The Futility Of Black Media

The old lions of black magazines, Ebony and Jet, are in trouble. PostBourgie elaborates:

The argument that they matter because of their historical import shouldn't be too easily dismissed. But that feeling of familiarity and cultural obligation, of supporting these publications because they're black publications has essentially been their entire business model for their entire runs, even as the media landscape changed in cataclysmic ways.

In terms of functionality, they don't do anything so superlatively (or even competently enough) that it would make me, an admitted magazine junkie, ever seriously consider buying them. At this point, you're more likely to find thoughtful and well-researched  journalism/essays on issues that affect black people -- por ejemplo, here, here, here or here -- in mainstream publications than you are in either of them. They've completely ceded that space.  They're just not very good magazines by most measures.

I think this is basically true--all of it. For various reasons, I've had to think about the future of "ethnic" media. This isn't an Obama, post-racial problem--it's been going on since the 90s when I was in college. I think The Source and, more specifically, Vibe, in their heyday, really pointed the way forward. They both were, in many ways, black magazines. But they weren't in the old way. At their best, they used hip-hop, a cultural movement with roots in the black community, to look out at the broader world. I think Vibe and The Source messed up by not moving away from hip-hop, as music per se, circa 99. Hip-Hop should have been the lens, and sometimes--but not always--the subject matter. But they had the right idea.

The closest I've seen to what a black magazine--or any black media--might look like in this era died shortly after it was birthed. That would have been Suede, the urban fashion magazine launched with much fanfare a few years back. It really looked gorgeous, and it had some great people working on it--including the best copy-chief in the business, one Kenyatta Matthews.

The less said about Suede's end, the better. But I think they had the right idea, and one that folks haven't really followed up on. You can't really have--nor should you want to have--an exclusively "black" media product. But you can have a vehicle informed by a black perspective that looks everything from Jay-Z to Tom Cruise. And the Dallas Cowboys. And wood elves. And Star Trek. What? I'm just sayin...