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ESSENCE Editor "Goes in" On Readers about Non-Black Fashion Editor - Has She Been Reading This Blog

Wow if I was still a subscriber to ESSENCE magazine, my feelings would be hurt right about now. We no longer post on Thursdays, but are making an exception because tomorrow is our last post before blogcation and there are so many things popping up at the last minute related to Black women and girls.

Well apparently folks are riled up because ESSENCE hired a non-Black woman (I'm not convinced she's White- Placas ) to be the fashion editor. I'm not the least bit interested in this controversy because when they started promoting sex slavery as a way to acquire male companionship, that was like crossing the River Jordan.... Try not to  look back. 

But this story took an interesting turn when the Editor in Chief, Angela Burt Murray decided to respond to criticism.  I wasn't expecting her to clap back like this.   She's had enough of y'allz whining and she's not going to take it anymore.  Plus y'all made her look bad in major publications like Huffpo, Gawker and Media Bistro. Angela Burt-Murray apparently decided to attend the Blogmother's School for Dealing with disgruntled readers and instead of apologizing, she chastened her readership for complaining in the first place :) I LOVE IT!

As Editor-in-Chief of Essence magazine I sometimes find myself in the unenviable position of ticking people off when it comes to matters of race. Whether it's a profile on P. Diddy and longtime girlfriend Kim Porter discussing their controversial relationship ("You're promoting having children out of wedlock and a negative image of black couples!" wrote one disgruntled reader) or assigning a guest column to singer Jill Scott to voice her opinion about black men who date outside their race, "The Wince" ("Reverse racism!" was a common critique). Or the February cover with a shirtless Reggie Bush ("He doesn't date black women--this is a betrayal of the highest order." Many readers shared that particular sentiment). And most recently my hiring of Ellianna Placas, who happens to be a white woman, to head our fashion department has stirred the passions of a small but vocal group in the blogosphere ("I feel like a girlfriend has died," stated one devastated African-American writer who not long agowrote about coming to terms with her daughter pledging a white sorority for the magazine). Really? Angela Burt- Murray


Well I guess she told Y'AAAAALL! Double snaps for the kids! She's not done however.


She then provides an explanation for her decision:

And when I set out to hire a new fashion director I certainly had no idea I would end up making this decision. I first got to know and came to respect Ellianna when she came to work with us nearly six months ago. We were conducting a search for a new director when she was hired to run the department on a freelance basis. I got to see firsthand her creativity, her vision, the positive reader response to her work, and her enthusiasm and respect for the audience and our brand. Angela Burt Murray

She makes a interesting point HOWEVER, were there any women of color who were willing to accept the freelance position? Were they given the opportunity to compete for the position? Was this an attempt to appease the Time Warner suits? There has to be more to this story. Quick- somebody send me an email with the 411, I promise not to post about it :) I just want to know for my own personal satisfaction. I'll be speaking  in NYC next week, let's do lunch disgruntled ESSENCE employees!

She then goes in on her reading audience and explains WHY those feature articles on these crises get buried in the back of the magazine:

But interestingly enough, the things I think should most upset people and inspire boycotts and Facebook protests, often seem to go relatively unnoticed. Like when Essence conducted a three-part education series this year on the plight of black children falling through the cracks in under-performing schools. Crickets. When we reported on the increase in sex trafficking of young black girls in urban communities? Silence. (Yeah but y'all then turn around and give women advice to go pick up men in strip clubs... THAT'S sex trafficking!) When our writers investigated the inequities in the health care services black women receive? Deadly silence. When our editors highlighted data from the Closing the Gap Initiative report "Lifting as We Climb: Women of Color, Wealth and America's Future" that showed that the median net worth of single black women was $5? There went those darn crickets again. When we run pieces on how unemployment is devastating black men? Nada. When we run story after story on how HIV is the leading cause of death for black women age 18-34? Zilch. The things that really are the end of our world apparently aren't. Snarkilicious

Ain't she snarky? Sure she's obfuscating and redirecting, but I love snark and she served it up! I can laugh at this because she isn't talking to ME. I don't read ESSENCE anymore and I have encourage you not to. If you still read after this then you deserve to be spoken to like a child. 

