WILLIAM REED: Will Black America Allow Ebony and Jet to Go Out of Business?
(February 26, 2009)
*A Black American icon, the Chicago-based Johnson Publishing Company (JPC) is struggling to survive in the modern media landscape. Editorial reorganizations are occurring at Ebony and JET magazines.
The question is: Will the changes have any impact among African Americans and their modern-day mindsets?
Sacred cow as it is among aging African Americans, JPC’s flagship Ebony Magazine’s circulation numbers are anemic and advertising revenue has fallen.
The Company’s Chair and CEO says that “I am deeply committed to maintaining our presence and long-standing legacy in the African-American community”. Linda Johnson Rice says the changes are to ensure the 67-year-old company’s “long-term success” in the tumultuous publishing industry.
The company Rice’s dad started in 1945 is the world's largest African-American-owned and-operated publishing company. When Rice took over as Chair and CEO in 2003, the company had businesses in cosmetics, radio broadcasting, television production and fashion targeted to an African American consumer audience. JPC’s Ebony and Jet are household names across Black America and among the company’s premier brands, along with the Fashion Fair Cosmetics line.
Over the years, Ebony always addressed African-American issues, personalities, and interests in positive and self-affirming ways. Ebony cover pages graced coffee tables of Black households from coast-to-coast
Contemporary 30-something Black Americans may not grasp the symbolism of Ebony. John H. Johnson (1918 – 2005) was a teenager when his family moved from Arkansas City to Chicago in 1933. After working for Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Co., the 24-year-old Johnson began to publish Negro Digest as a weekly publication using a format similar to that of Reader's Digest. It became Ebony in 1945. By the 1950s the large-format glossy magazine's circulation had climbed to 500,000. In the 1990s JPC had added more cosmetic lines, radio and television production, greeting cards and a book division publishing African American authors to the business and employed 2,600 people.
JPC is “reorganizing” because Ebony’s revenues are down 18.8 percent and JET is down 40.9 percent. Now more than ever, JPC products and publications deserve more support among contemporary African Americans. JPC deserves to get its mojo back.
Instead of seeking identities in mainstream media Blacks should be renewing subscriptions and displaying Ebony, JET and local black newspaper publications like days of old.
I know that many of us have ' issues' with Ebony and Jet, but often when nobody else will publicize ' our' celebrities, they would.