EBONY and Why Black Media Needs Staying Power

EBONY is still here, y’all.

And I’m glad.

Not because my  byline has been inked on their pages or because Johnson Publishing Company signs a few checks that come way. I’m thankful because that magazine matters. Before I was a writer, I was a reader.

For forever, I’ve been consumed by magazines geared towards African Americans, cherishing them for as long as we’ve had the opportunity to flip their pages (Rest in peace to Suede, VIBE Vixen, Code, etc.). Searching for people of color in ads, stories or fashion spreads in predominately white magazines is still like looking for a needle in a haystack, but it’s a non-issue with EBONY and the few others left.

When a friend sent me the story, I winced at the headline, immediately feeling disappointed because another piece of us may be chipped away. As a writer and contributor to the magazine, I was crushed. A few years back, Aliya King asked black writers how they felt about writing for African-American publications only. Is there an allure or feeling of “making it” when you write for a Glamour or Marie Claire. Words are words, and I read ALL magazines, but the ones I value most are published for us exclusively. I love black people, I love black shit. Period.

I remember how I felt when ESSENCE was sold to Time Inc. At the time, there was a collective sighing and head shaking by black folks who consume stories, ideas and positive images through these publications and products. “RIP” and “Another bites the dust” were shared on reluctant fans and naysayers alike on social media.

ESSENCE is still slaying, but executive roles in publishing make a difference. Without minority ownership and leadership, there’s speculation that they might not care as much about us as we do. Remember that story about the sting of #BlackGirlMagic on Elle.com last year? The idea that it’s important for us to guide and navigate our stories seemed to resonate with their editorial team (Hello, editor-at-large, Melissa Harris-Perry!), but ownership is something altogether different.

When another company acquires one of ours, many question follow: What kind of directives will the editorial team receive? Will the brand and integrity be protected? Will its blackness be watered-down? Will they allow the creative freedom required to show the broad spectrum of us– from our curvy bodies showcased on the front cover to long-form pieces about our music icons to controversial critiques of them, while honoring how they’ve impacted us?

There MUST be spaces and outlets for us, and while it’s just as important to share our stories with groups who can’t identify, yet want to understand, protection and celebration often happens in its best form by folks on the inside, not the outside. No one loves your baby like you do.

Although I am sad that the EBONY brand will no longer legally belong to Johnson Publishing Company, I am pleased that Clear View Group, a black-owned and southern firm, will allow the editorial team to run business as usual.

What the Johnson family and company has done for black media cannot be taken away, and we are indebted to them. Here’s to the future of black media.

 

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