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Magazine Readers Inspired By Obamas' Love Affair

MICHEL MARTIN, host. And now it's time for our monthly visit with the magazine mavens, the editors of some of our favorite magazines. Today we have Yanick Rice-Lamb - she's the editorial director of Heart & Soul Magazine - and Harriette Cole. She's the creative director of Ebony Magazine. Welcome to you both. Thanks so much for joining us. Ms. HARRIETTE COLE (Creative Director, Ebony): Thanks for having us.

Ms. YANICK RICE-LAMB (Editorial Director, Heart & Soul): Great to be here.

MARTIN: And thanks for warming us on a cold day with your issues. The theme of both February issues is black love, and both of your magazines have the president and first lady gracing the cover. How did that happen? You guys didn't call each other did you?


(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COLE: Yeah, we called each other. Let's do this together, right?

Ms. RICE-LAMB: Do this together. It was kind of a no-brainer.

MARTIN: Really? What - Yanick, why is it a no-brainer?

Ms. RICE-LAMB: I think people have been looking at the Obamas for the last few years, and they really stood out among political couples and power couples as having something really genuine, the way they look at each other, the way they touch each other. And we don't see this all the time, and you know, it was just obvious that this is something we should do.


MARTIN: Harriette, what about you?

Ms. COLE: Well, Ebony Magazine for many years, I don't know how many, has had the hottest couples issue as the February issue, where we look at black love and black history. We did a poll and the Obamas won, like, 50 percent more than any other couples including, like, Beyonce and Jay Z who are among the top 10, but they were by far the couple who black America told us we are watching, we are learning from, we are inspired by. And what was very interesting is two years ago, when I first started at Ebony, the first cover shoot I ever did was with Barack and Michelle Obama for the same issue.

MARTIN: And why did you choose them then, and what is it that you think people are responding to now?

Ms. COLE: Why we chose them then was because Barack Obama was certainly a rising star at that time, and remember Ebony is headquartered in Chicago. So, the pulse of what the Obamas are doing is very keen there. But he had been rising ever since the 2004 convention. There was a big buzz about whether he was going to put his hat into the ring to run for president when we did the photo shoot. When the magazine came out was exactly when he did say so. So, we were kind of having a gamble. We knew that they were a great couple to emulate, a great family at that point, and it really did pay off. Actually, this image is from the campaign trail, the picture of the two of them looking at each other with such loving eyes. And what we learned, and talked to people...

MARTIN: The picture in Ebony?

Ms. COLE: Yeah, the picture on the cover of Ebony.

MARTIN: Which is very interesting because it's - A, it's black and white...

Ms. COLE: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: And B, it seems very informal. I mean, it seems as though they were just cracking each other up, like you just sort of happened upon them, like they were out at a picnic or something, and somebody just happened to grab a picture of them cracking each other up.

Ms. COLE: Well, isn't that - if you think about it, as we have watched them for two years on the campaign trail, whether it be in small-town America or on a big stage, even on inauguration night - when they are face to face, the whole rest of the world falls away. It's just the two of them. And I think that that's something that many of us have looked at and said, wow, this is the quality of love that I want in my life.

MARTIN: Yanick, the cover art for your magazine, one of the things a number of us in my office noticed was that his wedding ring is prominently displayed. And you could have cropped it. I mean, the picture's - it's framed in such a way that you could have cropped it, and I wondered if it was intentional - to be sure to show the wedding ring.

Ms. RICE-LAMB: Yeah, we definitely wanted to show that, and we were - we had a debate about whether to use a shot that didn't show his face, but we thought it was really nice to show him kissing her. And then in the other shot, he looks like he's whispering in her ear, and like something really special and private between the two of them.

MARTIN: And why were you drawn to those images?

Ms. RICE-LAMB: Because it was a - they were strong images of love, and we just don't see these images all the time among African-Americans, and especially among people in power.

MARTIN: There are those who would argue that these are two magazines directed toward the African-American audience, and that both of these magazines - I know, Yanick, yours is mostly a lifestyle magazine and Ebony is both lifestyle and does reporting, and of course has a very prominent place in the history of the country and that sort of reporting on the political life of African-Americans.

Ms. RICE-LAMB: Yeah.

MARTIN: But there are those who would argue that this is hagiography, that this is, kind of, adding to the aura of celebrity, it's not reporting. What would you say to that?

Ms. RICE-LAMB: I mean, this is what everybody's talking about, regardless of their background. I think everybody's - their relationship is resonating with everyone, whether they're white, black, young, or old. And I think this is just a - it's so good to capture this at this moment. And I think that people are looking for that, especially with the economy going the way it is right now. And a lot of people want love in their lives, and they want a strong marriage or a strong relationship. So, I think that they're a good example of it, and they're the example that everyone's talking about right now.

MARTIN: Harriette?

Ms. COLE: In fact, in our article, I wrote the lead in, and we interviewed many people across the country to share how they have been affected by the Obamas. And I would agree with Yanick, this is what people are talking about. They talked about it in the elevators, on the street corner, when they're getting a cup of coffee, but especially as it relates to the black community. The images of black families that we see in the media are often images of splintered families. You very rarely see a healthy husband and wife with children living under the same roof, supporting and loving each other. And this is an opportunity, I mean, because they are our president and first lady and they happen to be a loving family and they happen to be African-American.

We can point to an example that is common in the black community, but not common as the media reports it. So, I - sure, there are plenty of people who say that we're adding to the celebrity, not just black magazines. But you know, every kind of magazine is showing the Obamas. But I think that what is important on the world stage as it relates to black people is, here's a couple and family who are showing that the stereotypical image of the black family can now be shattered. We don't have to look at that any more as the example of who we are.

MARTIN: Finally, I ask this question every month, it's always a terrible question, but what's your favorite story in each of your magazines this month? Harriette?

Ms. COLE: You know, I think I have to go to the cover.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You happened(ph) the right answer.

Ms. COLE: I think of the love that's here. This is an easy one. This is a slam-dunk because I think that one of the things that's happening is, even as we are in a competitive industry, here's a time when our magazines are uniting, in a way, to celebrate the first couple, and I love that. I think the Obamas supersede any kind of competition on at least one level. And I think it's great.

MARTIN: Yanick, what's your favorite story?

Ms. RICE-LAMB: I'd have to say - normally it's like choosing your favorite child or something - but I would have to say the cover story as well. And we have some other stories dealing with couples, like balancing, you know, your professional life and your married life. And also dealing with couples who work together, and some women who are dating younger men.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RICE-LAMB: So, we're looking at love from a lot of that in there, too.

Ms .COLE: Really got a lot of that in there, too.

MARTIN: Love is a hot topic.

Ms. RICE-LAMB: A lot of different angles. But definitely the Obamas - that's my favorite one for this issue.

MARTIN: Yanick Rice-Lamb is the editorial director of Heart & Soul Magazine. She was kind enough to join us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Harriette Cole is the creative director of Ebony Magazine, and she joined us from our New York bureau. Ladies, thank you so much.

Ms. COLE: Thank you.

Ms. RICE-LAMB: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.