Angela Burt-Murray, New Top Editor for 'Essence'

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Ed Gordon talks with Angela Burt-Murray the new editor-in-chief of Essence magazine, the country's leading publication by and for African-American women.

ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

For 35 years, Essence magazine has been the lifestyle publication for and about black women. Its pages focus on what women are talking about, what businesses they own, what fashions they're wearing. Recently, Angela Burt-Murray became only the fourth editor in chief in the magazine's history. She says she's looking forward to taking over the reins.

Ms. ANGELA BURT-MURRAY (Editor in Chief, Essence): I get to go to work and spend the day with black women. This is, you know, like hanging out with your friends and just talking about the issues that you care about--our complex relationships with black men, our children, our fashion, our beauty, just the important things that we care about. So, you know, it's a wonderful opportunity.

GORDON: There are two things that I've heard talked about and, as you know, when we embrace something in our community, we hold it very tight.

Ms. BURT-MURRAY: Absolutely.

GORDON: And Essence is one of those things that has been embraced for 30-plus years now.


GORDON: And so there is this almost parental feeling when looking at the magazine.


GORDON: One of the things that we had heard concern about is that Essence is no longer held by African-Americans--it's owned by Time Warner Inc. now--the idea of whether or not it stays a, quote, "true, traditional" black magazine.


GORDON: Lay to rest concerns from folks who have that.

Ms. BURT-MURRAY: Well, I think that, you know, it's interesting to have people make those comments, but I think what is most important is to understand that the staff at Essence is always going to remain true to the core mission of the magazine, which is putting African-American women first and, by extension, our community. That will never change. Our team will continue to advocate for the issues that affect us most, and we will continue to tell the truth to power, absolutely.

GORDON: The other concern that I have heard is from the true traditional Essence reader, the women who've been there for 30-plus years, who are worried as we have seen, quite frankly, our community and our society shift, really, toward young people. Hip-hop has become such a powerful influence on our day-to-day lives that ofttimes people above 30, frankly, have been forgotten. There is the concern from the older Essence reader that the magazine now is trying to skew too young.

Ms. BURT-MURRAY: I don't think that the magazine is trying to skew too young. I think what is incumbent upon me as the new editor is to make sure that we're focusing on the core issues that affect our broad readership. The August issue of Essence magazine, where we have a really important piece on the plight of our sister, Assata Shakur, who the government has issued a $1 million bounty on her head. I think that my focus as we go forward into the next year is really taking a look at the scourge of AIDS in our community and throughout the diaspora. We cannot ignore this any longer. We are dying. There's no other way to put it. We are dying. Those are the types of pieces that our readership counts on Essence covering, again, going back to the point that our stories are not fully told in the mainstream media, so there has to be a place where our community can come and get the truth about what's going on. So I think that those are very important pieces.

GORDON: Now one of the things that I always find interesting, particularly for women, because whether we like to admit it or not, and it is stereotypical to one sense but true to another, is that of the two-parent family, mothers tend to be the most nurturing of the two. How do you, personally, strike the balance? You're a mom of two, you're a wife and a career woman. How do you find that balance? That is the struggle for many women.

Ms. BURT-MURRAY: I think that it's--you know, it has to do a lot with the relationship that you have with your partner. My husband, Leonard, is extremely supportive of my career and also of me personally. And the approach that we've taken with our children is to just make sure that they're in a loving, nurturing and supportive environment. They need to see Mommy and Daddy being supportive of each other, and then we're supportive of them as well. You know, we want to create that balance. And as the mother of two black boys, you know, that is certainly a challenge. But, you know, my husband and I are committed to that, and we're figuring it out as we go along.

GORDON: Let me throw in one other question...


GORDON: ...that I neglected to ask earlier, and it is one that I've directed to Susan Taylor.


GORDON: It is one that we've debated 30-plus years with this magazine.


GORDON: There are some men who see Essence, from month to month, as the favorite bashing magazine, the idea that, you know, what to do when your dog does this, or why your man won't treat you right...


GORDON: ...this, that and the other. While it is not there monthly, let's say that, and there is a salute issue to black men, obviously...

Ms. BURT-MURRAY: Absolutely, November.

GORDON: ...every year...


GORDON: ...and there are those positive articles, there are also those that kind of take a shot at us. What do you say to the critics who say, `Look, it's just male-bashing.'

Ms. BURT-MURRAY: Well, I don't think that Essence is doing male-bashing at all. I think what you're seeing in Essence is an intimate conversation amongst girlfriends, and when girlfriends get together, we talk about the good and we talk about the bad. So, you know, sometimes you will see that. But I think that there's definitely a balance in our pages. As you mentioned earlier, we do a lovely tribute in the November issue, all about our black men, and we love them and we care for them. And, you know, we just want to help our readers figure out how to have nurturing and empowering relationships with the men in their lives.

GORDON: Well, indeed, it's been going on for 30-plus years, and to follow in the footsteps of Diane, who was a friend of this show and has been on, and, of course, the great Susan Taylor.


GORDON: It's a great legacy for you and we wish you luck. And we look forward to turning those pages.

Ms. BURT-MURRAY: Thank you very much.

GORDON: Angela Burt-Murray is the new editor in chief of Essence magazine.

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