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Dr. Boyce Watkins; Ebony/Jet Magazine Sells Out, Last Black-Owned Media Giant…

July 7, 2011 by  
Filed under Business, Money, News, Opinion, Weekly Columns

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(ThyBlackMan.com) One of the last holdouts in the onslaught of major corporations seeking to take over the black-owned media space was the Johnson Publishing Company, which runs Ebony and Jet Magazines.  As Essence Magazine, BET and other outlets found themselves running into the arms of a financial white knight, the Johnson family fought hard to maintain its independence.  That quest was hindered when it was recently announced that JP Morgan Chase has bought a substantial stake in the company.

The announcement of the partnership represents the end of a 69-year period during which the company was family-owned.  The terms of the deal were not disclosed, leading some to wonder why the owners want to keep the numbers a secret.  My guess is that pride is playing a role in the secrecy, like a proud father who doesn’t tell his children that he borrowed money from the neighbors in order to pay the light bill.

Desiree Rogers, the CEO of the company, went out of her way to tell Richard Prince of Jounal-isms that the bank would only hold a minority stake and have a presence on the board.

It was “very important that the company remain minority-owned,” she said, claiming that it “gives us the capital to move forward with the plans we’ve been working on — the continuing ‘rebranding’ of Ebony, which includes remaking  the magazine’s digital platform; rebranding the pocket-sized Jet magazine, as it did with Ebony; and marketing the Fashion Fair cosmetics line more effectively.”

If there were ever a source of pride in black media, it would be the Johnson Publishing Company.  Founded in 1945 with an initial press run of 25,000 copies, John H. Johnson built Ebony Magazine into a media beast, with a  circulation of 1.9 million in 1997.  Jet was founded in 1951 and had an equally impressive amount of success.

Most of us remember the happy days of Ebony and Jet, when both magazines had unquestioned power within the black community.  Minds were shaped and stars were born within the pages of those magazines.  But with power comes some degree of arrogance and complacency.  Many felt that the Johnson family was too slow to adapt to the sudden rush of Internet media, which reshaped the landscape no less violently than a business version of Hurricane Katrina.  Suddenly, coveted space within these magazines that once sought thousands of dollars for even the tiniest ads commanded only a fraction of previous value.

This partnership between JP Morgan Chase and the Johnson family, quite honestly, bothers me.  I can also tell by the careful words used by Desiree that it bothers her too.  Most of us are incredibly uncomfortable with the fact that the ability of African Americans to find our own voice has been slowly imperialized by big, wealthy (mostly white) corporations.  It all seems harmless at first, like the pimp who offers food to the hungry girl in the bus station.  Before long, the girl is wondering how she ended up on the corner turning tricks for another hit of blow.

Not to be exceedingly dramatic about all of this, the truth is that media is an awesome force in our society.  It shapes minds and affects the dreams and visions (or lack thereof) of our children.   NASA had an overabundance of applicants for its astronaut program because of televised space missions.  HBCUs saw a boost in their enrollment numbers because “A Different World” was on the air every week.   Now, little black boys who would have made outstanding doctors, lawyers and fathers, are hoping to grow into Lil Wayne after watching the BET Awards.  On the female side, young black girls are seeing women like Nene Leakes and Shaunie O’neal (Executive Producer for “Basketball Wives“) being introduced as “empowerment speakers” at the Essence Music Festival.  When Shaunie O’neal is chosen by CNN as the expert commentator on black female images in media, there’s not a damn thing that the black folks at Essence can do about it without the Time Inc. pimp hand being presented in full-effect.  If only our girls could aspire to be more than basketball wives.

One of the greatest challenges for African Americans seeking to build institutions and navigate their way through a capitalist society is to fully understand the power of money and capitalism.  Money is like a drug: it can make you healthy and strong, or it can turn you into an addict.  By trying to keep up with the insatiable best of profit maximization and believing that the bottom line is all that matters, black media companies are finding that selling their power is the only way to survive in this economy.  What is true, however, is that BET could have been a profitable entity while maintaining black ownership and focusing on a duel bottom line of revenue generation and community empowerment.  But money becomes the trump card for even the most dastardly of corporate decisions, which is almost like a man marrying an evil woman just because she’s pretty.

The point is that black ownership in media must be considered to be an issue of cultural security.  The same way the United States doesn’t allow too much foreign ownership of its airlines or nuclear power plants (without regard to how much extra money they can make by selling out), African Americans must understand the value of keeping specific assets within the control of black people.   No matter how well-intended a partnership might be on the surface, the truth is that when the hard decisions are being made and that white editor comes into your office to tell you that your article is too radical, you have no choice but to stand down.  Power comes with ownership, nothing less.  Black folks need to learn this valuable lesson.

Staff Writer; Dr. Boyce Watkins

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition. For more information, please visit http://BoyceWatkins.com.


