Chicago Magazine Mavens talk Diversity

In a special Chicago edition of Magazine Mavens, Essence magazine executive editor Dawn Baskerville and Men's Fitness editor-in-chief Roy Johnson open the pages of their August issues. Both editors are in Chicago to attend the Unity conference for journalists of color. The Mavens discuss their coverage of health and politics, and about what the Unity conference means for young journalists of color.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. We are continuing our visit to Chicago ,and today, we are broadcasting live from Wishbone restaurant, the West Loop location. Still to come, radio by and for the Latino community in Chicago's Pilson neighborhood.

But first, it's time for our monthly check in with the Magazine Mavens, editors of some of our favorite magazines, who talk to us about what's hot on their pages, and what's on their minds. Joining me today for a special segment are Dawn Baskerville, executive editor for Essence magazine, and Roy Johnson, editor-in-chief of Men's Fitness Magazine. Thank you both for taking time to join us.

Ms. DAWN BASKERVILLE (Executive Editor, Essence Magazine): Hey there Michel, great to be here.

Mr. ROY JOHNSON (Editor-in-Chief, Men's Fitness Magazine): Thank you for having us here.

MARTIN: It's a little distracting here trying focus on looking at this cover of LL Cool J and some of the - I can't even describe these abs. I can't...

Mr. JOHNSON: That's what's hot in our magazine.

MARTIN: Just a little distracted here.

Mr. JOHNSON: Right on the cover.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Both of you chose for your cover subjects people who've been on there before. In fact, I understand, Roy, LL Cool J, this is the only cover model who has ever been on twice.

Mr. JOHNSON: Absolutely, first time in 25 years.

MARTIN: And Usher has been on before. I know he was on a couple of months ago with his new bride, Tameka Foster.

Ms. BASKERVILLE: Yes.

MARTIN: And that's unusual because he's a man, as a repeat cover for men. So I wanted to ask each of you, what was it about these figures - these figures you notice - like I'm still talking about - I can't - I have to turn it over. Oh, what is it about these people that made you want to put them on your cover again?

Mr. JOHNSON: I certainly don't have to persuade you, but obviously, LL Cool J has been the epitome of fitness, certainly within the hip-hop community and the entertainment community for a generation.

The interesting part about this cover is that it represents him turning 40. And for us, we want you to build a fit, healthy lifestyle. We give you the tools to do that, and he is someone who has embraced that to the tenth degree, is passionate about it, and has been a role model for men who want to live life, live it to its fullest.

MARTIN: Forgive me, I have to ask about the whole steroids issue because there was the unverified - of course, a number of individuals involved deny using it, but there's been a report a couple of months ago that the number of figures in entertainment have been using steroids to get these incredible figures. I know you asked about it. What did he say about it?

Mr. JOHNSON: Well, he denied it, and he laughed about it. And if you see his workout, as he says, steroids will not make you at all look like that. You have to do the work, and since his workout is just off the hook, I mean, it's crazy. I mean, he does things that - I mean, I get up and workout five times a week, early morning, six o'clock in the morning, and I do things that most people don't. I looked at him, and he made my head hurt just watching him swing hammers and do things with weights on his back and balls in the air and chains around him. So whatever he's doing, I'll do it because he is primarily working like a madman.

MARTIN: This conversation's taking a very dangerous turn. Dawn, help. What about Usher, and you've got this cute little boy, his son...

Ms. BASKERVILLE: Oh yes, cute little boy.

MARTIN: His son, Usher Raymond the 4th?

Ms. BASKERVILLE: The 5th.

MARTIN: The 5th?

Ms. BASKERVILLE: Yeah, the 5th.

MARTIN: Why did you choose him for the cover?

Ms. BASKERVILLE: Well, we're - obviously, she was usually dedicated for the past three years to do right men, men who are about doing good things for the community. They're single typically. But in Usher's case, he's a married man who is doing the right thing.

And he, you know, we wanted to talk to him about the newest love affair in his life, which is the relationship that he has with his nine month old son. And in reading this story, you just see the evolution of Usher from someone who kind of had like a boyish personality but has now evolved into a married man. Now, he has a son.

MARTIN: He sounds almost evangelical about his role as a father. Were you surprised by this? I mean...

Ms. BASKERVILLE: Very much.

MARTIN: Look how passionate about what a father is supposed to do, particularly given that he did not grow up with his father.

Ms. BASKERVILLE: Exactly, it's kind of like an epiphany for him. He didn't grow up with his father. His father was into some situations that his mother considered to be a bad influence, so they were kind of kept apart. And he's vowed that that will never be the case between him and his son.

So it has like changed everything in his life. He's more focused. He's spiritual, and he's centered. And I think this is the driving force that's going to, you know, propel him into the future, just being a father, a dad.

I mean, he's still a newly wed, but then you have this new person in your life who changes everything. And the baby, this is the first time the baby's been seen anywhere, and it wasn't to exploit. But it was really to kind of embrace this relationship between a father and son, which you don't often see in the black community.

MARTIN: So much more to talk about here, and there's also - you've done some interesting reporting on this issue on black Republicans, which I want to mention, and I also want to mention that some of the web content has been very interesting.

But I do want to spend the couple of minutes we have left talking about the two of you. Because this is a - we are all attending a convention for journalists, I'd like to ask each of you why or how you got your start, and if you have any advice for young journalists who are interested in following in your footsteps. Roy?

