Raina Kelley

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From Newsweek

The Esquire Editor Speaks: Tyler Cabot Responds to Raina Kelley's Critique of the Jay-Z Profile

Earlier this week, Raina Kelley blogged about her frustration with Lisa Taddeo's Esquire profile of Jay-Z. Yesterday, Esquire features editor Tyler Cabot responded:

Dear Raina,
As Lisa Taddeo's editor at Esquire, I read your post on her recent Jay-Z profile with great interest. As you note, the story has been generating  quite a bit of chatter on the Web. For the most part, I believe that's a  good thing: it's great to have people discuss work you've spent months producing, and any dialogue about race in America, critical and painful as it can be, is a net positive.
But what troubled me enough about your post to respond was this line:
But this Taddeo made me want to jump out of my seat and yell "Stop talking about black people stuff you know nothing about" at the first white person I saw.
I didn't realize there was an enforced segregation of American culture into Black People Stuff and White People Stuff. Is there? Should Lisa simply have avoided the topic of race altogether: TOO SCARY FOR A WHITE WOMAN! STAY AWAY! Must she tiptoe around race, pretend prejudice and racism don't exist, aren't inextricably intertwined within American culture today?
I don't think so. I don't think putting white blinders on—pretending you don't have an opinion on "black people stuff" because you're a white woman—is the answer. You can disagree with Lisa about Jay-Z and race in America—she's a strong and opinionated writer and her ideas are fair game. But not because she's white.
As for your point that Lisa's argument is damaged "because she doesn't talk to anyone who is in a position to tell her the truth," well, I wish you had called Esquire to talk to someone in the position to tell you the truth. Say you had:
Lisa was assigned a profile on Jay-Z in September 2009. Over the following eight weeks of reporting, she conducted interviews with more than three dozen sources, each of whom helped shape her story's thesis. These interview subjects included:
John Meneilly, Jay-Z's manager; Steve Stoute, cofounder with Jay-Z of Translation Advertising; Neil Cole, founder of Iconix, which now owns Rocawear; Ken Friedman, co-owner of the Spotted Pig with Jay-Z; Bret Yormark, CEO of the Nets, of which Jay-Z owns a share; New York Governor David Paterson; Russell Simmons; Marcyliena Morgan, Harvard Professor of African and African American Studies and Executive Director of the HipHop Archive; Lyor Cohen, CEO of Warner Music Group; Damon Dash; employees of both Rocawear and Artful Dodger; numerous unnamed high-level music executives, former high-school classmates, and fans.
You are correct that Jay-Z declined a one-on-one interview for the story, but only after multiple attempts to arrange a meeting. After careful consideration, we decided to push ahead with the story (as we often do), rather than allow the subject of a story to dictate our editorial interests.
As for your complaints about her prose style: in your words, "like it was written by a drunk college freshman with three weeks of Journalism 101 under her belt"—as her editor, I take full responsibility. Her writing has energy. She's not afraid of metaphors. And her playful use of the English language is far too rare these days. Lisa's writing is both ambitious and entertaining.
In case you feel like giving her writing another shot, you can check out her stories in The Best American Sports Writing 2009   (for her profile of LeBron James) or The Best American Political Writing 2009  (for her profile of Obama campaign manager David Plouffe). I hope you do.
Tyler Cabot
Features Editor

Kelley's response:  

Dear Mr. Cabot:

Under no circumstances did I mean to imply that white people could not write about African-Americans.  Indeed, I asked only that they not write about black issues they know nothing about.  Ms. Taddeo may be a lauded writer; but in this instance, I found her work missed the mark.  I do not believe that one can honestly expect a reader to trust you on the question of authenticity in an artist's work without some examination of the author's own words, if not from his own mouth, than at least from his writings, which in the case of Jay-Z would be his raps. In the entire article, Ms. Taddeo did not quote a single line from Jay-Z’s body of work.  And, rather than illuminating your readers about Jay-Z, I felt her metaphors obscured the subject of her piece and ratified negative racial stereotypes. 


Raina Kelley

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