Urban Profile magazine takes different approach to news

A BLACK PERSPECTIVE

October 07, 1990|By Cindy Harper-Evans

Riding on a subway train two years ago from his job as a loan officer at Chemical Bank to his small apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Keith Clinkscales got to thinking about the 1986 incident in which four white youths chased a black man to his death on a highway in New York City's Howard Beach.

"I thought there were so many racially motivated things happening, but I found black print to be conservative in dealing with it. There was no magazine that really dealt with the black perspective and talked to the reader the way black people speak to one another," Mr. Clinkscales said.

From that perception -- not a journalistic background or media know-how -- Urban Profile magazine was born.

"I was completely ignorant of what a magazine was and what it took to produce. If I had, I probably wouldn't have done it," Mr. Clinkscales says now.

Started as a newsletter with several friends in 1988, Urban Profile quickly became a quarterly magazine and followed Mr. Clinkscales to Harvard Business School, where he increased its circulation and scope while gaining his master's degree in business administration.

Mr. Clinkscales, 26, recently moved the magazine and its three other staff members to its new headquarters on North Charles Street in downtown Baltimore because of the city's "accessibility to other major East Coast markets" and its relatively inexpensive rental space, Mr. Clinkscales said.

The target audience of Urban Profile, which has a circulation of about 20,000 nationwide, is blacks 18 to 34 years old who have at least some college education.

The most recent issue's cover story is "Special Report on Racism/The Power of Duality." Also featured are analyses on understanding racism, teaching children about racial prejudice and blacks in advertising.

The next issue, which comes out in the middle of this month, will feature an analysis of black U.S. troops mobilized in the Persian Gulf. Mr. Clinkscales said that as the magazine grows, it will have more objective pieces among the analytical articles.

Although Urban Profile breaks even on each edition, the young publisher says his greatest problem in keeping the magazine afloat is finding advertising. That's not unusual for a start-up magazine, especially in today's sluggish economy.

But some industry observers familiar with the magazine call it radical -- touching on issues with more vigor than older black magazines -- and say that may also explain why Urban Profile is having some trouble finding advertisers for its publication, which goes bimonthly at the first of the year.

"It's not that we're radical. It's just that in this country black thought is often considered radical -- especially when it comes from younger people. What is good journalism in white media is often considered rhetoric in black media," Mr. Clinkscales said.

The Urban Profile Team, as they call themselves, recently met with a handful of business leaders in downtown Baltimore in an effort to raise $500,000 in capital to build the magazine's circulation base and for direct mailings.

The only investor outside the Urban Profile fold is a fellow Harvard Business School graduate in Boston whose family owns a television and radio station there.

Mr. Clinkscales says he feels it's only a matter of time until the magazine starts posting promising numbers. He says he is searching for a full-time managing editor to give the magazine more journalistic polish. Typos and misspellings are not uncommon now.

"I felt that I could go to a newsstand with 20 bucks and buy all the black-oriented magazines that were there and still have change," Mr. Clinkscales said. "So I feel there is still room for my product on the newsstand."

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