New AOL Black Voices Director Seeks to Reinvent the Wheel

The next thing you know, they are going to announce that they just discovered fire.

AOL Black Voices (AOL BV) is once again making the commitment to be bigger, better and blacker, this time under a new director, former Black Enterprise.com executive, Tariq Muhammad.

Mr. Muhammad’s job is “to oversee the African American news and entertainment site’s editorial, content, business strategy, new partnerships and expansion” as it was Nick Charles’ before him and Gary Dauphin’s before Charles.

Dauphin and Charles, like Muhammad, had their eyes on the ultimate prize – 20 million black Internet users. Although it is number one among its peers with 2.5 million unique visitors (comSource Media Metrix, September) which include BET.com (2.3 million), and social networking site BlackPlanet.com (2.2 million), AOL Black Voices is a long way from becoming a preferred information source for the highly diverse and increasingly more fractious black community.

According to a recent article in Crain’s New York Business, “Muhammad hopes to beef up Black Voices’ content, making it an even better source of online news and information for African-Americans. Ideally… Black Voices will be so comprehensive that users will no longer have to go to sites like CNN.com for news. But he acknowledges that the company has work to do.”

That’s it Muhammad. Keep hope alive because in the end, if past is prologue, you will be lucky if you have that. And to say that you have “work to do” is an understatement.

“We do really well in entertainment coverage…we could emphasize news–not breaking stories, but giving people analysis of the story and how it affects them as African-Americans.”

Been there, done that and nearly lost my mind in the process. You guessed it, in a previous life approximately two years ago, I was a freelance writer for AOL BV penning stories for the very departments Muhammad hopes to “develop”. When I worked for the site, it featured interesting news stories and business and career pieces, if I do say so myself. (Note: I also wrote stories for BET.com.)

Here’s a sample of some of the stories that were on the site back in the day:

Battling America’s Failing School Districts”

“Black Migration After Katrina: Right Direction or Wrong?

“Three Brothers Take Lemons and Start Their Own Lemonade Company”

What happened? Every time, AOL Black Voices’ parent, AOL, hiccups (i.e. hemorrhages subscribers), AOL BV catches pneumonia. Management including Charles was given goals too impossible to achieve. Inevitably, they fell short and were sent packing in one of AOL numerous waves of layoffs. And many, including my direct report, marched their butts over to rival BET.com.

That’s it AOL BV arm your enemy.

Now all that remains is entertainment coverage, which can be found on other sites like Young Black and Fabulous (which I find sophomoric on a good day and offensive on most others) and my personal favorite, A Hot Mess, not to mention TMZ and PerezHilton.

Since this change, my visits to AOL BV have been rare. (Not that I visited the site much while I was writing for them.) I need news that I can use and I can’t do a damn thing with information about the next R&B-soon-to-be-nobody’s latest CD or newest boyfriend.

I, like many of my fellow “blacks” need to know the same information as our “white” counterparts – no “black” spin necessary.

So AOL BV, instead of trying to be a “black” CNN, try being a real news site. Give it shot and attempt something really new.


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