Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

The Black Ivy Influencer: How an "Outsider" Black Newsletter Became an Inside Force at the Columbia University Journalism School

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

The Black Ivy Influencer: How an "Outsider" Black Newsletter Became an Inside Force at the Columbia University Journalism School

Article excerpt

Introduction

Black American mainstream journalists walk an interesting intellectual and ideological tightrope between the very separate American histories of both Black press journalism and white hegemonic journalism. They are emotionally and intellectually attached to the activist tradition in the Black press, but they have a different mandate: their mission is not to serve as journalistic equivalents of racial advocates (also called "advocacy journalism"), but as educators and persuaders within the white hegemonic structure of American print and broadcast (and now web-smartphone multi-platform) mainstream media newsrooms. Black mainstream journalists, then, are a complex combination: both middle-class Black professionals working within white hegemony, but also advocates for the Black perspective--Black truths, as it were--to be included in mainstream media, on white terms, for white audiences. Because of this hegemonic-reinforced ideological self-restraint practiced by Black mainstream journalists, it has always been important for them to have media forums in which they can write for their own Black audiences, from undiluted perspectives.

For 35 years, one of these intra-racial outlets has been the Black Alumni Network newsletter. (In its own newsletter, it is nicknamed The BA Network or just known by its initials, BAN. (1)) It was founded in 1980 by a newly graduated class of Black students of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, considered the nation's top journalism school. For many Black professional groups, a newsletter would have just served a social function. For Black mainstream journalists, however, it became a font of information, perspective and the limited activism Black mainstream journalists are allowed. The newsletter served three practical purposes: 1) as a nationally-distributed Black alternative newspaper/magazine, 2) as a bulletin board that listed the accomplishments of fellow Black Columbia Journalism school alumni, and 3) a forum to spotlight, and sometimes lead, activities and campaigns within Columbia's journalism school that would benefit its few Black journalism students, staff and faculty.

For the purpose of this intellectual discussion, the independently-published, all-volunteer newsletter served two ideological purposes during its history, which continues in 2016: 1) it gave Black mainstream journalists a forum to write about themselves on Black terms, and 2) it served as an example of what David Pettinicchio calls "institutional activism" within its marked territory, Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. This qualitative essay focuses on that second ideological purpose. It argues that, using that insider strategy coupled with the tactic of constant publication and visibility, the Black Alumni Network newsletter and its editors and publisher not only persuaded Columbia University to acknowledge its existence, but also to include the small periodical within its white hegemonic structure and to respond to its insider activism.

Theory

This article is using the idea of David Pettinicchio's "institutional activism," which states that the "insider/outsider" dichotomy needs to be revised to deal with existing challenges in a variety of ways, including entrepreneurial. (2) These institutional activists "pro-actively work on issues that overlap with social movements," (3) and don't necessarily need outsiders to help them. (4) Those in charge of hegemony can also act based on their own ambitions or goals in ways that align with the goals of activists. (5)

From a theoretical perspective, The Black Alumni Network newsletter is a perfect vehicle for Black mainstream journalists. As a volunteer organization, the newsletter allowed Black people who were/are corporate employees for white hegemonic media to make a symbolic-yet-practical contribution to the advocacy Black press journalism/Black Freedom struggle that allowed them to secure their journalistic employment. …

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