18 Responses to “Dr. Boyce Watkins; Ebony/Jet Magazine Sells Out, Last Black-Owned Media Giant…”
  1. Greg Howard says:

    We have gotten off our path. Money has now taken over and it is all about “my” wealth, “me” education, etc…

    We cry and demand but our elite do not back us with decisions like this.

    Our black elite come out of $$$ purposes and when you call them out on it people are too blind in love with them to see it for what it is.

    Then they justify because they would do the exact same thing.

    Just mention why with us controlling that sneaker market why we still have NOT created a Black owned company to endorse our names? Ask them. They get mad. Say it doesn’t matter. They don’t realize Jordan made Nike and Nike was an upstart and he could have gone with established companies like converse. So the excuse of established gets tossed and they will dream up a new one.

    I saw a dedication for those killed in Orlando. Nice. A REAL dedication. Not like the rehashed him shaking routine that was suppose to honor a the Black Panthers. I’ve shown many people willing to open their mind and eyes that it was nothing more than an album promotion.

    Our elite recycles wealth right back to the very people we complain about. Just our average person does the same. The world know we are the market to exploit and everyone is doing it. And WE are BUYING it.

    We are NOT making progress we THINK we are making. Family values have taken a back seat.
    Too much to commit to marriage but not too much to commit to raising a child as a single parent but will openly complain about it. Really?

    Boys aren’t being raise properly but we think so because we see them walk across at a HS graduation with his sagging pants underneath. Watch someone defend that. Smh.

    Girls aren’t being raise to be girls. They are being taught to replace the man and I’m talking in character and mannerisms not money.

    We think this criminal Justice reform is for us. HA!! What MORE dobwe need to see wool is being pulled over our eyes?

    This is for THEM. To keep their precious ones from a jail record because of the more open behavior and getting caught with drugs and other issues.

    We and they accept the privileged label rather than call them the criminal like we complain they call us.

    White rspist gets off with 6 months county jail. And with practically NO MEDIA who do we have to blame? Banks? Really?

    When I learned of Black Wall Street it changed so much and it needs to change us and stop putting so much time in complaining and waiting and sacrificing instead for the future of our race.

    I’m telling you. Other races WILL own and prosper. While we wallow in glorification of one man or woman’s riches that really mean nothing to us and more to a race that has oppressed us. Because we will give back 20 mil in a second to them to own that mansion right? But uh… How many millions went to Flint? OUR people dying and devastated. We have it. We just don’t give it up to our own people so I don’t have applause to huge contracts and gains.

    It is sick that we give applause and dedications and claims of how those before us changed our lives but our ACTIONS speak otherwise.

    Media is a requirement. We complain for a reason. So why isn’t it a priority? Why aren’t we making a full fledge broadcast channel our priority? We think social media has replaced it? Lol. Smh.

    We better get our priorities straight and be just as willing to demand FROM OUR PEOPLE as we are from the white community.

    Demanding from a black president with a white congress for at most 8 years is NOT going to get it done. Never was.

    We either get going with this or prepare to take a back seat and remain dependent on others.

    If Tulsa could do it why can’t we with more wealth in our communities and more of us with way more money than they had along with access to resources.

    We can keep putting it off or wait until it is now or never. Then it might be too late.

  2. Sandra Mitchell says:

    This is what happens when people try to keep up with what others are doing instead of staying put and continuing the successful path they were on. People don’t always have to follow the ways of the world nor listen to the ill fated opinion or advice of others…so called experts.

  3. Sandra Mitchell says:

    This is what happens when people try to keep up with what others are doing instead of staying put and continuing the successful path they were on. We don’t always have to follow the ways of the world nor listen to the ill fated opinion or advice of others…so called experts.

  4. khrish67 says:

    I am so sorry to hear this. This is the way all newspapers and written media are going. If people stop purchasing this media, it cannot survive. Our middle class is down to about nothing, all children are interested in reading their cellphone post. Washington Times, NY Times and other well read media have gone the same way. How can you expect people to carry on with no purchasers? We are the people who were the primary support of these reading materials and so many of the readers are not working or barely working.

  5. @ All comments

    For those of you who are looking for solutions to these and the other problems in the Black community, click on my name.

    Black Unity means financial independence and happiness

  6. John says:


    You need to write articles to enlighten us. You know a lot of stuff!!!

  7. John says:


    It would be nice if you could elaborate on your comment:

    “BET was always built up to fall apart”

  8. John says:

    I live in Montreal and I see less and less Ebony Magazine in newstands and libraries. I am sure it is not a coincidence! I never saw here Black Enterprise Magazine. This also is not a coincidence. The one thing that Whites do not want us to do is become entrepreneurs to remain dependant on them!!!

