Obama Opens Doors for Black Media


President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama

For the nation’s black magazines, newspapers, and television and radio stations, the arrival of the Obama administration has ushered in an era of unprecedented access to the White House.

President Obama gave Black Enterprise magazine his first print interview and gave a black talk show host one of his first radio interviews. This month, he invited 50 black newspaper publishers to meet with him at the White House. And at his news conference Tuesday, he skipped over several prominent newspapers and newsmagazines to call on Kevin Chappell, a senior editor at Ebony magazine.

It was the first time an Ebony reporter had been invited to question a president at a prime-time news conference.

“We have, at last, an equal seat at the table,” said Bryan Monroe, the vice president and editorial director of Ebony and Jet magazines. “We’re not going to get everything we need. But now we definitely can be heard.”

Mr. Obama is cultivating a new cast of media insiders in the nation’s capital, the correspondents and editors of the black media outlets that are devoting more staff members and resources to covering the first African-American president.

Outreach to these journalists allows Mr. Obama to get his message to black audiences through news organizations that typically celebrate rather than criticize this president. Officials say that the organizations reach people who are often missed by mainstream outlets and that their efforts reflect the president’s commitment to reach out to all Americans.

“We want people to know what we are doing and how the administration’s policies will impact their community”, said Corey A. Ealons, the president’s recently appointed director of African-American media.

In recent weeks, the administration has invited black media groups to listen in on conference calls with several senior Obama advisers, including Rahm Emanuel, his chief of staff; Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser; and Shaun Donovan, the housing secretary. Officials also organized a meeting with Melody C. Barnes, who leads the president’s Domestic Policy Council. (The administration is also reaching to Spanish-language media and other minority media groups.)

But if the new access to the White House has brought new relevance and respect to outlets long relegated to the sidelines here, it has also stoked the debate about whether the black media should regard Mr. Obama with a more critical eye.

In an interview this month on National Public Radio, Tavis Smiley, a wellknown black radio and television host, urged journalists — black and white — to assess Mr. Obama’s performance critically. “I think the ground is fertile for Barack Obama to be a great president,” Mr. Smiley said. “I think he can be, but only if we help make him a great president. Great presidents have to be pushed into their greatness.

Black media groups insist, however, that they will hold the president’s feet to the fire, and they say they have added resources to provide more coverage.

Black Entertainment Television has added a second White House correspondent to its team here, and the network broadcast live coverage of Mr. Obama’s first address to Congress and his two news conferences.

Essence, a magazine that is dedicated to black women, has hired its first Washington correspondent.

Johnson Publishing Company, the media group based in Chicago that owns Ebony and Jet, has added a feature entitled “Inside Washington” to Jet, a weekly publication.

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