HarperCollins senior editor Patrik Henry Bass joins Newhouse NYC faculty

by Divya Murthy

January 14, 2019
Patrik Henry Bass
Patrik Henry Bass

From embarking on glamorous trips on assignment for Essence magazine to riffling through yet-to-be-released books at HarperCollins, Patrik Henry Bass has traveled a long way on the storytelling spectrum. Now, Bass joins the Newhouse in New York faculty this spring as professor of Race, Gender and the Media.

As a senior editor at HarperCollins, Bass’s daily life involves handling proposals for new books and stories and bringing many of them to life. Previously, he worked at Essence magazine for 18 years, starting as the books editor and going on to become a producer and director of editorial projects. He has also co-authored two books: "In Our Own Image: Treasured African-American Traditions, Journeys and Icons" (Running Press, 2001) and "Like A Mighty Stream, The March on Washington, August 28, 1963" (Running Press, 2002).

This semester, Bass will take on the role of professor during the evenings, discussing the crucial questions of race and gender facing the media industry. Here, Bass talks about his journey, his hopes for the class and the challenges facing both the industry and young professionals beginning their journalism careers.

Tell us about your career and how you got to where you are.

Technically my current title at HarperCollins is senior editor. But I like to think of myself as a storyteller. I’ve been helping people tell their stories as a magazine editor, newspaper journalist, and communications specialist for more than 25 years. My career was born out of an insatiable curiosity to see other worlds, to meet other people, while at the same time reflecting the world that shaped me—small-town Southern life where many people dreamed bigger than what was often reflected in the larger media space. I entered magazines at the very end of its Golden Age—not just the expense accounts, lavish travel assignments, and boundless car vouchers—but also talented editors truly committed to getting the story right and making investments in talent across the board.

How has your work experience informed your views on race, gender and the media?

A combination of my work and life experience has adequately prepared me for undertaking the awesome challenge of discussing race, gender and the publishing industry. Essence magazine is the premier media brand for African-American women. I began there as the books editor and it was a priceless education in seeing how a largely female-led senior management team led the publication in a volatile media landscape. I am a huge consumer of media—from mainstream to works from people of color, from high to low brow—and I can always tell when people either “overthink” a particular perspective or race, or have not thought about race at all. That’s what we’ll explore this semester. It’s not about who got it wrong or right, but who’s thinking inside the box of a rapidly evolving media space.

What’s a day in your life like?

This is boring, but literally no two days are the same. Today I’ve been reading manuscripts, rejecting manuscripts (the part of the job I like the least), preparing several books for a fall 2019 release and getting ready for the winter 2020 list. In between there are meetings, endless emails to return, and this was a day when I got around to lunch at about 4:30 p.m.

What’s your one piece of advice for journalism students starting out today?

Read, read and do more reading. Not just online reading, but everything—books, plays, magazines—you can get your hands on.

How can young media professionals tackle issues of discrimination at work?

It begins with a search for the truth. Newsroom managers, editors and producers should never project a particular angle on a story before knowing all of the relevant facts. This not only goes for race, but class as well. People of color are overrepresented in stories about sports, poverty and violence and underrepresented in stories about relationships, interiors and opinions. The latter is critical because audiences aren’t truly seeing the way people love, live and think.

How have the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements changed the workplace with regard to race and gender issues?

I was raised by a multi-faceted mother who commanded respect and was far ahead on ideas of equal treatment and pay. I was also fortunate to work at a women’s magazine, where gender roles were in reverse. That said, we must continue to look at all aspects of what it means to have the opportunity to evolve to one’s greatest potential in the workspace, absent any harassment or hostility because of race or gender. Hopefully, we’re getting there. Time will tell.

What have you learned about race that’s essential to thriving in the media industry?

There is only one race—the human race, and all humans have the same basic needs.

Divya Murthy is a senior magazine major at the Newhouse School and a former intern at Hachette Book Group.