When I first heard that Essence magazine hired a middle-aged White male to the position of managing editor, I have to admit that my immediate thought was "…hmm, interesting."
Michael Bullerdick, whose LinkedIn account says that he previously served as managing editor at American Media, PawPrint magazine and Celebrity Living, will now be in charge of the day-to-day content management of a magazine that prides itself on being a strong voice for, and to, the African-American female community.
Founded in 1968, the magazine has a deep history of covering topics that focus on lifestyle, heath, beauty, finance, and career choices for Black women. I think much of the public backlash is not on whether Bullerdick has the skills to be a great managing editor—his experience already shows that he is—but I think most people are questioning, whether he will be the right person for “this” job.
As a journalist, I applaud Bullerdick for securing the position. It is surely an accomplishment and his years of hard work have paid off. I also understand that as a journalist, you can wear multiple hats. If you are a local reporter, one day you may be covering a neighborhood homicide and the next day you could cover a story on someone affected by unemployment. Though you may not have had a near-death experience or ever been unemployed, through research, you can accurately tell a story.
What I question with Bullerdick is if the hat of an African-American woman is one that you can “put-on.” Are you able to suggest topics that have been affecting the community for years? Can you reminisce or relate to the stories of historic Black women who overcame struggles and portray them accurately, and make suggestions to ensure that the story is told through a relatable voice? Are you able to manage pitches to ensure they won’t offend your African-American, woman audience? Do you really know what’s going on “inside the minds of Black women?”
As Dr. Boyce Watkins says, “I’d love to see what lies in Bullerdick’s background that makes him a stronger voice for Black women than Black women themselves.”
In response to the criticism, Constance White, Essence’s editor-in-chief told Journal-isms, “He has no involvement in editorial content of the Black women’s publication.” Last year the magazine received much criticism after they hired a caucasian fashion director, Ellianna Placas.
That’s a little hard to believe that if someone is the managing editor he or she will have no editorial input or say…but, okay.
In essence, pun intended, I hope that the magazine continues to meaningfully serve as an outlet catering to the specific needs of their intended audience: Black women.
To Bullerdick: congratulations and welcome, as my grandparents would say, “to the family.” No pressure.
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(Photo: Essence Magazine July 2011)