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Emil Wilbekin

Journalist and magazine executive Emil Kraig Wilbekin was born on September 16, 1967 in Cleveland, Ohio. His father, Harvey, was a lawyer and structural engineer; his mother, Cleota, a law judge and sociologist. In 1989, Wilbekin graduated with his B.S. degree in Mass Media Arts from Hampton University, where he was also editor of the Hampton Script. He went on to receive his M.S. degree in journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 1990.

Upon graduation, Wilbekin remained in New York City and worked as an in-house editorial assistant at Metropolitan Home and freelanced for a number of publications, including People Magazine, Chicago Tribune, Associated Press, and The New York Times. In 1992, Wilbekin became a founding editor of Vibe magazine. He went on to serve as Vibe’s associate editor and style editor, and then as fashion director; in 1999, he was named editor-in-chief. In 2002, under Wilbekin’s leadership, Vibe won the coveted National Magazine Award for General Excellence from the American Society of Magazine Editors. Then, in 2003, he became vice president of brand development for Vibe Ventures, where he oversaw Vibe.com, mobile, books, and Vibe TV, and executive produced the first Vibe Awards.

In 2004, Wilbekin left Vibe and was hired as vice president of brand development for Marc Ecko Enterprises and became a contributor and editorial board member of Complex magazine. He then went on to serve as a reporter for AOL Black Voices; a freelance writer for Out magazine; a consultant for Microsoft; and a consultant for Epiphany Media, where he worked in writing, curation and brand development. In 2008, Wilbekin was named editor-in-chief of Giant magazine and Giantmag.com, and in 2009, was made managing editor of Essence.com. He was then appointed as editor-at-large of Essence magazine in 2012. Wilbekin resigned in 2014 and became an independent consultant and editorial content executive.

Wilbekin has served on the boards of LIFEbeat - The Music Industry Fights AIDS, The Stonewall Foundation, the American Society of Magazine Editors, the Design Industries Fighting AIDS (DIFFA), and the Black AIDS Institute. His honors include the Pratt Institute’s Creative Spirit Award, the Howard University Entertainment, Sports, and Law Club Media Award, The Anti Violence Project’s Courage Award, and The Hetrick Martin Institute’s Emory Award. Out magazine named Wilbekin as one of 100 most influential gay people in America in 2002, and he was inducted into the Hampton University Mass Media Arts Hall of Fame in 2007.

Emil Wilbekin was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on June 16, 2014.

Accession Number

A2014.204

Sex

Male

Interview Date

6/16/2014 |and| 8/12/2014

Last Name

Wilbekin

Maker Category
Marital Status

Divorced

Middle Name

Kraig

Schools

Our Redeemer Lutheran School

Walnut Hills High School

Hampton University

Columbia University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Emil

Birth City, State, Country

Cleveland

HM ID

WIL72

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Ohio

Favorite Vacation Destination

Paris, France

Favorite Quote

Stay In Your Lane and Always Be Your Best Self

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

9/16/1967

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

West Indian Food

Short Description

Journalist and magazine executive Emil Wilbekin (1967 - ) was a founding editor of Vibe magazine and served as its editor-in-chief from 1999 to 2003. He has also worked as vice president of brand development for Vibe Ventures and Marc Ecko Enterprises, editor-in-chief of Giant magazine, managing editor of Essence.com, and editor-at-large of Essence magazine.

Employment

EW Consulting

Essence

Giant/Interactive One

MSN

Marc Ecko

Vibe

Metropolitan Home

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Emil Wilbekin's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Emil Wilbekin lists his favorites, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Emil Wilbekin lists his favorites, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Emil Wilbekin describes his father

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Emil Wilbekin talks about his paternal family's Crucian heritage

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Emil Wilbekin talks about his maternal family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Emil Wilbekin talks about being adopted

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Emil Wilbekin describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Emil Wilbekin talks about his mother's membership on an all-white tennis team

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Emil Wilbekins talks about his maternal grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Emil Wilbekin describes his childhood home in Cincinnati, Ohio

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Emil Wilbekin describes how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Emil Wilbekins describes the sights, sounds, and smells of his childhood in Cincinnati, Ohio

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Emil Wilbekins describes the music played in his home as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Emil Wilbekin describes his childhood neighborhood, Kennedy Heights in Cincinnati, Ohio

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Emil Wilbekin talks about similarities between African American and West Indian culture

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Emil Wilbekin describes his relationship with his elder brother

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Emil Wilbekin talks about managing a learning disability as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Emil Wilbekin describes coming to terms with his sexual identity while studying abroad in London, England

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Emil Wilbekin describes his first impression of Hampton University and his desire to start a magazine and be a millionaire

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Emil Wilbekin describes his extracurricular activities at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia and his involvement with Jack and Jill of America, Inc.

