BALTIMORE — If you admire someone who doesn't run from fights, no matter how big of the opponent, then you have to like Wilmer C. Ames Jr.
Ames is the founder and publisher of Emerge magazine, whose inaugural issue has hit the newsstands.
Emerge is aimed at the burgeoning black middle class, a group seemingly already served by stalwart publications like Ebony, Jet, Essence and Black Enterprise.
But Ames, who has set the rather modest circulation goal of 150,000 (compared with Ebony's 1.8 million, Essence's 850,000 and Black Enterprise's 230,000), believes there is more than enough room on the block for his magazine to survive.
"I'm segmenting the black audience into 150,000 black readers who want a serious sort of issues-oriented magazine," Ames said during a recent visit here.
"I can't see anybody who subscribes to my magazine having to cancel a subscription to any of the other black magazines. I hope that I complement those magazines, and I hope that makes us successful."
Ames, a former reporter for Sports Illustrated and Time, says that Emerge--whose initial issue contains a profile on "60 Minutes" correspondent Ed Bradley, a piece on whether blacks are better athletes and if it really matters, and an analysis of the increase of white musical artists on the black music charts--will be "somewhere between Time and Newsweek and a Vanity Fair," and a place where black intellectuals can express themselves.
"What I say to my staff every day . . . is our goal is not just to go out and hire the Maya Angelous to write for us. They've already reached their success. Our goal is to go out and find the young, talented black people who are a little frustrated because they have something to say and no place to say it. That's what we look for. That's our mission," he said.
"There are really some powerful black intellectuals and thinkers and writers around the country. No one has provided them with one outlet where all of their voices could be brought together and heard and read. That's part of the definition in our slogan, 'Our Voice in Today's World.' "
Emerge's voice was almost permanently stilled early in the process of getting the magazine started.
The magazine was initially planned to appear last September, but financing fell through a month before publication. Ames owed creditors $850,000 and his attorneys suggested that he file for bankruptcy.
Instead, he delayed publication long enough to get financing from a variety of sources, including Black Entertainment Television and his former bosses at Time-Warner Inc.
Ames has vowed to keep the financiers away from editorial decisions. He waited until close to the publication date before sending them a prototype of the magazine, just so they would have an idea about what was being printed without having time to try to influence it.
"My premise has always been that Emerge magazine has to be an independent venture from any of its backers. I'm trying to deliver a journalistically sound product, and you can't have that if I have to leave an editorial meeting and I have to call the backers or have a meeting and tell them, 'This is what we're planning to put in the magazine. Is this agreeable to you or is it offensive to your friends?' " Ames explained.
"There's none of that here. There's a little jibe at Time Inc. in one of those stories, which didn't come from me. It came from an independent, unbiased writer, and that is not going to be edited out of this magazine just because Time is a backer. We'll get what the writer has to say."