LOS ANGELES — The future of the two most iconic media publications chronicling African-American life for the past seven decades could be hanging in the balance.
The editorial staff at Ebony magazine has reportedly moved its in infrastructure and a bare-bones staff to Los Angeles, away from its longtime Chicago base, signaling that the future of the storied publication could be up in the air.
The announcement of the move by Clear View Group (CVG Group), which bought Ebony and Jet last year from Johnson Publishing Co., also came with news that the company was laying off a third of its reported 35 employees. The shakeup hit the executive team as well as the editorial staff.
The news hit the black media world hard.
The National Association of Black Journalists even weighed in on the matter.
“And so it begins,” said Marlon A. Walker, NABJ’s vice president of print. “Fear that Ebony would lose its place on coffee tables around the country began when the Johnson family sold the business. Over the last two years, talented journalists such as (now former) editor Kyra Kyles and (now former) managing editor Kathy Chaney produced keepsake issues after the death of Prince and the demise of Bill Cosby’s legacy.
“As a print journalist, I hope the owners understand how important it is to keep Ebony as a mainstay in black households, telling stories that reflect our community.”
Desiree Rogers is out as CEO of Johnson Publishing Co. Linda Johnson Rice, who is the daughter of John H. Johnson, the man who put Ebony on the national landscape in 1945, is the new person in charge. Sort of. Johnson Rice had relinquished her CEO title to Rogers back in 2010. And now she’s back in the saddle as Ebony Media CEO.
In an interview with Target Market News in May, Johnson Rice spoke about the company’s imminent changes.
“Sometimes you have to make some hard choices and hard changes, but I think that this is what’s great for the business, in order to grow the business and to keep it on a path that will be successful,” Johnson Rice said. “In an effort to streamline our business and to get it where it needs to be, we decided we would consolidate and have Tracey Ferguson, who is the editor-in-chief of Jet, also be editor-in-chief of Ebony and handle all of the digital [needs] on both sites.”
According to a released statement that was issued to various media outlets, including the Triangle Tribune, her time with Johnson Publishing Co., was enjoyable, Rogers said.
“I have appreciated my time with the company and am proud of the work we have done here, guiding the sale of legendary assets and strengthening ‘Fashion Fair’ with a new team,” Rogers said. “Now is the perfect time to pursue other interests.”
The confusing part in all of this is what role will CVG Group play. Clear View Group, an investment group which purchased Ebony and Jet in June 2016, was enthusiastic about the business venture.
“We are excited about the future of Ebony Media and the opportunity to position the enterprise for long term growth,” said Michael Gibson, CEO of CVG Group and chairman of Ebony Media, a year ago.
“Our team has a true understanding of the Ebony brand as well as its legacy, and is committed to providing its audience with premium content across all media platforms.”
Johnson Rice sounded just as excited about the transition then as Gibson about where Ebony and Jet were headed at the time.
“This is the next chapter in retaining the legacy that my father, John H. Johnson, built to ensure the celebration of African-Americans,” Johnson Rice said in a statement released on the CVG Group website last year. “I am excited about the opportunity to lead these world-renowned brands to the next level, expanding the editorial offerings for our readership while providing new opportunities to our valued advertising partners,”
The changing of the guard holds the fate of Ebony and Jet. And it didn’t just start last year.
In 2014, Jet stopped its print editions, moving to just a digital format. Two years ago, the Johnson Publishing Co. puts its entire photo archive (5 million photos) up for sale. The asking price was $40 million at that time, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The move to Los Angeles cast doubts of uncertainty about the future of Ebony and Jet. CVG Group does not have a current or forwarding address for Ebony or Jet listed on its website. Repeated calls for comment to the number provided by CVG Group on its website, were received by personnel from another company.
A representative from Regus, which rents out office space to companies and businesses, informed The Wave that CVG Group moved out and is no longer renting space there. The saga of the former Johnson Publishing Co. iconic publications appears to have lost its steam in relevancy and attracting readership numbers.
During the infancy and height of the civil rights movement, Ebony became the “mecca” of black people information and news. Ebony magazine became the face of black Americans when it made its debut in 1945. It is trying to survive today. Jet magazine is reportedly coming back into print, though no official announcement has been made about that venture coming to fruition.
Johnson Rice, in her rambling interview with Target Market News, said Ebony and Jet aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, despite the publication cutting its print distribution.
“We will still have a big presence in Chicago, because our sales and marketing team is there, our production is in Chicago,” Johnson Rice told Target Market News. “So I want to be real clear on that — we’re not leaving Chicago.”
Things can change quickly in one month.