Saving 'Ebony' and 'Jet'. Or Not.

Tami wonders if Ebony and Jet, which are in dire financial straits, should be saved.

The argument that they matter because of their historical import shouldn’t be too easily dismissed. But that feeling of familiarity and cultural obligation, of supporting these publications because they’re black publications has essentially been their business models for their entire runs, even as the media landscape changed in cataclysmic ways.

In terms of functionality, they don’t do anything so superlatively (or even competently enough) that it would make me, an admitted magazine junkie, ever seriously consider buying them. At this point, you’re more likely to find thoughtful and well-researched  journalism/essays on issues that affect black people — por ejemplo, here, here, here or here — in mainstream publications than you are in either of them. They’ve completely ceded that space.  They’re just not very good magazines by most measures.

What do you think?

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Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs about race and ethnicity for National Public Radio. He is a native of South Philly and reads and writes and runs and rants. You can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to him on Facebook.

12 comments to Saving 'Ebony' and 'Jet'. Or Not.

  • shani-o

    Ebony and Jet are like yearbooks for blackness…but the usefulness of yearbooks has passed. There’s a bigger story to tell than just “goooo blacks!”

    I think this sort of falls under the same category as HBCUs. If a black institution can’t make weight, then its blackness isn’t enough reason to save it. There are so many great news orgs that are going under right now, it’s heartbreaking…but like you said, Ebony and Jet are not great.

    I know I’ll miss Jet, especially, if it goes under, but that’s more out of nostalgia than anything. My dad, who feared I was losing my blackness in the racially diverse area of California where I grew up, used to make me read it every week, and then he’d ‘test’ me on what was in it. And when I’m home, I still flip through it out of habit. But it’s seriously just like a yearbook… some interesting tidbits here and there, things that evoke a smile or a frown, but nothing of substance.

  • Ron

    How would we make them more relevant in a Web 2.0 era? I mean, their web presences need lots of work, but besides that..is there anything the print publication can do to stay relevant?

  • Mike P

    I’m actually working on a story about what’s next for the black press and this is something I’ve been wondering about. Take away the fact that these are publications produced by black people and what do they have left to recommend them? It’s an interesting question and from the responses here, it seems like others are having that same question.

  • great call

    Ebony and JEt makes me think of the olden days. the print model is really the problem with old Ebony and Jet–do you know how much it cost to send out however many thousands of print copies they sell? for only half the articles to get read. The Root is doing big online things, which is really where you need to be in this day and age. its just more efficient.

  • eb

    i think this discussion is better served by you buying the magazines first and then discussing them later. i’ve been following Ebony’s new management and writers for three years now. they got a lady from the boston globe and another from newsweek. their editors came from time and the miami herald and essence… so someone made some massive hiring over there.

    quality’s been improving. greatly. some of those stories are actually pretty damn good, but you’ld never see them unless you read the mags. and what’s keeping you from seeing those stories is the idea that there aren’t good stories there to begin with. so it’s chicken or egg.

    really, we do need to support. i suspect we’d miss it if it went away.

    and, vogue’s fascination with black people will wear thin again. i don’t really think we’re in the space where black people are really mainstreamed yet. also, i’m with the person who says that black magazines give black writers and photographers a good shot.

    sure you can work at newsweek, but once you get tired of covering mostly white folks, you can dip over to ebony to cover somebody else.

  • Bob Ino

    Your are correct. No publication “deserves” rescue simply because it exists. On the other hand it is true that much of what we think of Ebony is based on perception and not what is actually in it. That’s largely what hobbles its website which is rolling with some great writers and great writing and is independent of the magazine, but is stuck with that Ebony/Jet name and some people don’t look. Check out EbonyJet radio on the site, for instance, and their Turntable podcasts as well as Jelani Cobb and Brian Gilmore’s political pieces there – amazing stuff. I would bet that there’s a heck of a battle between the web folks and the print people over direction. Surprised actually that the website had been able to maintain its voice and not get sucked into the print vortex like so many other digital teams right now. if Ebony were smart that’s where they’d put whatever money they have left.

  • I know it’s not the most intelligent way to judge Ebony/Jet, but those publications just aren’t aesthetically pleasing to me. I read a lot but when it comes to my magazines, the visual is just as important as the articles. Ebony and Jet just make me think that there’s nothing inside for me. Even when they put the same folks on the cover that other mags do, I don’t know, something doesn’t feel right. Maybe I can’t shake the idea that Ebony/Jet is for a different age group or just from a different era?
    I love to buy magazines. I like to see the glossy pages sitting on my coffee table and desk. I like stories about finances, beauty, health, current events, fashion, etc. I’m sure Ebony has all of that, I just don’t like the way it’s presented.

    I don’t know what the future of print publications/magazines will be, but they might want to look into a redesign and stronger web presence for those of us who still like the shiny things, cool layouts and pretty pictures.

  • A commenter on Racialicious made the point that even an uptick in subscriptions might not help, as most of the magazine’s revenue would have to come from advertising. Unfortunately, advertising is down for everyone right now.

  • ladyfresshh

    make them international?

    i’m not sure but i’ve found myself reading trace, colures, arise, clam

    i’m still not sure what it is, but i also stopped reading the source, vibe, vogue, elle

    there is a lack of design/sophistication. there would need to be a serious overhaul for me to pay attention

  • Thanks for your comments, eb.

    But I gotta say: these are very bad arguments.

    You’re suggesting that people should support a product that they’re pretty familiar with — and still don’t like — because they might miss it when it’s gone. Um, okay. You’re sort of making my point again, which is that the reason often given for why we should support it is out of some kind of obligation, and not an actual affinity for the magazine itself.

    Also, I have no idea where you’re getting the idea that Ebony serves as the training ground for the tens (hundreds?) of thousands of black journalists/shooters in the U.S. Of the many, many fellow NABJ members I know, none of them have worked for Ebony (although coincidentally, I met in passing the young lady you mentioned who left the Globe for Ebony about a week before she was set to make the jump). This idea just isn’t true.

    But okay. Could you specifically shout out one of those “pretty damn good” stories that we missed out on?

  • j.k.

    point of clarification: the former president of NABJ is the new editor of Ebony & Jet. came on about 3 years ago, along with several other NABJ journalists

  • uh, what point is that clarifying, exactly?

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