I was a little confused about the accompanying article image and lead text to this Root story about the sale of Ebony magazine:
Four years ago, at the funeral of Ebony magazine founder John H. Johnson, then-Sen. Barack Obama remembered the man who almost single-handedly built the economic foundation for black-audience periodicals.
Through his magazines, Obama told the more than 2,000 mourners, “he shared countless news, large and small, that had been ignored for so long.”
In my moment of confusion I wondered if—unbeknownst to me—the President was somehow responsible for Ebony‘s fate. Perhaps, on his way back from his losing Chicago Olympics bid, he failed in key secret negotiations to keep the publishing company in its original (Black) family hands?
But no. A more careful reading of the article reveals that Obama’s inclusion in the story was mainly meant to encourage click-overs for the full article.
And what a perfect metaphor for my recent interactions with Ebony. The only issues I have bought recently were the slick commemorative issues chronicling Barack Obama’s rise to the Presidency of the United States. I have a feeling the same would be said for many Black folks my age and younger. I would not be surprised if the election and inauguration made the mag temporarily flush with cash and readership.
To be fair, it is not often that I purchase a hard copy of any print magazine. I will buy the occasional thick magazine when I am flying on a plane. I will buy up a stack of home decor or DIY magazines if I am about to embark on a weekend fix-it job around my house. But that is about it. I have not subscribed to any magazine since I got a free subscription to Essence at Black Expo and used my unused frequent flyer airline points to get a Wired subscription—both a couple years ago.
I get the feeling that I should be lamenting this news about Ebony/Jet. Some people have been saying that this is just another example of “our” stuff being sold off, likely to White buyers. But unless we are one of those Chicago Johnsons, the magazine was never “ours” to begin with. We can, as we have up until now, continue to buy (or not buy) the magazine in whatever new form it may be once it is sold. We can certainly celebrate the place the Johnson Publishing Company publications have held in Black American history and culture.
But I do not think any individual Black person should feel compelled to fault her or himself for not responding to a magazine that no longer represented how we saw ourselves and how we consumed news and entertainment.
(And certainly we can’t place this on the shoulders of Obama.)