By William A. Foster, IV
No man ever yet became great by imitation. – Samuel Johnson
I was in second grade when I did my first book report. The class went to the library during the day and picked out our books and I chose Fraggle Rock to do my report on. Upon arriving home my mother as was customary had me and my sister sit down at the table to do our homework while she prepared dinner. I was excited about my book report, but there was just one problem – I had no idea what a book report entailed. Not bothering to ask I just started copying the book verbatim and I was about halfway through the book when my mother came to check on my progress. My mother asked me what I was doing and I of course told her my book report. Realizing I was just copying every word in the book she realized that perhaps I had not been properly instructed or did not understand exactly what a book report was. She talked to me about plagiarism or in second grade comprehension “copying” other people’s work and how it was not allowed. This was as they say a learning moment because beyond just explaining plagiarism to me she also talked to me about integrity, ethics, and the hard work that both the author and illustrator put into the book, and that it is always important to acknowledge people’s efforts. My mother being who she is had me to complete my first works cited page.
HBCU Money is a startup financial journalism multimedia company. There are no full-time writers and the site itself is still currently in a blog style format. I secure guest writers and try to be very creative producing original content like The HBCUpreneur Corner, one of the site’s more popular series that interviews HBCU entrepreneurs. The site is largely financed through bootstrapping and reinvesting the pence that the site currently receives through ad revenue. A primary reason for the blog style format is that its free and an extensive site overhaul has not been in the budget. Focusing on quality content has been. HBCU Money will not even turn three years old for another four months. While the site recently achieved the 100 000 views milestone, HBCU Money is by no means busting at the bandwidth in terms of readership. Our social media presence is limited to less than 1 000 followers and the Facebook page has less than 200. Despite all these resource limitations my mother’s lesson is soundly within me with all content that is produced. Sources are extensively fact checked and credit is always given when quoting others work. The fundamentals or basics you learn in high school english 101 and as a college freshmen in your english composite class. Things that I believe will be in this company’s DNA as it grows and a culture I will fight fiercely to ensure are well rooted into anyone who comes to work for this company.
Recently, I was working on a piece on education demographics of America’s 100 wealthiest and I happen upon Mrs. Ann Kroenke. Her Forbes profile listed her school as Lincoln University. As you may or may not know there are three Lincoln Universities in the United States and two are HBCUs. I could have just assumed that she went to the Lincoln University in Missouri because she lives in Missouri. Instead, I decided to do what you were suppose to do and that is contact a credible source. I did so by contacting the registrar’s office at LUM, which I chose first because most signs pointed to it being the most likely one. I received verification from the school that yes I had the right person. This is a huge story. In fact, the morning I was breaking this story a fellow journapreneur Jarrett Carter, owner and publisher of HBCU Digest, said to me, “I hope your server is tight. I am sure this post will go global. Don’t let your site melt.” I knew the story was big. For decades, Oprah Winfrey had been held up as HBCU’s wealthiest and only billionaire HBCU alumn. Now, I was about to tell HBCU Nation that was incorrect and the true wealthiest HBCU alum is a Walton, owners’ of the Walmart Empire, and an European American woman. I felt fairly certain that the HBCU Digest would pick up the story as one of its primary objectives is to operate as a curation resource for HBCU news and information. However, I never had any doubts that Jarrett and his staff would acknowledge our role in breaking the story. As the picture below shows that is exactly what they did and have always done when curating any of HBCU Money’s articles. Are they required to do this? No, but it is about journalistic integrity. Unfortunately, everyone does not seem to share this sense of integrity. The next day, I decided to do a social media check on twitter just to see how well the article was spreading. Well, it was spreading alright, but it was not spreading from us. One of Black Enterprise’s writers decided to parrot our article and link its source back to Forbes as you see in their picture below, but at no point acknowledge who actually broke the story. Obviously, Black Enterprise has a much larger reach than we do so for all intents and purposes to most consumers it looks as if they broke the story. Again, well within their legal rights to report it as they did, but completely lacking any integrity along the way. HBCU Money is a small print compared to Black Enterprise, Bloomberg, and Forbes in the financial journalism industry. What would it hurt Black Enterprise to give credit to the little guy who put in endless hours to research and break such a story?
HBCU Digest curation of HBCU Money’s article on Ann Kroenke. (below)
Black Enterprise’s parroting of HBCU Money’s article on Ann Kroenke. (below)
This situation speaks to the cancer that is in journalism today. The desire to be first or grab whatever story is driving traffic is crumbling the fundamentals of journalistic virtuosity today. You can see it when you watch CNN, Fox, and other major media outlets. Breaking original stories is no longer a priority or building on the established story. Black Enterprise could have interviewed HBCU Money and talked to us about what it was like to break such a story, but they did not. Given they have many times my resources they could have gone to Missouri and potentially interviewed Mrs. Kroenke about our story. Both would have been building upon the story that was out and still have been original on their part. Instead, they chose the apathetic and unimaginative option of parroting our story and driving traffic to their site. Black Enterprise could be helping to cultivate a new generation of journalpreneurs like HBCU Digest, HBCUstory, and HBCU Money. It is after all, a company that was founded and owned by an HBCU graduate. Unfortunately, behavior like this makes it questionable that beyond their own limited resources what if any lessons they could share. It also comes across to me as a company attempting to fruitlessly protect its monopoly on African American financial journalism and speaks to an interview Ken Auletta had with Charlie Rose in 2010 where he discussed an interview with Bill Gates. He asked Gates what he was worried about and to Auletta surprise, Gates answer was not being the obvious competitors that Microsoft had at the time, but he said, “I worry about someone in a garage inventing something I’ve never thought of.” It almost begs the question has journalism as an industry completely lost its way with the advent of blogging. Journalist and news companies are now operating more as bloggers and not as journalist; not looking to produce original stories like that of HBCU Money’s Ann Kroenke or even attempting to research, investigate, and report something that could be among the Brookings Institute’s Ten Noteworthy Moments In U.S. Investigative Journalism. There is an abyss of stories in African America and Diaspora business world that goes uncovered and that not even one company with all its might could cover alone.
Nas came out with an album entitled Hip Hop Is Dead speaking to his frustration of the absence of quality and originality of content within the music genre ten years ago. However, hip-hop was not dead, but the ability to find artist and the accompanying music that had a depth of constitution required a deeper inquiry than in previous generations. As is the case today with journalism it appears; and that is regrettable given how important information and different angles or points of view are to our society. The need for more media ownership in this country goes without saying, and that is especially true for African America, but I believe it to be true for every community. Every community needs to be able to express their point of view and relay information about things that are intimately impacting them. However, with that ownership comes a great responsibility to the pillars that my mother instilled in me at our dinner table that night and that is integrity, ethics, and hard work. If we do not have them as an industry, then we will be relegated to a society of informationally embalmed people instead of the vibrant, progressive, and inquisitive society that we believe we want and should be.