The same thing happens on this blog ALL the time.  I put up a post about women in Haiti being exposed to increased violence after the earthquake and we get 3 comments. Put up a post about Chris Brown the floodgates open. I no longer blame or judge my audience. There may be many reasons why she doesn't hear anything including the fact that people tend to complain and not praise. They might not be responding because they don't disagree with the articles. She should know this. I'm not offended that y'all didn't comment on the Haiti article. I expected that you wouldn't. I posted it anyway because I wanted to increase awareness about the study and the work of MADRE (Our Bodies Are Still Trembling).

I will have to say this, their advice to Black women looking for men in the strip club, notwithstanding, ESSENCE's feature articles on social issues tend to be very good (compared to other Black-themed magazines) and having been a source for a couple of those articles, the writers and editors of those articles work very hard... though the articles sometimes get buried at the back.

We here at What About Our Daughters don't care WHO works at ESSENCE magazine.  They are not a Black owned company and it appears that one day they will no longer be Black-run.  Your question is where are the alternatives to ESSENCE magazine? Heart and Soul comes close, but doesn't have the same polish.  Sister to Sister always looks like somebody was playing around on Pagemaker.  Ebony, while improving greatly over the past year isn't a fashion and beauty mag. So folks are basically going to do what they do with BET, the NAACP, and anything else Black, complain and then go back to their daily routine when it gets old.

P.S. Is the NABJ going to condemn ESSENCE they way they condemned CNN for not hiring a person of color to replace Campbell Brown? Just curious////

Previous ESSENCE Posts

When Time Inc. Employees ATTACK with "Astroturfing" !!! What Are they Afraid of?

Why You Should BURN the June 2009 Issue of ESSENCE Magzine Part 1

Bedroom Bioterrorism :Why You Should Burn the June 2009 Issue of ESSENCE Part II

ESSENCE's "New Normal" ain't "Normal"--Part III of Why You Should Burn the June 2009 Issue of ESSENCE magazine


PPS Its more interesting that she gave this letter to The Grio which is a part of the NBC Universal Family instead of Black Voices which is part of AOL and (I think) under the same overseer as ESSENCE- Time Warner.

Reader Comments (10)

I actually agree with both of you.
Essence has jumped the shark long ago on standards.
At the same time they are free to hire anyone they want. I just would hope that a non-African American hired by an business or organization or publication directed at the interests of African-American women would come in willing to follow that goal and not try and change the focus (However as previously stated those currently at Essence, black, white, or otherwise, have already drifted away from that goal on their own)
You are also both correct that the majority of people are slow to reply to articles and postings on meaty subjects, especially those that occur outsid America like the Haiti post. That is a bi-product of being insulated Americans. We tend to only get up in arms about what impacts us directly. Think about how few people vote in elections right here at home but when they first inacted ATM fees or charged for downloading it was close to a national revolution. It is not an excuse just an explination. Also sometimes the larger subjects feel overwhelming to some, above their pay grade. They know they have an opinion on Chris Brown but not sure what to say about wide-spread rape. Also as black people we hate airing our "didrty laundry" you know the things we do to each other (especially that our men do to our women.) So many are afraid it gives the enemy something to use against us. So not talking about the Haiti rapes doesn't allow a racists to say "see that's what those people are about." Instead we ignore the problem, let our girls continut to be victims and the problem doesn't get addressed. Sort of like the HIV crisis here at home.

July 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBee

What I find interesting about Murray's response is her acute awareness of the criticism and her complete dismissal of any constructive feedback. She knows better but doesn't want to do better. Since Essence has and will continue its slide into oblivion and mediocrity she won't be able to pretend or ignore the reasons why or the warnings from the disgruntled readership as they move on. I know some women will continue to buy Essence out of misplaced loyalty. The question begs why we settled for relying on one magazine to begin with. Blacks got too complacent.