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Emil Wilbekin talks about beginning to understand his sexual identity and being 'in the closet' at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Emil Wilbekin describes coming out to his parents

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Emil Wilbekin talks about influential professor Lottie Knight and being editor of the student newspaper at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Emil Wilbekin describes his summer internships at the Cincinnati Inquirer

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Emil Wilbekin talks about applying to magazine jobs and journalism school

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Emil Wilbekin describes his summer internship at Company magazine in London, England

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Emil Wilbekin talks about studying at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Emil Wilbekin talks about getting his first job with Metropolitan Home magazine and being openly gay at work

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Emil Wilbekin describes his social life as a young journalist

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Emil Wilbekin talks about freelance writing while working at Metropolitan Home magazine

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Emil Wilbekin talks about Metropolitan Home magazine's partnership with Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA)

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Emil Wilbekin talks about joining the Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA) board

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Emil Wilbekin describes the development of Vibe magazine

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Emil Wilbekin remembers creating the test issue of Vibe magazine

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Emil Wilbekin talks about being editor of the new talent "Next" column in Vibe magazine, including interviewing Mary J. Blige

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Emil Wilbekin talks about his relationship with HistoryMaker Quincy Jones and his father, Harvey Wilbekin's, sudden passing in 1997

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Emil Wilbekin describes his first fashion week in Milan, Italy as fashion director of Vibe magazine

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Emil Wilbekin remembers the night he was asked to be editor-in-chief of Vibe magazine

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Emil Wilbekin describes some of his most memorable photo shoots as fashion director of Vibe magazine

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Emil Wilbekin talks about Bevy Smith

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Emil Wilbekin talks about HistoryMakers Keith Clinkscales and Leonard Burnett, Jr. and also Johnathan Van Meter, Vibe's first editor-in-chief

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Emil Wilbekin describes the reputation of Vibe magazine

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Emil Wilbekin talks about the murder of Biggie Smalls (Notorious B.I.G.) outside a Vibe after party

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Emil Wilbekin talks about the sale of Vibe magazine from Time Warner to Miller Publishing

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Emil Wilbekin talks about managing Vibe magazine's fashion budget

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Emil Wilbekin describes his vision for Vibe magazine as editor-in-chief

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Emil Wilbekin talks about Vibe magazine winning an American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) award in 2002

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Emil Wilbekin talks about his involvement with HIV/AIDS literacy organizations and LGBT media

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Emil Wilbekin talks about Vibe's December 2001 issue commemorating 9/11 and transitioning out of his role as editor-in-chief

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Emil Wilbekin talks about working for Marc Ecko

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Emil Wilbekin talks about leaving Vibe and blogging about LeBron James' life off the basketball court

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Emil Wilbekin talks about working at GIANT magazine

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Emil Wilbekin talks about being recruited to run Essence.com

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Emil Wilbekin describes his experience as editor-at-large of Essence magazine

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Emil Wilbekin recalls the controversy surrounding Essence magazine in 2010 when Elliana Placas was hired as fashion director

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Emil Wilbekin considers his future plans at the time of the interview

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Emil Wilbekin reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Emil Wilbekin considers what his father would think of his career and describes his mother's compassion

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Emil Wilbekin describes his mother's personality and accomplishments

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Emil Wilbekin talks about his mother's quilting

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Emil Wilbekin describes spending time with his parents as a child

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Emil Wilbekin talks about his childhood social activities

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Emil Wilbekin talks about his well-known extended family members

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Emil Wilbekin remembers his family reunions

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Emil Wilbekin talks about his maternal and paternal family ancestry

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Emil Wilbekin recalls being babysat by HistoryMaker Nikki Giovanni

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Emil Wilbekin talks about his involvement in Jack and Jill of America, Inc., pt.1

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Emil Wilbekin talks about his involvement in Jack and Jill of America, Inc., pt.2

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Emil Wilbekin talks about his involvement in Jack and Jill of American Inc., pt. 3

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Emil Wilbekin talks about his social circle in New York, New York

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Emil Wilbekin talks about the Coffee Shop eatery in Union Square and discovering new talent as editor of the Vibe column "Next"

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Emil Wilbekin talks about Nicola Vassell

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Emil Wilbekin describes moving upward in the ranks in Vibe's fashion department

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Emil Wilbekin explains how the jobs of celebrity stylists and fashion editors intersect

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Emil Wilbekin talks about high fashion in Vibe magazine

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Emil Wilbekin talks about tension between high fashion and hip hop culture

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Emil Wilbekin describes watching the ascent of Sean "Diddy" Combs' career

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Emil Wilbekin talks about mediating tense situations at Vibe as editor-in-chief

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Emil Wilbekin describes balancing the editorial and business sides of Vibe

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Emil Wilbekin talks about maintaining journalistic integrity amidst blurred lines between celebrity and journalism

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Emil Wilbekin talks about iconic Vibe magazine celebrity covers

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Emil Wilbekin describes directing photo shoots as editor-in-chief of Vibe

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Emil Wilbekin explains how Vibe developed alongside hip hop culture

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Emil Wilbekin talks about how Vibe changed after the departure of HistoryMakers Keith Clinkscales and Leonard Burnett, Jr.

