Today I learned that Michael Bullerdick, the latest managing editor of Essence Magazine–a highly influential publication whose first issue published in 1970–inadvertently outted himself on social media recently by expressing extreme right-wing beliefs that counter the history and long-standing values of the organization where he was hired last summer.
What’s notable about this story is that Mr. Bullerdick is a white man. While he is not the first white employee to make headlines–as Ellianna Placas did when she became the first white fashion director–he is the first white person and first man to be the managing editor of this publication geared to Black female readers.
According to Richard Prince at Journalisms, Bullerdick was asked to leave after his posting habits on Facebook came to light…
The mismatch in values not surprising to me–even though I know very little about Bullerdick, personally. What I do know, however, is that Essence was acquired in 2005 by Time, Inc.–the largest magazine publisher in the U.S.–a corporate conglomerate that well understood the cumulative spending power of Black women.
In 2000, the Black owners of Essence sold 49% of this iconic company to Time. Why just 49%, you ask? Because by retaining 51% ownership of the company, they could technically say that Essence was still Black-owned (insert air quotes here).
My grandmother used to caution me that you can always tell the real politics of an organization by its board and its budget. Apply this wisdom to Essence, and you will find Time’s fingerprints everywhere…which brings us to Mr. Bullerdick.
Without Time’s control of Essence, Mr. Bullerdick wouldn’t have even gotten a job working in the mailroom based on his clear antipathy for the organizational values of Essence.
The choice to sell Essence to a media conglomerate was a purely financial decision. The problem with that choice is that–not surprisingly–it has eroded the brand and mission of this esteemed publication. It was strategically short-sighted decision by the original owners because they chose money over mission. And, as a consequence of taking the money to walk away from control of Essence, it also meant saying goodbye to a mission in service to a once under-valued, near invisible population, but now highly prized consumer base: Black women.