Writer Jamilah Lemieux opens up about being an African-American working for Black media outlets in “The power and fragility of working in Black media,” which appears in the Fall 2018 edition of the Columbia Journalism Review.
In her article, Lemieux, who served as an EBONY editor for several years before leaving in 2016 to work for two years at Interactive One, a digital company focusing on delivering content to urban audiences, suggests that a primarily Black media outlet is able to present stories from Black creatives in ways that more mainstream media often do not or cannot.
“During my EBONY days, the writer Michael Arceneaux, a Howard classmate and most recently the author of the essay collection I Can’t Date Jesus, would often say to me or my colleagues, ‘It feels so good to be edited by black folks,’” she recalls. Lemieux says her stints at EBONY and Interactive One spared her the “micro- and macro-aggressions” that peers working at more diverse media outlets experienced; she did not have to “defend” her humanity in workplaces where colleagues understood the importance of Black lives.
Arceneaux’s comments were similar to those of other Black freelancers who wrote stories about race assigned by White editors who often lacked the “cultural competency” to edit their work. “Often the results were frustration, disappointment, and killed stories—which were then sometimes offered to us at EBONY,” writes Lemieux.
She understands why writers did not initially pitch their stories to the publication—the lack of money—but says the editorial team members would find ways to creatively use their limited resources to engage top writers, artists and photographers because they believed they had a “cultural obligation” to support Black media to get those stories told.
Lemieux adds that some of her relationships with the freelancers—good friends among them—suffered because of financial constraints that plagued EBONY at the time. A group of writers later sued the owners of the magazine after not getting paid for their work and won an $80,000 judgment.
Mainstream digital media, too, has undergone transformations in recent years. Layoffs have plagued brands such as MTV, which fired some of its editorial staff last year in an effort to produce more video content. And Facebook, in what was seen as an effort to battle fake news spreading on its site, changed its algorithm, making it harder for publishers, which relied on the social media giant for page views, to get traffic.
But Lemieux makes it clear that Black media companies aren’t afforded the same luxuries as others because of issues such as racial bias in advertising with regard to content and dollars spent to reach consumers.
Ultimately, she opines, “Keeping black media true to its most important mission” will require changes within the industry, but she “remains committed to avoiding being the single or rare black staffer in a white media space.”
Click here to read more of Lemieux’s CJR article.