My Newest Colleague…

I wonder how many men failed to get past
the byline thanks to this picture…

I’ll start this off with an apology.

In a posting I wrote sometime last year about a woman dying from complications of a butt augmentation procedure, I promised that you would never see another picture of Beyonce’ on The Mad (political) Scientist.

I made that promise because I was pretty sure I’d be able to keep it knowing that my drifts into the world of pop culture don’t usually include Beyonce’ and her contributions. But about a week ago something happened that told me that I wouldn’t be able to keep that promise…something involving Beyonce’ that not only demanded that I write about it, but also that I use the picture to your left as a means of illustration.

You see, thanks to the folks at the New York Association of Black Journalists, Beyonce’ and I now have something in common, something that I’m sure neither of us would have envisioned before last week.

We’re both award-winning journalists. And no, I’m not kidding.

You see, there’s the ever growing media subgroup that is starting to rise to prominence, the non-journalist, journalist, that my new colleague Beyonce’ represents.

Now what do I mean? I mean that while folks like Tulane Professor Melissa Harris-Perry, Columbia University Professor Marc Lamont Hill, Georgetown Professor Michael Eric Dyson, and now Beyonce’ do many of the things that journalist have traditionally done, such as write a column, host a television show, and serve as a pundit, they are not, technically, journalists. But because they can ask for, and receive, press credentials, be honored for what are perceived as their contributions to journalism by various groups, and are given some of the other benefits journalists have to jump through rather grandiose hoops for, they are treated like them.

Let me say right here that this is in no way their fault. I don’t blame them at all for reaping these benefits. It’s part of a trend on the part of news organizations to farm out what journalists have traditionally done to people who are better known for doing other things. It’s an attempt on their part to try and get readers, listeners and viewers who have decided not to pay attention to traditional news providers to come back to them.

Think of it as a sort of Newsroom Stunt Casting.

But as often happens with Stunt Casting, things can go horribly awry.

When NYABJ announced that the Grammy-award winning singer and actress is being honored for her  Essence Magazine article “Eat, Play, Love”, it was kind of a surprise to a lot of people. The article, which was about Ms. Knowles’ all too brief break from being in the public eye, (the “all too” being my contribution to that phrase) was hailed as “inspirational” by the local National Association of Black Journalists chapter that did the judging.

Okay…

But while my initial reaction was to be totally dismissive of the whole thing, I decided that it would be better instead to read the article written by People Magazine’s most recent “Most Beautiful Woman In The World” winner. I read it with an open mind and was even able to get past the picture at the top, a picture of the author dressed in a white crop top with leather pants, cowboy boots, and a cowboy hat while swinging a lasso.

To be brutally honest, I’ve seen better-written pieces from my first-year journalism students at Temple. Hell, I wrote better pieces as a first-year journalism student at Temple. While the Essence folks called this a chance to get to know a woman who vigorously guards her privacy a little bit better, I didn’t learn a whole lot about my new colleague from reading this piece. There wasn’t a whole lot of “there” there.

In other words, the late Studs Terkel isn’t moving a bone in his grave over this one…

But I have to remember that I’m not a chart-topping artist who is going to be opening the Revel Atlantic City Casino Hotel with a series of sold-out shows. For me to get a gig for Essence Magazine, I might actually have to, well, be able to write or report. There’s no curve for me.

Now I know that some of you are looking at this and thinking, “Gee! What a hater!” Beyonce’-stans, a title that I wouldn’t see as a compliment if I had ever heard Eminem’s record “Stan” in its entirety, tend to think that any criticism aimed even close to her way is based in jealousy, which this is not.

I’m not hating on Mrs. Knowles-Carter; far from it. I understand the freelance writing game. She got asked to write something. She wrote it. Essence published it. She’s being honored for it. And even though I don’t believe a word of what the folks at Essence are saying about Beyonce’ not using a ghostwriter based on the blog posting she did praising First Lady Michelle Obama as a role model, I don’t hate the playa.

The game, however, is really starting to piss me off.

One of the reasons why the first of the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution covers freedom of speech and press is because while the Founding Fathers might not have realized right away that it isn’t cool to, literally, own people, they did realize that the key to a truly free society is to make sure that said society is as informed as possible.

Compared to where we were as a nation 10 years ago in terms of being informed, we’re about as dumb as a box of rocks these days…and most of the fault for this I place at the feet of journalism that focuses more on celebrity than it does actual news.

