The Storied History of Ebony Magazine, 1945 to Present Day
While the landscape of black media and black celebrity news has changed many times over in the past 75 years, Ebony magazine has been a steady constant. As the famous African-American magazine changes owners for the first time in its history, what’s next for the future of black entertainment news in the 21st century?
The Past, Present and Future of Ebony Magazine
For everyone in America, 1945 was a tough year. It was the year that the bloodiest war in the history of planet earth came to a violent conclusion. It was the year President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died. It was also the year that Chicago native John. H. Johnson founded Ebony, the original black magazine. Nine years in the future, Brown v. Board of Education would help usher in a new frontier in the civil rights movement, which would be documented in the magazine’s glossy pages.
This June, after 71 years of publishing from Chicago, Johnson’s daughter announced that the company was officially closing its publishing department, with the sale of its two most famous brands to a Texas private equity group. Clear View Group, which is itself owned by African-Americans, is now the proud new owner of both Ebony and Jet magazine.
When corporate America finally woke up to the fact that African-Americans represented a valuable demographic, Ebony was one of the only media outlets where advertisers could target black audiences. While you’ll find black gossip sites and urban news outlets all over the media industry today, Johnston’s magazine was one of the first to feature black models in its pages.
According to black celebrity news sites, even in the 21st century four out of five magazines feature white women on their covers, and the groundbreaking nature of Ebony really can’t be understated at all. Over the years the magazine has featured some of the most famous black musicians, celebrities, civil rights leaders, hip hop stars, and artists of all time, including The Jackson 5, Dorothy Dandridge, Diana Ross, Muhammad Ali, Prince, Halle Berry, Jay-Z, President Barack Obama, and of course, First Lady Michelle Obama.
What Will Happen To Ebony Now?
The co-founders of the Clear View Group said that there was always a copy of the magazine inside his home, and that you knew someone had really made it when they graced the cover of the magazine. Yet the media industry has changed dramatically in the last decade-and-a-half.
The black entertainment news industry, like all other niche fields, has splintered into digital outlets, made up of even smaller niches, like hip-hop gossip, urban news, video sites, black celebrity news sites, and more. Yet these digital black gossip sites are struggling to survive in a crowded media landscape, while even legacy magazines are facing declining circulation and revenues.
Jet, which was also included in the sale, was forced to become a digital only website several years ago. For now, Ebony will continue to print and operate as normal. Clear View Group says that it intends to keep the company’s Chicago office and staff for as long as possible. If anything, the sale has caused the black media world to take a fresh look back at the magazine’s storied history, as it takes uncertain steps into the 21st century world of new media.