That quick first impression is confirmed by the rest of the issue, which is equal parts Forbes and Oprah-ish empowerment (um, minus the free Buicks). Despite the stark contrast between the two styles, Black Enterprise works, owing to its measured tone. Sure, most of its stories build off real-life scenarios - a just-out-of-school couple trying to get its financial house in order, a small-business owner setting up an online newsroom to spread the gospel about his firm - but few items assume the treacly tone of lower-aiming financial or lifestyle publications. As such, Black Enterprise is a mag that defies easy categorization: yes, finance sits front and center, but it's as much a publication about career and lifestyle considerations as about stash-your-cash financial planning.
In fact, the featurettes that confine themselves to financial nuts-and-bolts are the ones that sag. Anyone who picks up Black Enterprise probably doesn't need a grade-school primer on investment plans (one tip: "determine your risk tolerance"); this is akin to The Atlantic Monthly devoting space to "Hooked on Phonics." Equally logy are the "Enterprise" profiles of black entrepreneurs who started their own businesses while holding another full-time job. The stories read crisply enough, but they lack the actionable hints and advice that are ostensibly their reason to exist.
I'm also slightly baffled by the inclusion of a handful of news briefs towards the front of the book. The departure of a top black Morgan Stanley banker to Citigroup and the perjury conviction of restaurateur La-Van Hawkins, after all, were duly noted by the mainstream business press months ago. Only a few pages are devoted to such coverage, however, more or less underscoring that long-lead pubs have better things to do than dabble in time-sensitive news.
Where Black Enterprise earns its keep are in the pieces that few other titles are equipped to write, the ones which survey race and business in equal measure. The "Game On" report on the relative paucity of blacks in the video game industry makes its point without preaching, even if the sub-headline's reference to an "invisible hurdle" isn't really supported within the story. The annual list of the "30 Best Companies for Diversity" also simultaneously enlightens and entertains, falling prey to none of the pitfalls - contrarianism for the sake of contrarianism, rankings specifically designed to foment debate, etc. - associated with gimmicky list-fueled cover stories.
I also enjoyed the magazine's "Techwatch" and "Motivation" sections. The former offers up a feature on black podcasters as well as a lively profile of the Lockheed exec charged with helping the federal government drive technological efficiencies (a post that sounds as simple and appealing as, say, a stint as Marlon Brando's couturier). The latter, on the other hand, surveys the art of saying no in the business context. For a sober-minded publication, Black Enterprise does quirk surprisingly well.
As a white kid whose interest in finance and related topics doesn't extend beyond having enough dough to buy guitar strings, I'm obviously not the target audience for Black Enterprise. Nonetheless, in paging through the July issue, I found myself thinking that the life-work-cash-tech-shelter-style-entertainment-lad magazines that have me in their crosshairs could probably learn a few things from BE's deliberate tone and subject mix. I suppose they'll turn elsewhere for inspiration - there's gotta be, like, a British Cargo to poach from - but it's a nice sentiment nonetheless.