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Yussuf Simmonds of the Los Angeles Sentinel
Published: 01 July 2009

LOS ANGELES (NNPA) - Historically the Black press has been covering Black artists, entertainers and other well-known personalities when no else would, primarily out of a sense of duty, responsibility and pride in order to showcase their talent to the world. That included Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5, when they were at the beginning of their rise to stardom. 

So it was not surprising that the Black press came out in full force to cover Jackson's memorial at the event that was described as a virtual sea of Blackness. 

Yet, photographers representing the Los Angeles Sentinel – the oldest and largest Black newspaper on the West Coast; Ebony and Jet magazines – two of the largest Black publications in the world; and the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) – a federation that represents more than 200 Black publishers across the United States, were not credentialed to take photos inside the Staples Center during the memorial of Michael Jackson.

"This is a recurring theme; this is constantly happening to the Black press all over the country," says Danny J. Bakewell, Sr., the newly elected chairman of the NNPA (the Black Press of America) and executive publisher of the Sentinel. "This has got to stop.  I am declaring today on their behalf that we are going to take on companies, associations and media outlets that overtly disrespect, disregard and devalue the Black press."

It was rather apparent that the promoters of the event (AEG, the company that owns the Staples Center) did not think it was important to allow access to all the credentialed media personnel - particularly those carrying cameras. Three African-American photojournalists related their experiences to the Sentinel – three similar incidents that happened separately to three different individuals whose only common traits were that they were Black.

As a photojournalist for many years, Malcolm Ali has covered many events throughout the country. He said, "While at the memorial, I was contacted by the Sentinel to get my credential from Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was just arriving at the gate. As I left the area, the police confronted me and I told them I was going to get my credentials, and that I already had my LAPD press pass." After getting his pass, he still was not allowed to get inside the Staples Center. "I learned that there were press cameras in there (the Staples Center) that were authorized by AEG included Getty Images and other Wire Services," he also said.   

"They're the biggest photo distribution house in the world; they sell photos," Ali continued, "They send their photographers to major events, capture these images and they upload them on their website, then and sell them to (Black) newspapers, and magazines throughout the world.  To do this, they have to make a deal with AEG that they (Getty Images) will provide the pool of photographers (for the event) and everyone has to buy from them. And this locks outs the smaller newspapers especially the Black press."

Expressing similar sentiments Bakewell commented, "We understand that AEG sells the exclusive rights to photography to wire services. One time before, Black reporters were denied access to a concert with Prince because they have an exclusive with some of the artists. The problem however, is that many of the Black artists, who we love, on the way up; they go up on the 'elevator of the Black press' and when they reach the top, they won't let the elevator back down to pick the Black press up to shoot them anymore."

Shon Smith is a professional photographer with D'Angelus Photos; she was another photographer who was denied access to the memorial. "When I got there the first set of officers saw my blue wrist band (identification for the media) and let me through the barricade," she said, "That was to allow me access to places where others were not allowed.  I was following other photographers when an officer called me to get out of the line. There were a group of White photographers ahead of me." 

According to Smith, she made a left turn nearby where more of the press corps was located, an individual in a red jacket – Staples Center security personnel – asked her to stand on the other side. She told him, "All these other photographers are right here and he said 'that's them, you need to stand over here.' Well who are they with?

'They are with us'. We all have blue bands.  'I could get you arrested'. I told them that I was with the Los Angeles Sentinel, but that did not seem to matter."

The police officer then told her to go behind the barricade. Smith, who was also shooting photos to be published by the NNPA News Service, said she was not allowed to go places where other White photographers were taking pictures. Eventually she came to the realization, "It was because I'm Black; I'm a woman and I wasn't all dressed up, but I had on a professional jacket and I was carrying a $3,000 camera. It was obvious what I was doing.  They never let me into Staples Center, but I believed they did let a female Black photographer in but they took her camera and then her wristband and made her exit the building. I believed I was singled out because I was a Black woman with dreadlocks."

Bakewell went on to say, "The irony of all this is that the Black press was covering Michael Jackson and his family over the last 40 years with endearment, accuracy, affection and pride when no one else was covering him. The Black press defended him when no one else defended him.  Now, at his final tribute, the Black photographers are denied. Furthermore, after the Black press helps many of the Black artists to reach the top, they do not use their status and their influence to require parity to the Black press. When they make movies, plays and records, they do not demand that the Black press be included in the budgets to promote their work. And that's unconscionable, a violation of their own family ethic; while the Michael Jackson is front and center, this is a malignancy that exists in Black America."

Valerie Goodloe is an ace photographer; she shoots for Ebony and Jet magazines, and she was denied access to the Staples Center. Goodloe said, "We're made invisible when it comes to large events that are African-American driven; we are shoved to the side. Even though Revs. Jackson and Al Sharpton were working on my behalf to get me credentials along with the pool photographers from the L.A. Times and the New York Times, it just didn't work out." Though she went inside with Rev. Jackson she was not allowed to take any pictures. "AEG sent a person downstairs and said that I was not going to be credentialed."

Rev. Jackson was not the only individual who stood up to demand that the Black press have equal access to the Jackson memorial. The staff of Rev. Al Sharpton also pushed for credentials for the NNPA News Service, but to no avail.

Calls were made to AEG but there was no response.

Yussuf Simmonds Assistant Managing Editor, Los Angeles Sentinel


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