Will Essence Listen Now?

April 24, 2012  |  

Revisiting Essence magazine’s shift of their white managing editor into a new role after his right-wing views were exposed on Facebook, I agree with readers here who feel the move was an excuse to get Michael Bullerdick out of the position. The swiftness with which the decision was made and the comparably minute articles he’d posted compared to the public blunders of other media personalities who’ve been allowed to keep their jobs suggests the magazine may have been waiting for an opportunity to remove the white editor in a way that wouldn’t make it seem as though it was simply taking it’s reader’s racial concerns to heart when he was hired in the first place, but perhaps they should have.

It obviously doesn’t take a particular ethnicity to be able to tell when someone’s syntax is wrong or their grammar is off, but when we’re talking about a magazine who’s readers are 99.9% black women it would certainly make sense that someone who would read the content themselves would have a better eye for checking for things like tone, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying that. I can’t tell you how many editorial job descriptions I’ve come across for opportunities with a publication or non-profit that explicitly states the applicant must have significant knowledge of the Jewish culture or Hebrew community in order to even be considered. There’s nothing wrong with us doing the same, although for some reason we seem to have this attitude that we’re not being diverse enough if we express that sentiment despite the fact that we aren’t the ones who need to knock down barriers for other people, we need them broken down for us. I know Essence claims that Michael was only involved in production but he listed his responsibilities on LinkedIn as “Edit stories for tone and style,” so it appears one of the parties was confused about what his true role was. Now, that inconsistency is neither here nor there but I do find it interesting that this issue has sort of been swept under the rug with no response from the publication to its readers about how this was overlooked—and who might even replace him. I don’t think anyone who saw Michael’s wall was personally offended, but I do think it proves readers had genuine concern when they protested his hiring, much like the hiring of Ellianna Placas, a white woman, as the fashion director, a year and a half ago. Opportunities being what they are for black people, you would think the one place someone in fashion or publishing could get a high-ranking job if they so choose would be Essence, but the difference between the publication and some of the Jewish ones I’ve come across is those communities owned their content, and last time I checked Time Warner was hardly led by an African American.

That being said and this situation considered, I don’t foresee Essence listening from here on out. The former editor, Angela Burt-Murray, defended Ellianna’s hiring, saying she hand-picked her herself, and Constance C.R. White pretty much did the same with Michael. Whether they truly didn’t see an issue with the hirings or if they were coaxed into it by corporate politics and the powers that be, we’ll likely never know but either way it’s cause for concern. I know the go-to response around anything Essence-related is “I don’t care, I don’t read the magazine anymore anyway,” but we should care and so should they. It’s candid discussions like this that are essentially a free focus group for the magazine and its corporate leadership to see in plain color what their (previous and potential) readers want and how to make it happen. I’m curious how much further readership has to drop for them to get the point. On one hand the issues plaguing the magazine aren’t unique. The interests of society have become increasingly superficial and if you want to thrive and be profitable you have to cater to that somewhat, but being the innovator that it was when it first entered the market many have been hoping the magazine would find a happy medium without selling out to rathetness or racial pressures but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Hiring a black person doesn’t guarantee that all of their ideologies will be in line with the publication and all black women for that matter but it does significantly increase the odds that the person put in the position will not only understand the issues plaguing black women but also have their best interest at heart with how their addressed and represented in the magazine and no one should want any less. There’s no better way to prove you really are the voice of black women than to have black women be the voice behind the content.

Do you think Essence will finally listen to its readers concerns over its hiring practices as a result of this incident?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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  • SMHgurl24

    So a white person who is qualified for the job shouldn’t have it because hes white?? What kind of low class people are running this?! We fight for equal rights yet we turn around and refuse them to someone else.. What a disgrace!

    • Kaay

      Do you even know what circumstances brought on this article on Essense? Please do your reserach before you make comments. You are the most ignorant voice on this topic!

      • SMHgurl24

        Yup i’m ignorant beause I speak the truth. There was nothing I saw that concluded that he was a racist. Right- winged nut, probably but whos business is it what political views he has? What because the people he posted about are black automatically makes him a racist?? Wake up hun, the “us against them” needs to end. We all bleed the same color and in the end were all gonna need each other so you can take your little herd mentality and bury it along with anything else deemed not important.

  • Chanda

    Is there any other substitutes for Essence magazine because I’m trying to ween away from it and Ebony mag is just as boring.

  • CA Pullen

    I stopped subscribing to Essence a long time ago.   I am very disappointed with the magazine.

  • Essence has nice covers, but no substance.  That being said, they will continue to lack integrity and continue to refuse to listen to the true audience, whom they appear not to care about anyway.  Another example of people of color picking up the bad habits of the Europeans they worship, where Capitalism is king and doing the right thing is in a the rear view mirror.

    Water under the bridge for them.  If they were wise, they would fix the website, because print media is dying anyway.

    • Papillon

      Their website is horrible. It’s even worse now than it was before the redesign. I use to browse through the photo galleries, but now I don’t even bother trying to navigate through that mess.

  • FromUR2UB

    If there’s pressure coming from the parent company to “diversify” and put a few white faces in there, probably not.  Then it becomes of a matter of people doing whatever they have to, to keep their own jobs.  (sigh).  But, I still feel that guy didn’t belong there.  It’s not even as though he can offer a perspective that would be valuable to black women.  If a man at all, a black man would have made more sense.  If it had to be a white guy, 1) They should have done their homework, 2) They chould’ve chosen one with a background in fashion, finance, technology or some useful information that would contribute to the quality of the magazine, and then placed him accordingly.  The whole thing is really quite insulting.

  • DoinMe

    Essence needs to fold. It’s no longer relevant nor does it capture the true essence of black women. It’s a bunch of foolishness now. I would love to know how many subscribers they have lost over the years.

  • Bubbah

    It seems as though people who accept the position of Managing Editor find that being employed at Essence (owned by Time Warner) is not to their liking.  So they hurriedly choose their own replacement before leaving.   In a rush to leave they hand the ‘baton” to whomever is seeking a position whether they are black or not.  Any magazine representing blacks should be staffed by BLACKS.  Presently, I have no intention of subscribing to Essence (a monthly flyer of what to buy).  The last issue of Essence I thumbed through had a full-page photo of Kim Hodashian (which insulted me), who somehow  perceives herself to be superior to black women on every level. 

    • Amija James

      KK was in Essence????? They won’t get a dime of my money ever again!

  • Rmdavis45

    Nope don’t think so  they will continue to hire whom ever as long as it will help them to sell their magazines,I think Essence wanted to be able to say they hired someone not of color to show their diversity in the company what ever happen to Susan Taylor when she was there Essence was popping because she always appealed to her mostly black audience we always saw her famous letters front page which was always so encouraging now you have folks writting that can not began to relate to blacks they are in there for money reasons only and use Essence as a stepping stone to climb the corporate ladder.So I hope they want make this costly mistake again I stop buying essence years ago especially after Ms.Taylor left.

  • L-Boogie

    Essence is changing.  With change comes mistakes and triumphs.  Give them time.  They will get it together. 

  • Pekoejane

    Essence Magazine never seems to get it right. It is not a question of putting white people on their staff instead of qualified black people. The issue Essence has is that it always seems dated and behind the times, and they really need to rethink their message for the 21st century. Black people around the world are leading such diverse and interesting lives and yet we barely see that reflected in their pages. They run the same tired articles about relationships, finances, religion/faith every month and let’s not forge the same five celebrities that are rotated on their cover. I hope Essence Magazine takes a long deep look at itself and really decide on a voice that mirrors the lives of their readers.