Journalist, publishing executive
Bryan Monroe is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and publishing executive who gained recognition for overseeing a team of journalists working to keep a Biloxi, Mississippi, newspaper publishing after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He began his career as a photography intern for a local newspaper and worked his way up to become an executive in the Knight Ridder news organization and president of the National Association of Black Journalists. In 2006 Monroe joined the venerable Johnson Publishing Company as vice president and editorial director of Ebony and Jet magazines.
Monroe was born in Munich, Germany, in 1965, but by the time he reached his early teens his family had settled in the community of Lakewood, Washington, in Pierce County. He earned a bachelor's degree in communications from the University of Washington in 1987, and spent a few months at the Seattle Times as a photography intern. Over the next few years he worked as a photographer for the United Press International news service and the Roanoke Times, and then as director of photography and design for the Sun News in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The Sun News belonged to the Knight Ridder newspaper group, and in the early 1990s Monroe was promoted to assistant director of Knight Ridder's 25/43 Project, which was aimed at attracting new readers to its publications. He spent most of the 1990s with one of Knight Ridder's flagship properties, the San Jose Mercury News, as a reporter, assistant city editor, design director, and assistant managing editor. In 2002 he was made assistant vice president for news within Knight Ridder's corporate offices.
Urged Newspapers to Embrace Diversity
In 2003 Monroe was named a Nieman Fellow, an honor given to journalists at mid-career that comes with a stint at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. Monroe chose to examine diversity in the newsroom as his field of inquiry, and discussed the topic in an article in Nieman Reports, the Foundation's scholarly journal. His essay touched on the controversy over Jayson Blair, a New York Times reporter who was fired after it was discovered that he had plagiarized or fabricated many of the articles that ran under his byline. Blair was once a promising writer at the paper, and some accused his superiors of overlooking warning signs that others had raised about the accuracy of his work. Monroe's article noted that some had dubbed Blair "the poster child for what's wrong with newsroom diversity, claiming that it has taken over the newsroom and lowered standards." Yet Monroe disagreed, quoting from an industry survey that found "the overwhelming majority of American newspapers—some 97 percent of those that responded—are miles away from having staffing that reflects the racial richness of their local communities."
After the Nieman fellowship ended, Monroe returned to the Knight Ridder corporate office in San Jose and to his post as assistant vice president. In August of 2005 he was elected president of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) after having served four years as vice president for print in the 3,300-member organization. Just a few weeks later he led a team of Knight Ridder journalists striving to keep the Biloxi Sun Herald publishing daily in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The paper's regular staff numbered about fifty, "but they can't find half of them; don't know if they are in shelters, left the city or are dead," he wrote in a dispatch that appeared on the NABJ Web site. In Biloxi, under circumstances of extreme privation, Monroe helped the Sun Herald team gather news and then file their stories with another Knight Ridder paper, the Columbus (Georgia) Ledger-Enquirer, which then printed the Biloxi newspapers. "And the next morning, someone puts the papers on the truck and trucks them in five hours here," Monroe wrote. Monroe often took part in the distribution efforts, as well, handing out papers to locals on the streets of a devastated Biloxi. "It's amazing how grateful people are just to have a newspaper," he wrote. "It brought tears to my eyes."
In 2006 Monroe shared the Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for Public Service with his colleagues at the Sun Herald for their efforts in Biloxi. A few months later Knight Ridder was sold to the McClatchy Company, and days after that announcement Monroe took a new job with the Johnson Publishing Company in Chicago as vice president and editorial director of Ebony and Jet magazines.
Used Position to Fight Racism
In his new position Monroe wrote feature articles and editorials for Johnson's flagship publications. In February of 2007 his essay "Enough! Why Blacks—and Whites—Should Never Use the ‘N-word’ Again" was published in Ebony. Noting the racial epithet had inarguable negative impact when it was used by whites, he called on African Americans to stop using it to connote "affection or an insider status." Monroe noted, "We use it on the basketball courts and in our hip-hop music. We ignore its acidic purpose and transpose its meaning. We want it to imply nothin' but love. But in that act, we forget its origins, its roots, its deadly history." His editorial announced that "from here on, after you read the powerful discussion of that term in these subsequent pages of Ebony, you will likely never see that word used in this magazine—or our sister magazine, Jet—again. On the very rare occasion that its use is central to the telling of an important story, I, as the editor, will need to sign off on it personally." His crusade to symbolically bury the term gained steam later that year when the NAACP officially "buried" the word at its national convention.
At a Glance …
Born Bryan K. Monroe on August 22, 1965, in Munich, Germany; son of James W. and Charlyne W. Monroe; married Tahirah Monroe (a teacher); children: Seanna, Jackson. Education: University of Washington, BA, 1987.
Career: Seattle Times, photography intern, 1987; World News and United Press International, photographer; Roanoke Times, photographer; Myrtle Beach Sun News, director of photography and design; San Jose Mercury News, began as reporter, 1991, became assistant city editor, design director, and assistant managing editor by 2006; Knight Ridder News, assistant director for the 25/43 Project, and assistant vice president for news, 2002-06; Johnson Publishing Company, vice president and editorial director for Ebony and Jet magazines, 2006—.
Memberships: Bay Area Black Journalists Association, Unity: Journalists of Color, National Association of Black Journalists (vice president for print, 2001-05, president, 2005-07).
Awards: Nieman Fellow, Harvard University, 2003; Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for Public Service, 2006.
Addresses: Office—Johnson Publishing Company, Inc., 820 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60605.
Monroe stepped into the middle of a controversy involving radio talk show host Don Imus in the spring of 2007 after Imus made racist remarks about the women's basketball team at Rutgers University. The NABJ issued a strongly worded statement calling for Imus to resign, and Monroe explained the organization's position in a debate with Imus on Al Sharpton's radio show. "Mr. Imus, I have a daughter," he said. "I think you have a daughter. What would you do if a sixty-seven-year-old man went in front of millions of people and called your daughter what you called these women? Mr. Imus, what do you think the consequences of those words should be? Should an apology be enough?" Three days later, CBS Radio announced they were canceling Imus's daily show, though it was later resurrected on another radio network.
Monroe is married to Tahirah Monroe, an elementary school teacher, with whom he has two children. His family served as the impetus for undergoing gastric-bypass surgery in the summer of 2006, which helped him drop from 441 pounds to 282 pounds a little over a year later. In 2004—a year before he turned forty—Monroe was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, and already knew he suffered from high blood pressure. In November of 2007 Ebony ran a feature story on the procedure and interviewed him along with Khaliah Ali, daughter of the boxing legend Muhammad Ali, and radio talk-show host Joe Madison, both of whom had also chosen to have the surgery to improve their health and life expectancy. In the interview Monroe cited his two children, Seanna and Jackson, as the most important factors in making his decision. "Along with my wife, Tahirah, they are my heart and joy, and I really wanted to be around to see them graduate from high school, go to college and bring me a few grandkids."
Ebony, February 2007, p. 198; November 2007, p. 180.
New York Times, April 9, 2007.
Nieman Reports, Winter 2002, p. 111; Fall 2003, p. 29.
Seattle Times, May 17, 2007.
"New Dispatch from Hurricane Katrina," National Association of Black Journalists, November 7, 2007, http://www.nabj.org/pres_corner/v-print/story/22745p-32365c.php (accessed October 2, 2008).
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