Should Black Media Be More Inclusive?

The answer depends on whom you ask.

Posted: 03/21/2012 05:30 PM EDT

Black media has undergone a renaissance period of sorts in the past several years. Long-time publications like Ebony magazine have reinvented themselves and new voices like TheRoot.com have emerged. BET Networks has shed its old music video image and has turned its focus to more original and compelling television programming. And, in addition to celebrity news, the network‘s Web site provides extensive coverage of political, national and global issues.

 

During the Leading Women Defined summit this week, a group of journalists and executives discussed how their organizations have been impacted in the digital age and whether they should offer viewers and readers more diversity.pacted in the digital age and whether they should offer viewers and readers more diversity.

 

“Our goal is to serve those who are interested in Black culture and it is imperative that we respect, reflect and elevate our images on-air and that goal has impacted everything we do across the board from the programming perspective, particularly how we approach news and what we do online,” explained Loretha Jones, BET’s president of original programming about guidelines BET Networks chairman and chief executive Debra Lee set when rebranding the network.

 

Elinor Tatum, publisher of 103-year-old newspaper The Amsterdam News, said that publication is still figuring out how to grow up in this digital age, but its mission continues to be the voice of its community.

 

The Amsterdam News exists to show our young people that they can be and do anything that they want and they don’t have to fit the stereotypes that so much of mainstream media has put our children into,” Tatum said.

 

One summit participant asked the panelists whether they have considered being less “segregated” by featuring other demographics, which actress Anika Noni Rose agreed is a trap that Black media outlets find themselves in.

 

“When we focus on black shows that solely have black people in them, we fall in the trap of being able to be ignored, we fall into the trap of not showing what we know as our America, she said. “We do need to integrate our shows and say hey, let’s get those Latinos in because not only are they also black, they take what we’re showing and turn it into a rainbow.”

 

Using Reed Between the Lines as an example, Jones noted that main character Carla’s best friend is Latino and an acupuncturist, which reflects racial and professional diversity. In addition the Reed’s children’s school scenes reflect the diversity of the community in which the family lives and real life.

 

Amy DuBois Barnett, Ebony’s editor-in-chief, described herself as inclusive and said she’s worked at mainstream and urban properties that cater to all sorts of demographics, so she can speak to them all.

 

“But when it comes to Ebony, I feel so profoundly that it is an African-American magazine for an African-American audience,” she said. “Does that it mean it cannot be inclusive of all of the things African-Americans are interested in that go beyond the things we typically consider to be African-American? Absolutely.”

 

Barnett said that it’s possible to be inclusive of the diversity of interests that African-Americans have while still honoring the direction and the mission of the media property.

 

“I don’t ever want to see Ebony magazine become a multicultural magazine. I don’t think it has any bearing what it’s for or what it does best,” she said to applause.

 

You can find more on the Leading Women Defined summit at:  www.BET.com/lwd.

 

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