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Emil Wilbekin talks about his online arts and culture curating and sharing platform "WOW," World of Wilbekin

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Emil Wilbekin reflects on hip hop's appeal to upper-middle class African Americans

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - Emil Wilbekin talks about negative aspects of hip hop culture

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - Emil Wilbekin talks about Vibe magazine's role as an interpreter of hip hop culture

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - Emil Wilbekin talks about fashion trends that emerged from hip hop culture

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - Emil Wilbekin reflects over the legacy of hip hop culture

Tape: 10 Story: 6 - Emil Wilbekin explains his digital platform "WOW" the World of Wilbekin

Tape: 10 Story: 7 - Emil Wilbekin narrates his photographs

DASession

1$2

DATape

3$9

DAStory

1$2

DATitle
Emil Wilbekin talks about influential professor Lottie Knight and being editor of the student newspaper at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia
Emil Wilbekin describes balancing the editorial and business sides of Vibe
Transcript
At Hampton [University, Hampton, Virginia]--$$Emm-hmm.$$--when you were studying mass media arts--is that what it's called? Who, who were your teachers? Who were your great influences?$$My really great influence at Hampton was a professor; her name is Lottie Knight, and Lottie Knight was the hardest professor I had had to date in my career--she was not the last. And Lottie Knight was--I mean you had to turn in something that was spectacular; like if you did not do your best in your work, you were gonna re-do it until you got it right. She would call you out in class, she would read your stuff in front of people in class, and she was just tough; like she didn't--she didn't care, and she was a really, really, I think, powerful influence on me because I would have to say that a part of my editing and management style would come from her, which is the--the motto at Hampton is the standard of excellence. And so that is something that I carry with me, that is something that I reference a lot because I have had the privilege to work with a lot of other Hamptonians, and so Lottie represented--Mrs. Knight represented the standard of excellence, and she was phenomenal; she was a big influence. The other things that I remember about Hampton was studying French, and what was unique about studying French at Hampton was that we learned French by learning about the French-speaking parts of Africa and so that was really brilliant. The other part which is important to mention is as the editor of the school newspaper; I was very controversial because I would actually take the administration to task about student rights and things that were going on, and in fact, several times, funding for the school paper would miraculously be pulled, and I can remember having to drive to Williamsburg [Virginia], which is about forty-five minutes north of Hampton, to pick up the papers from the printer because there was no way to get them back and forth and going, and they were like, "Oh, the paper is not ready because the school didn't pay," and I was just, you know, just--and so that riled me up even more.$When were you editor-in-chief [of Vibe]?$$I was editor-in-chief from 1999 until 2002.$$And who owned the magazine when you were editor-in-chief?$$When I was editor-in-chief, Bob Miller, who used to high-up at Time Inc. and helped launch Vibe with Time Inc. Ventures, and Warner Brothers had bought the magazine from Time Inc., so he was the owner at that time.$$So, [HM] Keith [Clinkscales] and Len [HM Leonard Burnett, Jr.] never owned Vibe.$$No.$$They, they just--they had--$$Right.$$--their, their (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous)--Publisher and CEO [chief executive officer].$$So, as a business--now, obviously you're on the editorial side but you see the, the business--how the business is working. What--because Vibe told stories differently than other so-called black magazines, I mean they, they told it all in a way that was completely atypical of traditional black magazines.$$Emm-hmm.$$Did--was there ever conflict between the business side and the editorial side based upon the kinds of stories that you were telling and cover subjects that you selected?$$We always had conflict with editorial versus publishing and business. I mean I think that that is the very nature of magazines, and especially a magazine that was born out of Time Inc., which is so about church and state, and at a time where that ethos was really, really upheld. I think the lines are very blurred now because we live in a very different world and people need money. So--but there was a lotta challenges about, you know, business decisions versus editorial decisions. We did a story about MTV and literally were black-balled from anything MTV for years because we basically said that they were kind of racist and not necessarily uplifting people in their programming, and no VMAs [MTV Video Music Awards] for us. So these types of things happen, and it happened across the board; and you also have to realize that when you have high-profile people who are on the publishing side and the editorial side, the lines were often blurred to the outside world about who was in charge of what. It was like, "Oh, you're all Vibe." But outside people don't know that--well, in our construct, business doesn't dictate editorial, and editorial should do what it wants to do but does have to sway in certain times. So it was--there was a lotta that, and I think the other thing to keep in mind about Vibe was it was a very young staff. Most people that worked at Vibe, that was their first job outta school. So, you have a whole--like a majority of a staff that's never worked anywhere and suddenly they're working in this corporate structure that--and you want the kids that were into music and knew hip hop and knew the difference between the different genres of rap music and stuff like that. They're not gonna be great with doing their T&E [travel and expenses], they're not gonna be great in protocol and meetings. So a lotta the work that I would say the editors did at Vibe was mentorship because there was a lotta teaching and grooming. Of course, Keith and Len had gone to business school, of course I went to Columbia J. School [Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, New York, New York]. I mean we had people there that had higher education obviously, but most people hadn't worked anywhere else; a lotta people had worked at the Village Voice and other places, but many of the young staff never worked anywhere else before, so that also made it challenging.