At one point during its 71-year run, Ebony was one of the most recognized publications known for covering news and culture for African Americans. From its annual 100 Influential Blacks of America, to legendary covers of elite Black artists such as Mary J. Blidge, Denzel Washington and –recently– Russell Westbrook the magazine created a legacy that many publications haven’t been able to match.
It made a normal visit to a magazine rack special as an African American, because each issue featured a successful public figure known within the Black community. Although Ebony captures your eye with its cover, the magazine had the talent to back it up with pieces from several cultural shifting writers in the industry including Danyel Smith and Jamilah Lemieux, opening up a dialogue for conversations within entertainment and culture from a Black perspective that may have not been covered or even brought up from a different publication.
Although this magazine has had such an impressive history in entertainment and culture, these last few years may have been the roughest for Ebony. On May 5, The Chicago Tribune reported that Ebony will be laying off almost a third of its staff based in Chicago and moving to Los Angeles. The announcement follows a trail of missteps taken ever since Texas-based firm Clear Vision Group bought Ebony and Jet magazines from Johnson Publishing in June 2016. These include making Jet an online only publication and news of freelance writers not being compensated for their work.
As ugly as the fallout at Ebony has been for both former staff and freelance writers, long-time readers were stunned by the news, especially on Twitter. The news released a few days after #EbonyOwes was trending on Twitter; a thread made by several writers who have contributed to Ebony following a story in The Root about missed payments.
Freelance writer AJ Springer was one of the writers who said he was not paid by Ebony for work done in 2016. After continuously fighting to get paid for his contributions, the layoffs seem like a yet another obstacle for him and fellow writers.
“ hopeless. Lol. Like it’s slim to none chance of getting paid,” Springer told the AFRO via email. “I grew up reading Ebony so it was an honor to write for them. In Trump’s America, it should be more important than ever.”
Though #EbonyOwes made Ebony’s mistakes viral, it wasn’t the only problem the publication faces. According to recent reports, the publication has suffered from a difficult transition into the digital age. According to the Pew Research Center, Ebony’s numbers have declined over the past three years from its original 1.2 million circulation.
However, the move to LA may soon turn Ebony into more of a digital entity than a publication. It was also announced last week that California agency William Morris Endeavor have signed up Jet and Ebony with a goal of helping the publication expand its digital outlook. Only time can tell if the agreement between WME and Clear Vision Group will help the publication stay afloat or drown in its regrets.
With so many changes happening to Ebony, some readers are skeptical about the future of the publication. “They might be on the verge of closing,” said Springer. “I hope they can get it together. The culture needs them. Print is still important and they’re an institution with a legacy.”