Resurgent US Black journalists covering the White House appreciate President Barack Obama’s broad appeal to the whole nation. But, as he oversees savage cuts in public services to save a debt-fuelled economic crisis, the journalists ask: “When will Obama deliver on issues that concern common people and Black folk?”
This controversial view, from journalists often accused of pro-Obama bias, is a dramatic rejection of the new style of public management espoused by White House advisors. Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s senior advisor for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs, has asked the Black press to help the White House to “manage expectations” of their readers. “Conditions aren’t going to change overnight,” adds Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in a conference call with African Americans who cover the White House.
However, media reporters covering African-American audiences expressed strong opposing views, says award-winning news editor Nia-Malika Henderson in Politic.com, a political journalism organisation. People are demanding change and accountability; they want to know what’s happening; and they want people who they trust to break it down and help them understand it,” say Black editors and publishers.
Tatsha Robertson of Essence says, “President Obama’s election is historic but we are going to take him to task.” She adds that “We’ll be asking what he is going to do on specific issues that African-Americans are interested in - unemployment, AIDS, housing, health”.
Moreover, the Black press’s Obama Watch has revived circulation and coverage aimed at African-American audiences. Essence, the top-selling magazine among Black women, has launched full-time White House coverage. Black Entertainment Television, the leading cable network in black households will follow suit. In addition, The National Association of Black Journalists monitors the president’s commitment on “topics from the environment and green jobs to the growing political power of minorities.”
Chicago-based Ebony, the nation’s oldest black magazine with a multi-million monthly readership, landed Obama’s first post-election interview. Its sister publication, the weekly Jet magazine, carries a two-page Washington report. “Who we are is really evolving right now, in this post-civil rights era,” said Bryan Monroe, vice president and editorial director of Ebony and Jet. “Our readers really need the Black press.”
What makes this issue so important? It focuses attention on the historic role of the Black press ever since North Star, the freedom journal of abolitionist Fredrick Douglass: “Advocacy is our mission”. With no alternative to Black press news and opinions, people are defenceless against the perils of the new “management of expectations” – a political fad which if unchallenged leads to disempowerment.
Tavis Smiley, author, journalist, political commentator and talk show host, put it bluntly when he said: “Black folks should kick the tires before hopping on President Obama’s post-election bandwagon”.