The September, 2008 cover of Ebony Magazine.
Last month, one of the oldest magazines to focus on the Black American community fast-forwarded to the future. Ebony magazine unveiled a redesigned website – with beautiful, bold graphics, a roster of A-list bloggers and multi-media content.
In its 66-year history Ebony has been one of a handful of publications that dominate the magazine industry for African Americans, along with Essence, Jet, Black Enterprise and Uptown. As is the case for all magazines, they are now forced to hold their weight against new media – in particular, websites devoted to African Americans, such as The Grio and The Root. Both news sites have heavy backers with deep pockets.
The Grio was launched by NBC in 2009. It's described as "the first video-centric news community site devoted to providing African Americans with stories and perspectives that appeal to them but are underrepresented in existing national news outlets." The Root is owned by the Washington Post Company after being founded in 2008 under the leadership of Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr. of Harvard University. The sites delve into issues you won't see elsewhere.
Last week, after the tragic suicide of Soul Train founder Don Cornelius, one angle from The Root asked "Black people don't kill themselves, right?" At The Grio, they addressed "What Washington can do now to address the black jobless rate." While these media outlets fill a void, there is still a gaping hole in television news. BET and the similar channel TV One offer scant news programming despite the fact that, according to a 2010 Pew study, "an overwhelming 86% of African Americans turn to TV for most of their news, compared to 64% of white respondents and 66% of Hispanics."
What does the African American community need that isn't being provided by the mainstream media? And are these sites filling that void effectively or falling short? What are examples of stories that wouldn't have been covered as effectively, or at all, by the mainstream outlets? The Grio's executive editor has said his site has a trickle-up effect, i.e. mainstream news outlets disseminate what they read in The Grio – is that the case? What are the biggest challenges to these media outlets? Are they different from mainstream problems?
Kierna Mayo, Editorial Director, Ebony.com
David Wilson, Executive Editor, TheGrio.com, NBC’s news site for African Americans, described as the first video-centric news community site devoted to providing African Americans with stories and perspectives that appeal to them but are underrepresented in existing national news outlets.
Dori Maynard, President, Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education in Oakland, California