Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Boycott “White” Runner’s World Magazine

As an avid runner, I thought I’d get some tips from the leading running mag on the newsstand, so I signed myself up for a subscription to Runner's World. However, after almost a year of my subscription I was disheartened to discover that the magazine has a defacto “no minorities” policy. Not one dark-skinned person has graced the cover, nor has been featured in a prominent full-length article in the more than two years I’ve been sampling the publication on the newsstand and receiving it at home. Don’t believe me? Type “Runner’s World” into Google Image Search and tell me how many recent Ethiopian or Kenyan champions are staring back at you.

One of the most appalling covers they ran recently: Summer Sanders (a swimmer, and FOX TV personality), the same month African-American runner Meb Keflezighi won the silver medal in the 2004 Olympics men's marathon–-the first time in 28 years an American has achieved this feat. Really, they should rename the publication White Runners World.

This coverage discrepancy is more disturbing when you consider that the 2004 women’s Olympic marathon champion was Asian (Japan's Mizuki Noguchi), and the men’s bronze medalist was Brazilian. Additionally the top finishers in the other distance events were Kenyan (silver, 1500 meters), Nigerian (bronze, 400 relay), Chinese (gold, women’s 10, 000 meters), Moroccan (gold, men’s 5000), Ethiopian (silver, men’s 5000 meters), etc. Clearly, from road racing to track, some of the most important and highest achieving athletes are Asian, Latino, Afro-Caribbean and African, yet their stories and images are nearly non-existent in Runner’s World magazine.

Competitor publication Running Times has done a far better job at representing real world runners. Their consistent full-length profiles of leading athletes include Gezahegne Abera, Kenenisa Bekele, Haile Gebrselassie, John Korir, James Koskei, Bernard Lagat, Linus Maiyo, Jose Moreira:, Mizuki Noguchi and an article titled “Foreign Born Americans–The Diverse Face of Team USA.” Cover-wise, they’re less adventurous, if you can call putting a brown-skinned champion athlete on the cover of a magazine a risk-taking endeavor.

Obviously, what I'm writing about is a commonly raised issue, based on this disclaimer that Runner's World features on their Customer Service section:
“We realize that many of our covers and photos do not represent the average, everyday runner. However, as a runner, you know what it means to be a competitor. Runner's World is also a competitor in a national-magazine marketplace where every other magazine uses models who are younger, more gorgeous, and more well-proportioned than anyone deserves to be. And, as a competitor, we have little choice but to try to match these other magazines. That's what helps us stay in business so we can bring Runner's World to readers like you every month.”

My translation: Nissan X-Tera won’t buy a full-page if there’s a black man is on the cover. But given the success of magazines built around coverage of minority and international athletes like ESPN, Slam (hell, even Thrasher), that’s hardly a plausible argument. Runner’s World might understand racing, but they are clueless about race. They should just admit that they're in buisiness to sell PowerBars, and occupy space on airport newsstands, and that, in this competitive consumer age, magazines don't need moral standards, just profit margins.

I’m in the magazine business, I make my living as an editor, I know the ins-and-outs of how to stay in print as an independent publication while keeping your integrity, and representing the world in an truthful manner. I find no reason why a market leader like RW, who has a lion’s share of running-business (as well as major national) advertising budgets in their pocket would adopt such a racially inaccurate editorial policy.

Boycott Runner’s World magazine until they realize their errors, and the hardship it imposes on minorities trying to gain equality and visibility in our society.

Somehow, RW doesn’t think it’s their responsibility to help create a more just society. It simply is.