In the history of African-American media, the White House and the President’s office only had a relationship with our community when two events were coming up – the Midterm and the General Elections.
To date, while President Obama, the First Lady and the White House have given access to historic Black publications such as Essence and Ebony, it hasn’t trickled down to the African-American journalists who run some of the top 24 hour news sites in the country. From sites like TheLoop21, TheGrio and ourselves; to smaller publications like Jack and Jill Politics, we never expected to receive the same access CNN and ABC were granted, but we at least wanted access and that wasn’t being offered.
So when 15 of the top African-American sites on the Internet were invited to the White House for their first African American Online Summit, you can understand why many of us thought this was a one-time event. A one time event because it was less than a month before the Midterms, and the Democrats are in danger of losing seats that can greatly alter President Obama’s aspirations in the next two years. A one time event because many of us have been turned down by the White House’s press office when requesting an interview.
But what was looked upon by some as an event to implore us to post pro-Obama articles leading up to the midterms, turned out to be an historic summit; a summit that can give Black and Latino journalists access to the White House way after the time of a Black President; if future administrations follow their lead.
When we each entered the Eisenhower Building and made our way to our meeting room, we were shocked by the amount of people the White House deployed to sit and talk with us at this summit. Names like Michael Strautmanis, Jared Bernstein, Michael Blake, Russlyn Ali, Dr. Garrett Graham and Valerie Jarrett. The icing on the cake was President Barack Obama, who formally introduced himself to us and delivered a personal message highlighting the importance of the work we’re doing.
But what was just as important was that this was the first time many of us met each other; the same people we would call competitors at the office, but we’ve come to realize that even if we’re fighting for positioning in the same space, we’re all fighting for something bigger which is to bring Minority Journalism to the forefront.
While we sat through important policy briefings on Clean Energy, Health-Care and Civil Rights, we realized that this event wasn’t about getting us to push the Obama Administration’s message harder leading up to November, it was all about us finally landing both feet in the door, when we never really entered despite having our nation’s first Black President for close to two years.
In the end, some left this meeting thinking the door was still closed. Others left the meeting thinking it was slightly ajar. What I chose to focus on is that we were inside the White House and the President took time out of his busy schedule to meet with us. The door still may not be as wide open as it is for others, but it’s as open as its ever been thanks to the White House, the work we’ve done, and how far we have come.