The Color of the Magazine Industry

Article excerpt

Byline: Susan Thea Posnock

When Ron Stodghill was recruited by Vanguarde Media in early 2003 to be editor-in-chief of Savoy it was a dicey decision: Vanguarde, a small company owned by venture investors, was losing money. Stodghill was a senior writer for Time, the flagship of the most powerful magazine company in the world; he was well regarded, nicely paid and secure. But he accepted Vanguarde's offer - and not just because it gave him the e.i.c. title (something he could not aspire to at Time).

At Vanguarde, for the first time in his roughly 20 years in journalism, Stodghill would no longer be one of a handful of minority employees, but part of an African American company dedicated to African American readers. "I left Time for this job because I thought it was an honor to create the kind of media company that didn't exist for me to join when I was coming out of school in 1986," he says.

The job lasted only 10 months - Vanguarde filed for bankruptcy last November - but Stodghill says he has no regrets. He views Vanguarde as the "antidote" to a magazine industry that retains the lily-white look of the Saturday Evening Post's America, where African Americans are rarely seen and almost never in positions of power. "The people who lost their positions at Vanguarde instinctively knew that they wouldn't get the same positions in mainstream media," he says.

In his job search, Stodghill saw just how backward the magazine business is when it comes to diversity. It was easy to find openings at major dailies where minority readers are important to circ. But magazines slots were scarce. "At newspapers there are plenty of top editors who are black. Newspapers are farther along than magazines," he says. "The more you go up the food chain from wire services to dailies to weeklies to magazines, the whiter it becomes." Stodghill landed back at Time Inc. as a senior editor at Fortune Small Business.

While there are no concrete numbers to measure the ethnic makeup of magazine staffs, a 2002 report on the periodicals industry by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shows that minorities - Black, Asian or Native American - make up 18.9 percent of the workforce. When it comes to managerial positions, the stats are only 11 percent. Magazines trail other EEOC categories, including television broadcasting, where minorities are 23.6 percent of the workforce, cable TV, 34.4 percent, and newspapers, 22.9 percent. For all industries, minorities make up 30 percent of workers.

For years the issue of diversity has been on the radar of industry leaders. And improving diversity is a stated goal of MPA chairman Tom Ryder, who declined to be interviewed for this story. But little progress has been made.

Diversity is not just about equity. It's good for business: In a much more racially mixed marketplace, magazines that don't have diverse staffs may not accurately feel the pulse of the popular culture. Advertisers have noticed: "If you look at the ad sales staff and the newsrooms, there's very little diversity and because of that, there's a disconnect with advertisers," says Luke Visconti, partner and co-founder of DiversityInc., a multimedia company that publishes DiversityInc magazine.

"Magazine publishers and editors will see that this does affect the bottom line. It's not just noblesse oblige and white man's burden," says Charles Whitaker, assistant professor and director of the Academy for Alternative Journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. "There are sound business reasons for having a diverse workforce, and it actually can bring in more readers and advertisers."

As the advertisers are telling publishers with increasing urgency, minority consumers are an audience they need to reach. The number of African Americans grew 21 percent from 1990 to 2000, and their buying power increased from $318 billion a year in 1990 to $688 billion in 2002, according to the University of Georgia's Selig Center for Economic Growth. …