Editorial Pages and Hip-Hop Meet at Last: Opinion Writers from Younger Generation Offer Fresh Perspective

By Washington, Robin | The Masthead, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Editorial Pages and Hip-Hop Meet at Last: Opinion Writers from Younger Generation Offer Fresh Perspective


Washington, Robin, The Masthead


At the Duluth News Tribune, our editorial page staff has nearly seventy years in combined journalism experience.

That's between two people.

We're hardly atypical, and if the editorial page is journalism's ivory tower, it's made of mastodon tusks. Though the law prohibits age discrimination against anyone between eighteen and seventy, editorial writers are supposed to be experts in everything, and a long memory helps. Clearly, there's a value in having writers who can recall Donald Rumsfeld the White House chief of staff when opining on Donald Rumsfeld the secretary of Defense.

But what about making sense of this passage:

    And as a matter of fact, Rumsfeld,
       now that I think back
    Without 9/11, you couldn't have a war
       in Iraq....

The lyrics are from the hip-hop group Immortal Technique, and should they ever come up at the editorial board of the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, New York, it would fall to twenty-four-year-old Erica Bryant to explain them.

"We're doing a special two-day report on hip-hop. She's going to lead us on that," says James Lawrence, the editorial page editor who first became acquainted with Bryant when the then-high school student sent him her clips from a teen magazine. Impressed, he invited her to sit in on editorial board meetings, leading to two internships and, after Boston University and a year of study in France, a job offer in July 2003.

Having been groomed by the paper, Bryant was a known quantity to staffers and readers. But generational issues do come up.

"They'll mention Jimmy Carter and will forget that Bill Clinton is the first president I have a working knowledge of," she says of editorial board meetings. "I would sit silently and pretend to know what was going on. But [later] I would remind them I wasn't alive then. It's not embarrassing to say that."

Cultural literacy cuts both ways. "We were discussing 50 Cent," she says, pronouncing the rapper's name correctly as "Fitty." "An editor asked me, 'Is the "Cent" capitalized?"

"I do a lot of technology editorials. I wrote one on the problems with music downloading using the Internet. I explained what MP3 players were and Internet terms, like spim. …

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