Mr. JOHNSON: We're participating in the UNITY Convention, which is a gathering of journalists of color, African American, Asian American, Native American, and Hispanic, anyone who is passionate about this business.

And what's great about being here with Dawn is that she has shared the journey with me throughout my career. I have worked with her on several occasions. She was one of my top editors at Savoy when we launched that and did that for a couple of years.

The advice I give to young people is to find something that you're passionate about. If you're passionate about journalism, no matter that it is evolving into a multiplatform discipline, several things still matter. Accuracy matters. Fairness matters. Discipline matters. So no matter whether you're telling your story in print, in magazines, or in television, on the radio, digitally, if you maintain those basic disciplines, then you will find success.

MARTIN: Dawn, what about you? How did you get your start? What advice do you have?

Ms. BASKERVILLE: How I got my start? Well, I've always wanted to be a journalist, knew I wanted to be a magazine journalist from probably the age of 14, and just didn't know how to get there. And just through a series of being a fact checker, researcher, reporter, writer, editor, just kind of moved up the ranks that way. And, you know, as Roy said, our paths crossed working at Time Incorporated, and Roy gave me an opportunity - unique opportunity to step up into management when I went to work with him at Savoy magazine.

MARTIN: So he was taking credit for you, but that's, you know, we'll skip on past that. Is your advice to look - seek out mentors, even if they're not the same gender as you or the same race as you?

Ms. BASKERVILLE: Absolutely.

Mr. JOHNSON: Well, and you can have - you can have more than one mentor - mentors in different areas, even if they aren't necessarily journalists. We are in a business, and so it has helped me through the years to have mentors who are publishers or who are in sales or in circulation because, the higher you get, the more you have to understand about the broader business.

MARTIN: Dawn?

Ms. BASKERVILLE: And I would say hone your craft. I mean, things are immediate. There's opportunity to correct, but you really want to be specific in what you know and diverse in what you know at the same time, if that makes any kind of sense. So it's, you know, it's an exciting field, don't give up, be persistent, but be good at what you do.

MARTIN: A lot of people are reading the headlines, though, and are seeing that a lot of major media organizations are either laying people off or cutting back. I think that has to be discouraging to people.

Mr. JOHNSON: Well, the way I look at it is that, in this era, just about everyone who's in the business now will have to go through some sort of change like that. So it doesn't have the same stigma that it may have had four or five years ago. I've been laid off, and so there's very few people here at UNITY who have not been laid off at some point or another.

I always tell people that sometimes, you have to go through something to get to something. So I don't look at it as an ending, but as a beginning and an opportunity to broaden your horizons and explore, maybe, what is out there for you that you may not have even considered before.

MARTIN: But what about those who say that just the mainstream media just doesn't meet their needs anymore? They don't believe it. It doesn't have the credibility they want to get there, you know. They just don't - they don't believe it. It just isn't important enough.

Ms. BASKERVILLE: Well, the traditional form - traditional forms of journalism are changing, but information is evergreen. The way we get it is what's different. So there's total opportunity for you to get it. You just have to be where people are and meet then where they get their information. So if it's streaming information, if it's digital, people still read magazines. They still read newspapers. They watch television. You just have to be where they are.

MARTIN: OK. I have to tell you my favorite - one of my favorite new features that you all have is Internet only. It's your Friday Flashback...

Ms. BASKERVILLE: Flashback Fridays.

MARTIN: Flashback Friday, where you find these people who were, like, famous back in the day, and what are they up to. It is so hilarious. I love it.

Ms. BASKERVILLE: Well, we're glad to hear that. And you have to kind of put in - present it that it's not a has-been thing, but people really want to know, what is Marla Gibbs doing now that you don't see her.

MARTIN: It is. And to see their kids and stuff, it's really interesting.

Ms. BASKERVILLE: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Roy, I always ask you this. What's your favorite article in this month's magazine?

Mr. JOHNSON: Well, this month...

MARTIN: Dawn, I assigned you a favorite, sorry, but what is yours?

Mr. JOHNSON: The lose fat, gain muscle diet, and we put it in that way because that's what most of our readers are looking for. But if you look at some of the ways you can change your diet, from using fat free yogurt to using fat-free Greek yogurt, instead of using chunk white tuna using canned salmon, different ways that, whether you're male or female, you can just improve your health, eat a little bit better, and get to a place and fitness, combined with exercise that helps you just lead a fitter, healthier lifestyle.

MARTIN: OK. I can tell you my favorite. The piece - or the end piece about a young man who had two kidney transplants, which is - I didn't even know you could - and who has gone on to really rebuild his health and his life. It's just a great story. So thank you for that.

Mr. JOHNSON: Yeah. Our success story in the back of the magazine is always a popular item.

MARTIN: All right. Roy S. Johnson is the editor-in-chief at Men's Fitness magazine. Dawn Baskerville is the executive editor at Essence magazine. They were both kind enough to join me here at Wishbone restaurant in Chicago. I thank you both.

Ms. BASKERVILLE: Always a pleasure.

Mr. JOHNSON: And have the shrimp and grits when you come. It is not a Men's Fitness...

Ms. BASKERVILLE: This from a fitness guy.

MARTIN: I didn't see that in the lose fat - I didn't see that in the article.

Mr. JOHNSON: Just have it once and go to the gym.

MARTIN: OK.

Ms. BASKERVILLE: Always a pleasure, Michel. Thank you.

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