Good, bad or indifferent, the fact that Beyonce’ is getting an award for an article that doesn’t really even shed all that much new light on the pop artist’s life, is probably the most in-your-face example of that disturbing trend. This Bells and Whistles journalism has led to a news media that doesn’t think before it reacts, is scared of telling it like it is, and forces us to look at things as equals when even Stevie Wonder could tell you that they’re not.

In other words, the journalism epitomized by folks like Walter Cronkite would have told its editors that there’s no way they’re going to give the Tea Party the same amount of ink that it gives more reasonable voices while today’s journalism practically gives it and those of its ilk a megaphone, which it then uses to drown out all reasonable voices.

So like I said, I’m not mad at Beyonce. Or Professor Hill. Or Professor Harris-Perry, who has her own show on MSNBC, a network whose news director told us all point-blank that journalists need not apply for the right to inform people on his network.

But if I were a member of NYABJ who had just gotten a rejection letter from Essence Magazine recently, I’d feel some kind of way after seeing this.

I wonder if Beyonce’ will join NABJ now that she’s a journalist and all. I can imagine how much the entertainment offerings at the conventions will pick up if she does. Wonder if she can get Prince to perform for us in Orlando next year…hmmm…

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2 comments

  1. Nice rebuttal. Really. I'm not kidding. And I'm not being snarky or cynical. I really liked reading what you wrote. However …

    I'm not sure who your audience is.

    In 2006, I sat down to have a face-to-face conversation with former CNN anchor Anchor Aaron Brown. He was railing about how media had trended toward “info-tainment.” That was around the time MySpace was still dominating the social media platform with Facebook hot on its heels. And journalists were still wondering what was all the hubbub about user-generated content and aggregation and free sharing of information gathered by paid journalists.

    The debates in the newsroom were fast, furious and frequent. As a “Content Editor” (soon to be “Web Editor”), my job was to unify the print and digital sides. Um, yeah. About that …

    At the end of the day, Aaron was right. But, news entertainment didn't start when Aaron quit CNN. It didn't accelerate when Beyonce received her award. It has long been ingrained in the business model of media organizations that value the bottom line on the ledge much more than the mission statement in the Constitution.

    How long have “journalists” been telling us which movies were the best on opening day based on receipts? How long have we subjected to award-winning journalists happily bantering about nothing to ensure we start out our day with a crew of “journalists” sitting on a couch pretending to be “journalists” rather than a response to the wayward interests of an ever-evolving pop culture?

    Black journalists haven't written much about the JOBS Act and crowdfunding despite the historic precedent it set when a Black president opened up an economic door heretofore closed and locked with substantial SEC rules and regulations that barred entry by Black folks. Black journalists haven't written anything about the 21st century global Innovation Economy and how it is producing virtually ALL net new jobs via new startup companies injected with risk capital (which use pension funds that Black folks pay into and White folks put at risk investing into high-tech, high-growth start-ups).

    At the end of the day, Black journalists will complain about non-journalists winning awards handed out by Black journalists. And if I really cared, I would agree with every word. But it's so hard for me to care about this when monumental issues are being completely ignored by these so-called “journalists” and their award ceremonies.

  2. You make valid points Mike that there are monumental issues being completely ignored by these so-called “journalists” but don't get it twisted. When non-journalists are sucking up all the airtime and newsprint for their self-indulgent swill where's a serious journalist supposed to go to get those stories published?

    Or do you really think Essence or EBONY are going to do a deep, incisive piece about the Dream Act or how President Obama's endorsement of gay marriage squares with the conservative teachings of the Black church (Oh look, Kim and Kanye are sun-bathing on the beach. Where's the pics?)

    I think Denise's audience is any serious journalist who wishes they could tell the stories that really matter but they have to banter about the opening week receipts of “The Avengers” because that will get you some face time and without face time page hits, or retweets to your peeps, do you really even exist anymore?

    These, and conversations about the subjects you and Denise bring up are the sort of conversations that SHOULD be taking place at the NABJ convention, but probably won't outside of bitching about the sorry state of journalism over drinks at the bar of the convention hotel.

    When I said something slightly critical of Al Sharpton getting his MSNBC show, I caught 99 problems from other Black journalists, so while I admire Denise for saying what a lot of us were thinking, I wouldn't expect journalists to suddenly become less star-struck than anyone else in our celebrity-worshipping society. If anything, you'll want to make sure you're not trampled underfoot by the crush of gawkers hoping Beyonce shows to pick up her b.s award and maybe she'll pose for a cheesing for the camera pic with them.

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