July 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaith

Angela Burt-Murray is a trip. She makes this hire to impress her bosses at Time, Inc. then she gets upset with Black woman for seeing an opportunity for us go down the drain.

Angela should just go ahead and be honest; she doesn't like Black women in the same way that Debra Lee doesn't like Black women. I think that's pretty obvious.

Essence says, "where Black woman come first". Right.

July 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterVal

I have a copy of the very first issue of Essence mag, May 1975. I was a subscriber from 1975 to 2007. So when it started to get less interesting, less powerful and more and more like a guide on how to cruise a pick up joint, perm kits, cigarette and alcohol ads in many issues along side "health tips" I was very disappointed. I began to like Messence less and less and just finally did not renew my subscription. It got to the point where if I wanted to read an article on how to get a man, fry my hair, etc., I'd read Messence, but if I wanted to read a series of articles on women's health for a period of several months or legislation in Congress that pertains to women's health, then I had to read Glamour, LHJ, etc. That's sad!! :(

My question is, is this the result of us living in the "age of Obama"? Mind you, it's no longer Black owned anyway and hasn't been for a few years, but geez, what's next? :(

July 30, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterrevmamaafrika

oops! and I also got p.o. when Elle mag had our beautiful sister from Sudan, Alex Wek on the cover (1997) before Essence did (2000). :( :(

July 30, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterrevmamaafrika

What else is new? Murray is pathetic and she knows it. Her rant was just an attempt to put the focus on someone else. She has failed plain and simple.

August 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkim

I haven't followed Essence since the early 1990s. It was never owned by black women and all the articles about black men demonstrated that. Even when it was supposedly black-owned it was full of stupid articles about man-sharing, and "mens issues" that only featured black men. That doesn't sound like a magazine for black women to me.

August 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRoslyn Holcomb

When I heard about the hiring of a white fashion director, I wasn't surprised. Although, I still get Essence (got a 5 year subscription for twenty bucks on ebay)- I usually skim the mag and give it to a program that recycles magazines for a local hospital.

The in-depth reporting has been very good- the achivement gap series, and an article on child brides were especially well done.

Like many others on this blog, Essence just doesn't work for me any more. I have outgrown it and don't want my daughters reading the majority of the rubbish in the magazine.

The hiring of the white fashion director just highlights what is the magazine industry's dirty little secret- there are very few women of color in the leadership of most major women's magazines. I love Real Simple- but there is nary a black woman as an editor. While we can get hired as interns, it seems as though making it up the ranks is still an issue. With magazines folding and the business consolidating, I think the Essence hire is just a sign of changes to come.

August 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTracy

Ouch! The magazine comparisons were apples and oranges. Essence is a general lifestyle publication (with a ginormous budget). Sister2Sister is an entertainment magazine. And Heart & Soul is health and fitness. The latter two have nowhere near the money or staff of an Essence, and in the current economy, they are still publishing, giving their readers the information they seek. AND they both are still black owned.

August 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterann

Ha!! Ha ha ha!!! Oh my goodness, no she did not. I cannot lie, I kept buying a MEssence every now and then because I am a fashion student but this is more rich than Red Velvet cake. I could say how dare she but it wouldn't matter, she's been getting away with murder since she got there and she's going to continue until a once good magazine makes CosmoGirl look like Newsweek. I think it perpetually sucks because I was born in 1990 so by the time I was really interested to read the rags this regime was in place. Now, I've read a few of those articles "no one said anything about" and if they were that important to you why didn't you put that on the cover instead of Zoe Saldana who, by the way blogosphere, identifies more with latina more than black as does Tatiana Ali but we can give a damn about her when she does sometime to give a damn about.

I don't know, maybe I'm bitter because this is happening in my own field of work despite the fact that I wouldn't be caught dead starting my career in America. Some black women in college really need to think about shipping off. Anyways, there won't be another Essence in my shopping cart. I just wish that Clutch wouldn't post such stupid controversial articles sometimes. DL Sistas? Come on.... *Sigh and starts to whistle "You can't win" from The Wiz*

August 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGoddessM

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