Essence’s white male managing editor leaves after social mishap
By Richard Prince
ABOVE PHOTO: Former Essence managing editor Michael Bullerdick and an issue of Essence.
Essence magazine and its white male managing editor — whom the leading magazine for black women has emphasized had a production, not an editorial role — are parting ways, a spokeswoman told Journal-isms Friday, after right-wing material on his Facebook page was brought to the editors' attention.
The hiring of Michael Bullerdick last July created an uproar, partly because the title of "managing editor" implied to many a major role for a white man in the editorial process of a magazine for black women.
In his LinkedIn profile, Bullerdick lists "Edit stories for tone and style" among his duties, even though editor-in-chief Constance C.R. White insisted when he was hired, "Michael is responsible for production and operational workflow. He has no involvement in editorial content."
The announcement of Bullerdick's departure for the book division of Time Warner, the conglomerate that owns Essence, came after Journal-isms shared screen shots of Bullerdick's Facebook page taken by a reader.
"Essence readers would be shocked to find that Bullerdick, who under the prodding of Time Inc became the first white male editor at the magazine last year, openly espouses extremist Right-wing views that run counter to what Essence has historically stood for," the Journal-isms reader wrote in an email.
In one screen shot, an April 10 posting is headlined, "No Voter Fraud, Mr. Attorney General?" touting a video by James O'Keefe, the conservative activist who worked with right-wing trickster Andrew Breitbart. The same day, Bullerdick shared a photo illustration of Al Sharpton headlined, "MSNBC Race Pimp." Bullerdick also recommends material from the conservative magazine Human Events and the right-wing website townhall.com, from which Bullerdick posted "the Frequent Bomber Program," an article about 1960s radical Bill Ayers. Bullerdick wrote, "Obama's mentor and friend."
During the 2008 presidential campaign, then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama noted that he was a child when Ayers notoriously was a member of the Weathermen, protesting the Vietnam War. "The former Weatherman, William Ayers, now holds the position of distinguished professor of education at the University of Illinois-Chicago," Michael Dobbs wrote in 2008 in the Washington Post. . . . Both Obama and Ayers were members of the board of an anti-poverty group, the Woods Fund of Chicago . . . Whatever his past, Ayers is now a respected member of the Chicago intelligentsia, and still a member of the Woods Fund Board."
Through a spokeswoman, White initially gave Journal-isms this statement on Friday: "As editor-in-chief, I'm responsible for all editorial content for Essence. I hired Michael to manage the production schedule of Essence. As head of production, he does not attend editorial idea meetings, nor does he get involved in the editorial direction of the magazine."
Later, however, the spokeswoman said, "By mutual agreement, Michael has accepted a position in another division."
The episode is yet another in which employees' social media activities have created tension between employer and employee. To forestall such conflict, some news organizations have forbidden employees to express political views in social media.
Just last month, for example, ESPN said its journalists would be violating its social media policy by displaying pictures of themselves wearing hoods on Twitter in solidarity with the slain teenager Trayvon Martin. Then the network reversed itself.
Asked whether Essence has developed a social media policy, the spokeswoman said by email, "Employees must follow the Standards of Business Conduct, which is distributed to everyone at the company. Dan Okrent (who heads up Editorial Standards and Practices for Time Inc.) has been working for some time now with our top Editors to develop a social media policy. This will be released when the work is done." Okrent was the first New York Times public editor.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Bullderdick is a magazine industry veteran who was a corporate managing editor for American Media from August 2004 to January 2011.
He also lists himself as Consultant/Editorial Director for American Athlete magazine from August 2011 to the present. In that position, he oversees "print, digital and brand positioning for this innovative digital magazine and Website with social media extensions (late 2011 launch). Conceptualize stories, set tone, hire all talent, write, top edit and oversee all content across platforms."
No successor to Bullerdick was named.
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