OUT & ABOUT: Beyoncé … Really?

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On Saturday, May 19, the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists will hold its annual awards ceremony celebrating the past, the present and the future of journalism in our town.

Hosted by former Philadelphia Daily News columnist Elmer Smith, this year’s awardees include the following: the late Fatimah Ali, host of WURD-900AM’s The Real Deal With Fatimah Ali; CBS-3’s Jericka Duncan; Todd Bernstein, director of Global Citizen, the group that puts on the annual Martin Luther King Day of Service; former Philadelphia Inquirer managing editor Phillip Dixon; CNN regional all-platform journalist Sarah Hoye; and NBC-10’s Jennifer Wiggins. The keynote speaker for the event is Philadelphia Daily News columnist, Fox News contributor and Columbia University Professor Marc Lamont Hill.

I’ll have more information on tickets and where to get them at the end of this column, but I wanted to stop at Prof. Hill’s contribution to our awards program for a moment. Professor Hill represents a media subgroup that is starting to rise to prominence: the non-journalist journalist.

What do I mean? While Prof. Hill does many of the things journalists have traditionally done, such as write a column, host a television show, and serve as a pundit, he is not, technically, a journalist. But because he can ask for, and receive, press credentials, be honored for what is perceived as his contributions to journalism by various groups, and is given some of the other benefits of being a journalist, he is treated like one.

This is in no way Prof. Hill’s fault. And I don’t blame him at all for reaping these benefits. It’s part of a trend on the part of news organizations to farm out what journalists have traditionally done to people who are better known for doing other things. It’s an attempt on their part to try and get readers, listeners and viewers who have decided not to pay attention to traditional news providers to come back to them.

Think of it as a sort of newsroom stunt-casting. But as often happens with stunt-casting, things can go horribly awry.

For example, poor Prof. Hill won’t pull nearly the attendance the New York Association of Black Journalists will get when they have their awards ceremony. Why? Because one of their honorees is someone who’s much better known for her hair, her music, her husband and her baby than she is her ability to write. That honoree: Beyoncé.

NOTED Black journalist Beyoncé, apparently.

No, I’m not kidding. The Grammy-award winning singer and actress is being honored for her contributions to journalism.

You’re probably saying, “Denise, what contribution could Beyoncé have possibly made to journalism other than being the subject of reams of copy?”

Beyoncé, it turns out, is being awarded for a piece she wrote for Essence magazine entitled “Eat, Play, Love” about her (all too) brief break from being in the public eye. The Dallas Association of Black Journalists, the group that did the judging for the New York chapter, said the reason they chose it was because it was “inspirational.”

When I first got wind the recent winner of People magazine’s “Most Beautiful Woman In The World” honor was going to get a journalism award, I wanted to see the article in question. I read it with an open mind and was even able to get past the picture of the author dressed in a white crop top with leather pants, cowboy boots, and a cowboy hat while swinging a lasso.

To be brutally honest, I’ve seen better-written pieces from my first-year journalism students at Temple. Heck, I wrote better pieces as a first-year journalism student at Temple. But I have to remember I’m not a chart-topping artist who is going to be opening the Revel Casino Hotel in Atlantic City with a series of sold-out shows. For me to get a gig for Essence magazine, I might actually have to, well, be able to write or report.

Now, I know some of you are looking at this and thinking, “Gee! What a hater!” I’m not hating on Mrs. Knowles-Carter. She got asked to write something. She wrote it. Essence published it. She’s being honored for it. I don’t hate the playa. The game, however, is really starting to tick me off.

Compared to where we were as a nation 10 years ago in terms of being informed, we’re about as dumb as a box of rocks these days … and most of the fault for this I place at the feet of journalism that focuses more on celebrity than it does actual news. This bells-and-whistles journalism has led to a news media that doesn’t think before it reacts, is scared of telling it like it is, and forces us to look at things as equals when even Stevie Wonder could tell you they’re not.

In other words, the journalism epitomized by folks like Walter Cronkite would have told its editors that there’s no way they’re going to give the Tea Party the same amount of ink that it gives more reasonable voices while today’s journalism practically gives it and those of its ilk a megaphone, which it then uses to drown out all reasonable voices.

So like I said, I’m not mad at Beyoncé. Or Prof. Hill. Or Prof. Melissa Harris-Perry, who has her own show on MSNBC, a network whose news director told us all point-blank that journalists need not apply for the right to inform people on his network. But if I were a member of NYABJ who had just gotten a rejection letter from Essence recently, I’d feel some kind of way after seeing this.

Tickets for the PABJ Awards Ceremony are $45 for general admission and $25 for full-time students with ID. The deadline to purchase tickets is May 14. For tickets, contact Melanie Burney at (215) 854-2289 or mburney@phillynews.com. Tickets can also be ordered by sending a check or money order payable to PABJ to P.O. Box 8232, Philadelphia, PA 19101. Tickets may also be purchased via PayPal by designating pabj@pabj.org as the payee.

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