At times, Mark Whitaker's unassuming manner belies his tremendous influence on people, politics, and policy. As editor of Newsweek, which boasts a circulation of more than 4 million--3.2 million in the U.S:--and a readership of more than 21 million, Whitaker is setting the agenda for global news coverage. Since being named editor, Newsweek has earned four National Magazine Awards, including the coveted General Excellence recognition in 2002 and 2004.
Whitaker, 47, became the first black editor of a national newsweekly in 1998--21 years after working as an intern at Newsweek while a student at Harvard. He officially joined the magazine as a flail-time reporter in 1981. He went on to serve as an assistant managing editor from 1991 to 1995.
In May 2004, Whitaker joined the front lines of the struggle to bring diversity to the industry when the American Society of Magazine Editors elected him president, only the second African American to hold that position. BLACK ENTERPRISE recently caught up with Whitaker to discuss his career and the challenge of bringing diversity to the magazine industry.
What are some of the challenges you face as a person of color running a mainstream magazine? Well, I've always said my goal was to be the best editor of Newsweek, and not just be the best black editor. Obviously, my ethnicity has had some influence on the way I think about things, certainly my commitment to diversity on the staff and, particularly, having people of color who are in a position of real influence both in terms of the kinds of stories they do and the positions they hold within the magazine. I think there are some stories and some covers that we've done that perhaps another editor might not have done. But most of the time, I'm just focused on the larger issues involved in being editor.
Are magazines getting hard hit in this age of cable IV and the Internet? The front pages of the major newspapers look more like news magazines. There are magazines on television and on the Web. I think it's a very powerful formula. But the challenge for us is that the more other media copy us, the more we've got to invent new ways of doing things. It's always been true in the world of news magazines that if you stand still, you're going to get run over, so I have to keep moving.
How did you end up serving as president of ASME? When I became the editor of Newsweek, I was approached by people on the board who asked me to join. Once I joined, I guess people thought...