  9. Certainly something to see. Seems some things never change. First (at least in my lifetime) it was the family land in the South, then the neighborhood stores. Ownership used to have meaning and a sense of pride, not just for the owning families, but for the entire community.

  10. sankofa says:

    @Aquarius Poet….the devil works in mysterious ways. Print media has been dead since before 2000, it’s just that the message hasn’t gotten to the dinosaur’s brain yet. However, beware of the eye on the internet. Because for years the NSA, FBI and CIA have been trying to “legally” control what we watch on the net. This is why the went after the Wiki leaks owner, too much free radical movement going on without checks and balance. Now the Obama government is giving the go ahead to tax internet users…on top of what yo normally pay…wtf? Their plans for us is like the Russian Matryoshka dolls, there is always another plot hidden inside the one you discover.
    FYI to y’all… Look what happened to Famous Amos back in the day. Brother can’t even use his own name now.

  11. seoul says:

    It is truly sad how black unity continues to diminish because African-Americans sold out for the almighty dollar. Long gone are the days of unity and fighting for each other rights/happiness.

  12. bob stelle says:

    u can add inner city broadcasting to this article as well, they were just taken over by private banks equity houses. Companies like johnson publishing and inner city broadcasting had hundreds of millions of dollars of debt, that debt has to be paid one way or another, lenders like jp morgan don’t like running magazines they are in the business of lending money to make money, i can see jp morgan selling their intrest in johnson publishing and also continuing to try to sway the johnson family of unloading it altogether.

    The days of black media outlets having a community mission are gone, that generations ship sailed 20 plus years ago, with the advent of mainstream influence into the black media, we now see the fruits of that mindsets influence has left on the current state of black media or what we take today as black media, and that is nothing more than a marketing scheme for the community aka the consumer to just take whatever is placed infront of them.

  13. Aquarius Poet says:

    The print media industry is dead…I had a subscription…up until last year and really the information has been on the net for two weeks by the time they post it in the magazines…black or white. Sad to say good bye…but change is the only constant in this world.

  14. Robert Monroe, Jr. says:

    I just received some mail asking me to subscribe to the “new” Ebony magazine. I refuse to subscribe to a white-owned “Black” magazine and intend to tell them so. I have fond memories of what Johnson Publications has produced and, over the years, I’ve collected issues of Ebony, Jet & Negro/Black Digest as well as the various books Johnson published. But, there is no way that a white-owned Ebony magazine will get a dollar out of me.

  15. Murray Cottman says:

    Those in the investment community know that when Johnson Publishing was up for sale last year, a slew of prominent Black investors – famous and not- looked at it – and walked away shaking their heads at the state of affairs. Ultimately, it was only white investors who could afford to lose their money who were willing to invest in what is likely a losing proposition in the long term. If Ebony can outsource basically every function they might survive. But they will drop to 500K circulation and be a speciality mag. Otherwise, the brand is dead. It is the Ivory Soap of magazines. Loved and fondly remembered, but bought by habit, not by demand.

  16. Gigi Franklin says:

    This would be sad news if there were not underlying disturbing factors. Why is it “very important that the company remain minority-owned” when Ebony Magazine rarely hires Black photographers for their covers and main editorial? With the unemployment rate at 16% for Blacks, Ebony adds to this figure. Ruven Afanador photographed Halle Berry, Art Streiber photographed Jumping the Broom cast, Sheryl Nields the July 2011 issue, and the lists goes on. None of these photographers are Black. To say I am disappointed, I don’t think so. Perhaps JP Morgan might feel the need to instill some affirmative action into this company.

  17. Josh says:

    Its time for you all to open your eyes and see what’s really going on. This is part of the system to bring down AMERICA. If you all haven’t noticed who are some of the most influential people in America!! African-Americans everyone wants to walk like us, talk like us, dress like us, and act like us. This is the reason Hip Hop has been incorporated in everything you see on TV now. If we (THE ENTIRE BLACK COMMUNITY) don’t stand up and demand changes within ourselves and our community the Next Generation will make the same mistakes as we have and are continuing.

    How about this Dr. Watkins, you hate Lil Wayne. Sit him down for an interview talk to the brother. Have an exchange of ideas. Talk to other Influential Rappers from T.I. to Ludacris and yes even Waka Flocka and Gucci Mane. Talk to these Black Men and express you dissapointment. BET was always built up to fall apart and once Viacom took over BET you all didn’t see the rest of our Outlets falling to. In a Nation that projects Negativity and hides positivity we need people with a Voice to stand up and say “Let’s take our Culture Back” believe me if I could get my voice heard I would. You can.

  18. YUMMommy says:

    Can’t even begin to say how disappointed I am. This is even more heartbreaking for the Black community than when Bob Johnson sold BET. I know clue why at the first couple of signs of major struggle Black companies turn to the White man. Like honestly, our ancestors struggled to give us things of our own and we go and sell out.

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