While Sandra Bullock‘s post-Oscar split from husband Jesse James may be the biggest celebrity news in the last month (or two), it’s probably not surprising it’s the adopted brown baby that really got the African-American blog sites going. The funny thing is, black Web sites such as MediaTakeOut.com, Bossip, and Young, Black and Fabulous have been following Bullock for years. Part of the reason is her connection to the black community. “They know about her support for victims of Katrina and Haiti so they care about what happens to her, which we thought about when we gave her coverage,” says Fred Mwangaguhunga, owner of the black entertainment site MediaTakeOut.com. But part of it is that black blogs look at the world differently than the often segregated mainstream. (++How many black faces++[[http://www.newsweek.com/id/233161]] did you see on this year’s Vanity Fair Oscar issue?) “Sandra Bullock’s story about her marriage got a lot of pickup from our readers,” said Mwangaguhunga, whose site gets 700,000 hits per day and nearly 6 million views per month. “Her story of martial betrayal hit a nerve with our female readers for sure. It wasn’t a race thing because everyone can relate to that type of betrayal.”
Black Web sites are obviously in the business of serving an African-American audience, covering folks as famous as Beyonce and as unknown as Pooch Hall, an actor on the former CW show The Game. “There is an audience that really wants to know what actresses like Nia Long, Sanaa Lathan, or Gabrielle Union are up to,” said Mwangaguhunga. “They read the all the blogs and celeb magazines like Us Weekly or Life & Style hoping to get more info on their lives or really just to see what they’re wearing that week. But the mainstream magazines and blogs totally ignore that the fact that these people have fans too and that this world is truly diverse.” But they often look at the world of celebrity in unique—and surprising—ways. They naturally covered the biggest story of year, Tiger Woods’s trials and tribulations, but with they did it with a twist. While many African-Americans dismissed Woods for his refusal to simply call himself black and his penchant for dating white women, many of those same people became upset as the coverage dragged on to the point of mocking the golfer. “Black people really don’t like to see someone beat down to a pulp by the press,” said Nicole Childers, cofounder of the new black celebrity site Hlisted. “In the beginning, it was like who cares—he doesn’t think he’s black anyway. But as the news kept going on and on, black people became more sympathetic towards him. We love an underdog. It was like O.J.; we don’t really like him—but you don’t have rip him apart.”
It works both ways. While the mainstream press was overwhelmingly sympathetic and happy over Bullock’s adoption news, the black blogs were more skeptical—though, yet again, not for the most predictable of reasons. Many African-Americans have been incensed by a photograph of Jesse James wearing a military hat and making a Nazi salute. “I think that gave us some pause,” says Lisa Helms, an avid black blog reader and Bullock fan. “How could she live with that man and not know what he was thinking. I’ve always liked her but, man—that upsets me.”
Consequently, some readers have wondered if Bullock’s adoption of a black child is calculated to further distance herself from James’s poisonous reputation. It’s perhaps a far-fetched notion—Bullock says that she adopted her son, Louis, three months ago—but it’s nonetheless a unique and thought-provoking one.
Black blogs are, in many ways, more serious-minded than their mainstream counterparts. Sites such as MediaTakout.com care very much that its readers are primarily ages 18 to 34. The editors feel an obligation to educate while they gossip, running items on White House policies, the murder rate in Chicago—hardly news lite. Mwangaguhunga says it was always his plan to inform in more ways than one when he began the site four years ago. “We have a great opportunity to help our readers learn about things they need to know,” says Mwangaguhunga, who notes that his staff is diverse in skin color, sex, weight, and sexual orientation to ensure all type of stories get play. “Many of them aren’t going to pick up the newspaper to read about health care or gun control. But they will read a paragraph or two about it between reading about Kanye and Amber Rose. It’s the best of both worlds for young kids with limited attention spans.” Hlisted recently ran a post concerning writer BeBe Moore Campbell’s daughter, an actress who appeared on the 1990s TV show In the House, whose bipolar disorder has reportedly lead to several skirmishes with the law. “We had an expert explain why these things were happening and what her illness actually was,” said Childers. “We didn’t make fun of her like some sites would have. We wanted our readers to understand that this illness impacts a lot of lives and they may even know someone with the same problem.”
MediaTakeOut and other black blogs also face another issue mainstream sites don’t have to contend with—skin tone. It’s no secret that skin color has played a major role in African-American culture. Even in the black community, lighter skin such as Beyonce’s is often considered more attractive and therefore often given more attention by the media. To counter that, most African-American sites make a point of being balanced, of posting stories on, say, Serena Williams, on the same day they do an item on Alicia Keys.
Don’t be fooled—it’s not all high road for these sites. Brandy’s ill-fitting, obvious lace-front wig gets major play (and disses), while Detroit’s annual ghetto proms featuring Gucci-logo evening wear is always great for laughs. The Williams sisters get more than their fair share of fashion advice, just like they would at the back of Us Weekly.
Lindsay, Britney, and Paris get some play, too—who could resist their antics? But the fact is, they don’t fit what you’d think of as these blogs’ target audience—until you realize that they hope to widen the target beyond the narrow niches worked by most online publications. The blog Bossip even has a daily section called “In White Folks News” that deals with everything from actor Corey Haim’s death to rumors of Angelina and Brad’s breakup—stories that might not make or break a typical African-American’s day but are noteworthy nonetheless. Mwangaguhunga, who has both law and business degrees from Columbia University, has already taken his diverse business model to the folks in TV; he’s hoping to start a TMZ-type network show sometime late this year.