While the 21st century has seen the rise of a number of urban news and black entertainment news sites (hello), none have ever been able to rival the status of magazines like Ebony or Jet.
Newspapers and magazines go out of business all the time, so perhaps it’s good news that the iconic black magazines Ebony and Jet have been sold rather than shuttered. More importantly, the influential black magazines have been sold to a black-owned company.
After 71 years of bringing black entertainment news, urban photography, fashion, and lifestyle features to the masses, Johnson Publishing has sold its flagship publications to the Clear View Group, a private equity firm in Austin, Texas.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Clear View Group’s co-founder Michael Gibson. “Growing up, we had Ebony and Jet in our household all along. You knew you made it when you made it to the cover of Ebony or Jet. It is just exciting — I pinch myself every morning.”
The Importance of Ebony Can’t Be Understated
Ebony was founded by John Johnston back in 1945, but like every other magazine, it’s been pushed to the breaking point by declining circulation, not to mention digital competition from the black gossip sites that have suddenly become so popular.
Still, for decades, these magazines were the only place you could see beautiful black faces on the cover of a major magazine. Even today, it’s still considered a major news story when someone like Beyonce or Serena Williams lands the cover of a major magazine like Vogue or Elle. Despite all the awareness black entertainment sites have raised around the lack of representation in magazines, just one-in-five magazine covers featured a model of color in 2015.
Yet for 70 years black readers have been able to turn to Ebony and Jet for positive representation, news, or even just fashion tips. Besides its lifestyle, fashion, and black celebrity news coverage, the magazines were on the frontlines of the Civil Rights movement, and have been shaping popular culture for more than 50 years.
What’s Next for the Iconic Magazines? The Future of Black Entertainment News…
Johnson Publishing still owns a valuable photography archive, with some of the most famous images of black celebrities, civil rights leaders, and other icons. That archive is still for sale, and it’s not clear there will be any immediate changes for the magazines’ readers.
For years Jet has been a digital-only outlet, and Gibson promises that he has no plans to stop printing Ebony for the foreseeable future. And like so many other magazine owners, Gibson says the future of the magazines is online.
“There’s a lot of good reasons to keep the print,” Gibson said. “That will always be our anchor. We want to grow the digital platform more consistently with both Ebony and Jet.”
And according to The Chicago Tribune, Clear View Media will keep the magazine’s Chicago headquarters and New York City editorial offices open, “as well as much of the current staff.”
“This is the next chapter in retaining the legacy that my father, John H. Johnson, built to ensure the celebration of African-Americans,” said Linda Johnson Rice, chairman of Johnson Publishing and daughter of its founder, in a statement Tuesday.
No matter what happens, it’s clear that Ebony and Jet’s brand is stronger than ever. Check out some of the most iconic Ebony covers below:
Ebony’s iconic photograph of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. together in 1955 at the Montgomery, Alabama, Bus Boycott.
The Ebony Prince memorial cover, June 2016
Halle Berry, Jamie Foxx, and Denzel Washington on the Ebony 60th Anniversary Cover, November 2005
Beyonce Ebony Cover, April 2009