Under new owner, ‘Ebony’ magazine bets on black business development


Ebony magazine has shown the glamor and courage of black life since November 1, 1945, when black entrepreneur John Johnson published the first issue. He wanted it to be a black version of Henry Luce Life magazine.

EbonyThe stories and brilliant photos of black politicians, athletes, protesters, artists, models and students have nourished the soul of black people for generations.

But in recent years, the magazine has faced the same challenges as many other traditional print publications. Now, as she turns 76, the publication is restarting and hoping for a revival with a new approach.

John Johnson’s company, Johnson Publishing, has sold Ebony and her sister magazine NS to a private equity firm in 2016.

Ebony stopped printing its magazine in 2019 and Johnson Publishing filed for bankruptcy the same year.

Magazines changed hands again last year, with former Milwaukee Bucks and black businessman Ulysses Bridgeman buying Ebony and NS for $ 14 million in December. It officially relaunched in March.

Lessons from the historic black press

Ebony adopts a purely digital format to reach the public. But now, many media platforms are making stories about black people. Clint Wilson taught journalism at Howard University and remembers a similar time in the Civil Rights days.

(Ebony Magazine)

“The white press, not just the written press, but the television news. At that time you had NBC, ABC, CBS – they all covered civil rights stories, ”he says. “We just lost control of our own news.”

Many of the weekly papers that formed the black press during this time have survived. Wilson estimates that there are around 200 left today.

Buried in the history of the black press are possible clues as to how to compete in today’s media environment.

(Ebony Magazine)

“If we go back to the founding of the black press, there was a hunger, a thirst to unite as a community,” Wilson says.

The first black newspaper, called Freedom Journal, was founded in 1827. Then came many others, including the Pittsburgh Courier, Chicago Defender, Frederick Douglass’ The North star, and Charlotte Bass’ California eagle.

“When the film Birth of a nation was being filmed … [Bass] was the one who alerted other black publications across the country that this movie was being made and how degrading it was, ”Wilson said, with Bass forcing the director to cut some scenes.

Ebony Pivots to Financial Literacy and Black Wealth Creation

Ebony evokes this spirit of organization around issues such as abolition, the right to vote and opposition to racist practices in housing and work with its new objective: “Move Black Forward”.

(Ebony Magazine)

Michelle Ghee became EbonyCEO in January. She says the post is pivotal towards promoting black “generational wealth”. Ebony doesn’t give up on fame and entertainment, but doubles up on content that builds financial literacy and wealth and promotes business ownership.

“African Americans are not paid, they are not honored, they are not hired at the rate at which they contribute to the fabric of America,” Ghee said.

“We need to start educating, but also give people tools so that they too can start building their businesses. I fly from place to place to literally meet small business owners asking them: How can we help you, how can we support you? “”

As part of the new mission, Ebony hosted “block party” events in Atlanta, New York and New Orleans, designed to showcase and empower black small businesses.

Andre Perry of the Brookings Institution, who has studied black business and wealth, says the new focus will boost efforts for economic parity and mobility and help reshape racist perceptions.

(Ebony Magazine)

“Our elders said: our ice cream is just as cold [as that of white people]. They knew that our services, our products are just as good. And so, if we can eliminate these negative stereotypes, we can really narrow the wealth gap that currently exists, ”he said.

Ebony is betting that his new approach will make a difference and pay off for the magazine.

Copyright NPR 2021.

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