Friday, February 01, 2008

Special Bulletin: The LA Debate



- by Lauren Coleman

By now you’ve probably heard and read all that could have possibly been expounded upon regarding the California Democratic debates, which took place in the heart of Hollywood just last night (January 31st). And while most all the coverage will simply be a re-hash that attempts to analyze which candidate better positioned him/herself or examines contrasts between this debate and recent previous others both Democratic and Republican or even reviews the candidates rebuttals to each other and more; what you will not have heard yet is my particular take on the supposed phenomenon of the “history in the making” aspect of the debates.

Of course, without a doubt we are witnessing the first time the Democratic party, or any other party in America for that matter, will select from either an African-American male or a White female to represent the party’s choice for its presidential candidate; a fact hardly able to be escaped by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer allusions throughout all the pre-coverage of the event. This, from a country that not that long ago denied both Blacks and women the right to even vote, let alone run for public office. But before we begin patting ourselves on the back about how progressive we have become; I’d like to bring attention to some very real situations that I experienced surrounding these debates so that some more “history in the making” can also start to unfold on another level beginning with this very reading.

As someone who embodies both the African-American and female sides of all this history making activity; you might think I should be well-positioned for my very own blossoming, should we logically follow the pundits. I personify not only these traits daily but also make moves as the only Black female, who I know, at the helm of the hottest buzz word in business: new media. In addition to The A-List, I founded and run Punch Media Group, a new media company that is at the forefront of the convergence of digital and wireless methodologies as they pertain solely to youth/Hip-Hop culture and entertainment. We develop entertainment content, offer new media marketing services, publish a digital ‘zine, have an office in Los Angeles and Paris, France, a new partner in Beijing and are launching programming in Dubai; and if you think any of this is easy to materialize and grow everyday, please think again. For every triumph there are probably two situations of blatant disregard and disrespect.

I have, like many entrepreneurs, earned every achievement touted and call recall in vivid detail each strong step taken to get there. And while I don’t fool myself about the world I live in, I find no use for chips on shoulders or anything else remotely similar.

But I have to wonder when the big guns of CNN, The Los Angeles Times and get together to produce these debates and create a new media experience for the American people, just how many people in that room are from diverse groups? And just who is it who is making decisions about whose voice is worthy to be included in covering the history making and who isn’t. If history, as they always say, is written by the winners; I dare say it is also probably currently documented loudest by the gatekeepers. This fact became glaringly apparent when my co-publisher requested press credentials to cover the debates for The A-List.

While we submitted the request well under the imposed deadline and did the due diligence to follow up, we were informed that the “spin room” at the Kodak Theatre was at total capacity and were simply not able to accommodate any further journalists due to strict L.A. fire marshall laws. I pressed to have my colleague ask just what was the ratio of multicultural journalists admitted to see if we could negotiate. We were told "major" Black press were covered. End of discussion.

Now we don’t kid ourselves. As a trade blog, is a growing blog of nearly 200,000 a month. That’s not millions, but it’s not anything to sneeze at either. Thus in the subtle world we live in now, diverse peoples have the added task of discerning whether “no's” are on tangibles or intangibles, let’s just say. But feeling the right to attend and obviously knowing that there are not many Black press outlets in Los Angeles, digital or otherwise; I pursued and decided to ask the president of the National Association of Black Journalists what she thought. While surprised at the situation, she was gracious, long-suffering and strategic. The main question seemed to be exactly when did we request credentials. When given the date, no one could seem to use that as a reason for denial. Perhaps it was the format of the publication? At any rate, calls were made by her office, and we were told that we may have a shot by showing up and seeing if they could accommodate us since we were “local,” but no promises.

After all this, I decided to go myself. And the “no-room-at-the-inn” vibe meant no luxury of bringing a photographer, videographer or anything else. As I made my way past the power stilettos of politicos, senators bellowing names to obtain their tickets and the sheer rush of all the campaign supporters and more; I finally reached the press area where I briefly ran down my story. I was then easily handed over a press badge and told to make myself comfortable wherever I didn’t see a reserved place. Naturally I glanced over the names at the reserved places which included such bastions as The New York Times but also several blogs and even the women’s fashion magazine W. W?? What I also noticed were about 25 non-reserved spaces, at least 12 of which never were taken at any point during the night. So what of the Fire Marshall excuse? And what of the other three female faces of color I saw and two male in the print area out of at least 150-175, other than my own.

I’ve always loved a good challenge, in anything. So this was all in a day’s work for me. The thing is, how many voices do we lose when certain challenges, which really need not be challenges at all, are too daunting for others. Had I not thought to use a bigger gun of the NABJ, would this voice not be heard now? And why is inclusiveness important?

For me, I think it’s because no one has all the answers. Only with diverse inclusion can a country, an industry succeed. Further, those who consume need to be represented equally on the equity scale. For a segment that out-indexes most others in movie-going, number of hours on line and certainly cell phone expenditures, it has almost no business representatives of any level of power. And it is my great concern that there is diverse inclusion in this powerful entity called new media so that it can flourish and create great opportunities for all. But how many business people of color are able to partake in the 700 MHz spectrum sales? How many are doing deals for original content on mobile phone platforms? How many are represented by agencies in Hollywood as the hot shot Internet production kidz? If it’s all this just for a press pass for our digital ‘zine, just imagine when the stakes are higher for my overall new media business deals – and they are.

But I will not be daunted. Me? I’m working on a variety of high-profile avenues to create friendly and productive dialogue on powerful levels so that these issues about which I write will be simply be things of the past. So I guess this just proves there is still need for history makers in this country on a variety of levels and that by no stretch of the imagination is the playing field quite yet equal in day-to-day business life just because we have presidential candidates of a different image. However, like Clinton and Obama, I'm being called to step up to the history making plate in my particular field and am more than ready to lead the way!

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