partnership with them.‚Äù
Dana Littlefield, a staff writer with the paper and vice president of NABJ‚Äôs San Diego chapter, said in the NABJ story that "the paper has recently hired several associate reporters in recent months and a few of them have been minorities. I know there are a few of the editors who still see diversity as important and are looking for journalists of color to fill those roles."
"The Union-Tribune is offering entry-level 'junior staff writer' reporting jobs in the $35K/year range," Editor & Publisher reported in June. "Those reporters 'will research and write news and straightforward short stories with low level of complexity, analysis and narrative,' according to an ad on journalismjobs.com."
Alison Bethel McKenzie, a former Washington bureau chief for the Detroit News with 25 years' experience as a reporter, editor and media trainer, was appointed on Monday to be interim director of the International Press Institute, a press freedom group of which she is deputy director.
Even in her interim role, she has become one of the few African Americans to head an international press organization, if not the first.
"Before joining IPI, she spent a year in Accra, Ghana, for the Washington, D.C.-based International Center for Journalists, as a Knight International Journalism Fellow, helping Ghanaian journalists improve their reporting skills in the run-up to the country's 2008 presidential election," the announcement said. It noted McKenzie would start her job only a month and a half before the group's World Congress and 60th-year anniversary celebrations, to be held in Vienna and Bratislava, Slovakia, in September.
In a June interview with Rachael Small of the Center for International Media Ethics, McKenzie was asked about her time in Ghana. "How did working as an American journalist and trainer in Africa affect the work you did there? How does writing about international issues affect a writer's ethical responsibilities?"
She replied, "Working as an American journalist before going overseas has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that the United States has, for the most part, nailed down the idea of journalism and what it entails ‚Äî from a freedom of speech issue to journalism training to journalism (in all its manifestations) as a career. So, when I left the United States, I had a firm understanding of media law, ethics and best practices. That really helped when training journalists in The Bahamas and in Ghana because, fundamentally, the code of ethics of journalists is universal.
"The disadvantage is that American journalists, like most media workers in very developed countries, tend to be idealistic. In our country, journalists are pretty much highly regarded and the media is seen as a major part of democracy. Also, journalists in the U.S. are paid relatively well. None of that is the case in many other countries and it takes some getting used to when you first work with the media overseas. You have to really think back to the days in the U.S. when laws were not so liberal toward journalists to get a basis for what your colleagues go through on a daily basis in other parts of the world.
"In terms of how writing about international issues affects a writer's ethical responsibilities ‚Äî it doesn't.
"Reporters, no matter what sort of issues they are writing about, should do it in an ethical and responsible manner. For example, I was watching CNN International the other day and they were reporting on the World Cup taking place in South Africa. The anchors, in the middle of the afternoon newscast, went on and on about which team they were supporting and how they hoped their team would trounce the opposing team. When the anchor cut away to the CNN reporter in Washington, D.C., she said to him: 'So, Bill (or whatever his name was) I suppose you are supporting the U.S.?', at which point, the U.S. reporter said: 'I work for CNN and we cover everyone in the world. So, you can talk to me after,' or something to that effect.
"The difference is that in the United States, we are taught that it is not ethical to air your personal view in a newscast or a news story (an editorial is something different). You have to give the appearance of impartiality."
Farai Chideya, the author and Web maven who hosted "News & Notes" on NPR, is producing three multimedia projects for public radio on race and the 2010 midterm elections, New York's WNYC, the originating station, announced.
"Race, Rage and Reconciliation ‚Äî Midterm Elections 2010" is a project of her website, Pop and Politics, and of WNYC and American Public Media. It is funded by the Ford Foundation and will include "radio, web/mobile/social media, plus online video," she said.
The shows are to air on three successive Thursdays, Oct. 21, Oct. 28 and Nov. 4.
"By partnering with American Public Media‚Äôs Public Insight Network, Farai Chideya will be reaching out to individuals around the country this fall, and pulling in voices you‚Äôve never heard before. Farai Chideya and the production team will be hosting live events as the team travels, using online and social media as well as good old face-to-face charm to build an inclusive audience," an announcement says.
"Thanks to digital technology, our radio producers and reporters can quickly find and learn from thousands of people who have experience or knowledge on a story we are covering. We call this the Public Insight Network, and it relies on people like you ‚Äî our public sources," the network says.
"Police in Mexico say they have freed two cameramen kidnapped on Monday," the BBC reported.
"Javier Canales and Alejandro Hernandez had been investigating corruption allegations at a prison in Gomez Palacio when they were abducted.
"The kidnappers reportedly demanded that the TV stations the cameramen worked for broadcast a series of videos accusing local officials of ties with a drug cartel.
"Police suspect the kidnappers belong to a rival cartel.
"Mr Canales and Mr Hernandez are said to be in good health.
"Hector Gordoa, a journalist kidnapped at the same time as Mr Canales and Mr Hernandez, is also free.
"It is still unclear whether he was released by his captors or freed by the security forces on Thursday.
"Oscar Solis, a reporter for the newspaper El Vespertino, who was abducted from his home the same night, is still missing."
