EBONY Magazine In Flux - Print Magazine Folds, Digital Seems To Continue

EBONY Magazine and its spin off political sister magazine Jet, reportedly fired its online editorial staff without pay, as reported by the New York Daily News and The Root, and suspended the print publication. So far, Spring 2019 has been the last issue.

The Background

Founded by John H. Johnson in 1945, EBONY Magazine was the source for African American culture, news and perspective. When Johnson died in 2005, his daughter Linda Johnson Rice took the helm. By that time, the shifts in media publishing were starting to prove too volatile for survival. Rice sold the Johnson Publishing Company building in 2010 to Columbia College, moving the staff to more affordable offices.

In 2016, both EBONY and Jet were sold to The Clear View Group (CVG), an African American investment group bringing over 25 years of experience in running successful corporations.

#EbonyOwes Social Campaign Emerges In Defense Of Unpaid Freelance Writers

In 2017, a social media campaign #EbonyOwes forced Clear View Group’s owners Michael Gibson and Willard Jackson into the public eye for not paying their freelance writers, as reported by Vice. Fifty freelance writers were owed a collective amount of $200K. In response, EBONY made an effort to pay them with $18K offered to 11 writers, 3 of whom were paid in full. The National Writers Union stepped in, taking EBONY Media and its parent company CVG to court.

On February 27, 2018, the remaining 43 writers finally settled their lawsuit with Ebony Magazine, according to Kinja. Ebony Media, Clear View Group and the National Writers Union came to an agreement that all unpaid invoices would be compensated by the end of the year in four quarterly payments. But by October 2018, Ebony missed its third quarter payment. After another lawsuit and more social media shaming, CVG made the final payment by December 7, 2018 - three weeks before the final deadline.

In November 2018, the company suspended dental, vision and disability overage, suggesting the possibility of reinstating benefits in June 2019. But on January 3, 2019, all other medical benefits were cancelled, including HSA plans.

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…And Then Print…And Then Payroll…

In May of 2019, CVG informed their staff that the print edition of EBONY would be suspended on May 24th. On May 30th, a memo informed staffers that payroll would be delayed. Some employees have mentioned that their 401(k) contributions deducted from their paychecks were never added to their accounts, according to the New York Post.

The magazine cover created by Lawrence Ross for TheRoot.com, as a parody. Ebony Magazine took TheRoot.com to court alleging trademark infringement. It was ruled that the satirical cover was protected under the First Amendment.  Image Credit:    Lawrence Ross

The magazine cover created by Lawrence Ross for TheRoot.com, as a parody. Ebony Magazine took TheRoot.com to court alleging trademark infringement. It was ruled that the satirical cover was protected under the First Amendment.
Image Credit: Lawrence Ross

EBONY Magazine Loses Lawsuit Over Satirical and Critical Magazine Cover

Ebony Magazine lost a lawsuit against TheRoot.com, for allegedly infringing on Ebony’s trademark due to this magazine cover parody created by Lawrence Ross. It was ruled that the satirical cover was protected under the First Amendment.

U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the Southern District of New York wrote, “Each of the 5 headlines on the Accused Image is harshly and unambiguously critical of EBONY Magazine —sarcastically purporting to preview (non-existent) stories about: the magazine being a ‘deadbeat,ʼthe magazineʼs owners ‘show[ing] us howʼ to cheat black writers, ‘100 Ways Ebony Doesnʼt Pay Writers,ʼ the magazineʼs owners as ‘Slow Pay Kings of Black Biz,ʼ and ‘Thousands in Back Payʼ owed by the magazine. It is difficult to imagine any reader experiencing confusion as to whether or not EBONY Magazine sponsored or endorsed a cover that portrays it in such a negative light. . . .” 

Former EBONY Publisher Files For Bankruptcy

In April 2019, former EBONY publisher Johnson Publishing Company filed for bankruptcy, which does not impact the publication, according to EBONY as quoted in Black Press USA.  They are in the process of selling off all remaining assets, including an archive of photos chronicling black American history and Fashion Fair cosmetics, the first cosmetic line to address the beauty needs of the African American community it retained from Linda Johnson Rice.

Photo Credit: Screenshot from the article at  The Root .

Photo Credit: Screenshot from the article at The Root.

Photo Archives Of African American People And History Are Unsecured

The photo archives were once valued at $46 million in 2015, according to TheSource.com. The photo archives included photos of entertainers, civil rights leaders and prominent African American businessmen and women. According to The New York Post: “The archive includes one of the most dramatic photos of the civil rights era: the badly disfigured body of 14-year-old Emmett Till laid out in a coffin. The Chicago native was accused of offending a white woman during a trip to Mississippi, which led to barbed wire being tied around his neck before he was thrown naked into a river with a 75-pound weight tied to him. The photo by David Jackson appeared first in Jet in 1955 and became a searing reminder of racism in the Deep South at the time.”

Financier Mellody Hobson and her husband George Lucas (yes, that George Lucas) are attempting to take control over the archive according to The Root, as it was used as collateral when Capital Holdings V, a company Hobson and Lucas control, lent JPC $12 million dollars back in 2015. The photo collection is set to go up for auction the week of July 15, 2019, likely in Chicago.