Lonely At The Top

Blacks are a fraction of top editors at mainstream magazines

When BLACK ENTERPRISE did its insider review of the magazine industry (“Changing the Face of the Magazine Industry,” August 1995), the number of African American chief editors at the largest titles could be counted on one hand. Almost a decade later, the top editorial makeup remains unchanged.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that the magazine industry is less diverse than other media. Blacks are 6.7% of officials and managers in the newspaper business and 7.8% of those in radio and television broadcasting yet constitute only 5.4% of officials and managers in periodicals. And that number is for the entire industry; the numbers in editorial management are worse. Jacklyn Monk, assistant managing editor of Real Simple, is compiling a list of African Americans in top magazine editorial roles for the National Association of Black Journalists. Monk has found only nine top editors -defined by the the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) as chief editor, executive editor, or managing editor -among hundreds of mainstream, nonethnic, nonurban titles from major publishing houses.

Although more people of color appear in ads, and celebrities like Halle Berry and Beyoncé Knowles land the covers of top fashion magazines, the mastheads remain predominantly white. According to findings in Success in the Magazine Industry, a recent study commissioned by the Magazine Publishers of America (MPA), management’s approach to diversity is not in race, gender, or ethnicity but in a diversity of perspectives, knowledge, and styles.

Moreover, the study finds that publishers aren’t recruiting aggressively at historically black colleges and universities or minority professional associations such as NABJ. Ella L. J. Edmondson Bell, who conducted the MPA study, notes most hiring is still done through word of mouth, thereby reinforcing the status quo. “The rationale persists [that there] just are not enough people of color in circles of ‘smart people,’” notes Bell, an associate professor at Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College, in the survey findings.

For years, MPA and ASME have encouraged publishing companies to promote diversity in their organizations and in the products they create. In May, ASME elected Newsweek Editor Mark Whitaker as its president. Whitaker is the second African American to hold the position; the first, George Curry, was elected in 2000, when he was editor-in-chief of Emerge. Today, Curry is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service.

While achieving parity for minorities in magazines will be a focus, Whitaker says the main argument for diversity is not just equity. “For magazines to be relevant, they have to keep up [with the country's demographic changes,] and you have to see the voice and ideas of people of different backgrounds reflected in magazines,” he says.

Whitaker’s reasoning would seem to make sense given that industry readership profiles show 84% of African Americans, 80% of Asians, and 75% of Latinos are magazine readers. Still, Whitaker is among a small group of top editors at major publishing houses (see table).

Almost a decade since BE’s report, Time Inc. still appears to be the main recruiter and retainer of black talent,

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