Emerge emerges

September 29, 1994|By Gregory P. Kane

REPORTS OF our death, to borrow an expression from Mark Twain, have been greatly exaggerated."

That was from George E. Curry, editor in chief of Emerge magazine, writing in the September issue of the periodical that some had written off as dead back in July. A black Virginia millionaire recently bought an interest in Emerge and secured its place as, arguably, the premiere magazine for black America.

Count me among the many -- although it needs more subscribers -- fans of the magazine. I would have been miserable and inconsolable if Emerge had gone under.

A comparison of the September issues of Emerge and Ebony, that mainstay on the coffee tables of much of black America, shows why Emerge is preferred by thinking people.

The covers of both magazines refer to articles inside about O.J. Simpson and the issue of domestic violence. But Ebony's cover also refers to an "Annual Readers' Poll" that purports to tell us "Who is the ideal black man and woman and who are the hottest stars?"

The last headline reads "Anita Baker Returns With A Bang." A picture of the sultry singer adorns the cover. But as lovely and talented as Anita Baker is, there are more pressing issues facing black Americans than her return to the stage after childbirth.

Emerge's September issue includes: "What Went Wrong In Rwanda" and "Is Khallid Undermining Farrakhan?" The cover story is "Black Unity: Ben Chavis Plots A New Agenda." (The September issue of Emerge went to press before Ben Chavis was ousted as NAACP executive director.)

If the cover doesn't convince you of the differences between the two, take a peek inside. Ebony's content ranges from the excellent historical account of William H. Hastie resigning as a civilian aide to the secretary of war in 1943 to protest racial discrimination to the vapid "Stardom's Other Side: The Price of Fame." Unfortunately, there's too much of the latter.

Emerge has a superb dialogue between scholars Manning Marable and Henry Louis Gates on the relations between blacks and Jews and whether Louis Farrakhan exacerbates those tensions. There's a "Diaspora Watch" that tells of the move to democracy in Liberia, an impending electoral crisis in the Dominican Republic and the struggle of Maroons in Suriname to keep their lands.

Even the letters to the editor are vastly different. Ebony has page after page devoted to gushing commentary on how the magazine covered certain people -- mostly entertainers and athletes. Virtually, no letters critical of the magazine's coverage of pressing issues is ever run.

Emerge's letters section this month is much smaller than Ebony's and addresses the topics of education, racism and voting. There are no letters critical of the magazine, but it has run complaints in the past, including some slamming it for running a cover illustration of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas with a handkerchief on his head -- a not very subtle implication that he is an Uncle Tom.

That controversial cover was part of what editor George Curry calls Emerge's "take no prisoners" style of journalism. The goal is to have no sacred cows.

Emerge's other main competitor, Essence magazine, is a notch above Ebony. But I would like more hard news where Essence places its recipes, travel and spirits (booze) articles. I stopped reading it after it published two articles in 1984 in which Louis Farrakhan promised dire consequences for anyone who opposed Jesse Jackson's presidential bid. Both articles read like a clarion call to lunacy and thuggery.

The 1993 Writers' Market and Yearbook lists Ebony's circulation as 1.8 million. Essence's is 900,000. Emerge is managing to struggle along at 200,000. Lordy, lordy, someone please tell me why.

Gregory P. Kane is a reporter for The Evening Sun.

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