Olga R. Rodriguez of the Associated Press reported Saturday that "Mexico's biggest television network canceled a popular news show to protest the kidnapping of four reporters, abductions that media advocates called an escalation of a campaign by drug gangs to control information."
Denise Maerker, the anchor of Televisa's news magazine show "Starting Point," said, "We're not willing to go on the air tonight pretending nothing is happening. There is something happening. All the reporters of this show and all reporters run huge risks in order to do their jobs and society runs the risk of sinking into silence and disinformation."
- William Booth, Washington Post: In Mexico's Nuevo Laredo, drug cartels dictate media coverage
- Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. responded Sunday to a belittling of White House aide Valerie Jarrett's African American credentials in July 25 column by the New York Times' Maureen Dowd. "Ms. Jarrett descends from one of the most distinguished family trees in African-American history," Gates began in a letter to the editor. "Her great-great-grandfather, Henry Taylor, born in 1823 and fathered by his white master, was so skilled in his trade as a carpenter and contractor that his father allowed him to travel widely throughout his home state of North Carolina, pursuing his trade, in defiance of the restrictive conventions of slavery. . . ."
- Jacqueline Thomas, who left the Indianapolis Star, where she was assistant managing editor for features, has been named Lacey C. Haynes Visiting Professor at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications for the 2010-2011 academic year, working with advanced media courses and as a guest lecturer. Thomas told Journal-isms she had been traveling and freelancing since she left the Star amid Gannett-wide cutbacks last year.
- On the website of the Kansas City Star, website comments have become so nasty that "editors have recently decided to remove the ability to comment on certain stories altogether," readers' representative Derek Donovan wrote Sunday. "When reader Joe Donnelly asked why comments on one story about the NAACP‚Äôs recent resolution on the tea party movement were closed, Web editors showed me that the dialogue had become jaw-droppingly racist."
- Cameroonian journalist Charles Atangana, 42, has been seeking asylum since arriving in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2004 but his final appeal was rejected," the BBC reported on Monday. "Supporters claim he was previously arrested, beaten and held without charge for 40 days after being critical of President Biya's government. "‚ÄòFor me, going back to Cameroon is a death sentence'," Atangana told the Glasgow Herald.
- "Precious" director Lee Daniels has closed a deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment to rewrite and direct "The Butler," based on a series of articles by Wil Haygood in the Washington Post about Eugene Allen, a servant in the White House for 34 years, Mike Fleming reported Friday for Deadline.com.
- As editor of Turtle Island News, the weekly native newspaper on the Six Nations reserve in Ontario, Canada, Lynda Powless has learned to take controversy and confrontation in stride, Denise Davy reported for the Hamilton (Ont.) Spectator. "In the 16 years since she started the paper, she's been arrested twice (at a band council meeting for refusing to leave), sued (unsuccessfully by then chief Roberta Jamieson) and lodged an Ontario Press Council complaint against another paper on the reserve after it ran a front page story on Powless's divorce."
- Singer Dionne Warwick and Radio One founder Cathy Hughes go at each other in a story about Hughes in Chicago's N'Digo. They are on opposite sides on the Performance Rights Act, a bill that would require radio stations to pay set royalties each time a song airs on their station.
- ESPN.com ran and then pulled a story on NBA star LeBron James at a Las Vegas nightclub because James didn't know he was being interviewed, according to Miami Herald columnist Dan LeBatard, who approved of the decision to pull the story. "Without properly identifying himself as a reporter, an ESPN.com writer made his way into a Las Vegas nightclub with James . . .Point is, James didn't do or say anything wrong, or even unusual. . . Last week's ESPN.com article was voyeurism, not journalism."
- Camille Johnston, director of communications for the first lady, is leaving the White House for a job in the private sector, Betsy Rothstein reported Friday for FishbowlDC.
- "This is a bit inside baseball, but for those who follow who sits where in the White House briefing room..... In the wake of the Helen Thomas departure, her front row center seat went to AP. Fox News moved from the second row to the first row, replacing AP in the second seat from the wall," Lynn Sweet reported from Washington for the Chicago Sun-Times. MoveOn.org had issued a letter to members backing a petition against Fox News Channel, supporting NPR for the seat, Betsy Rothstein reported for FishbowlDC.
- "Amy Andrieux has announced her departure from The Source magazine, where she'd worked as general manager and executive editor," Alex Alvarez reported Friday for FishbowlNY. "Andrieux had previously worked at MTV, before leaving the network a few years ago for the hip-hop magazine."
- "The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Palestinian authorities in the West Bank to release Amer Abu Arfa, a correspondent for the Shihab news agency who was convicted and imprisoned in connection with his news coverage. The agency, based in the Gaza Strip, is perceived by the Palestinian Authority as being pro-Hamas," the committee said.
- In Japan, "Reporter Yuji Kita, 30, and cameraman Jun Kawakami, 43 ‚Äî both of NTV Corp. ‚Äî died of drowning, according to autopsies performed Monday, the Daily Yomiuri Shimbun reported on Tuesday. "They had started up a mountain in Chichibu at about 6:30 a.m. Saturday to cover the fatal crash there of a prefectural rescue helicopter last week."
Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site BugMeNot.com provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.
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