EBONY removes CEO Willard Jackson amid investigation  

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Willard Jackson Jr.

Crusader Staff Report

EBONY CEO Willard Jackson Jr. was removed after the board of directors of the iconic magazine discovered several transactions during an ongoing investigation.

The board of directors said they will appoint an interim CEO and operating committee. The board also said that it will prioritize the payment of delinquent compensation to EBONY employees and writers. The board said it will make an announcement on that goal soon.

The move is the latest in a string of problems that have fueled the decline of the storied Black publication that for decades has documented and highlighted Black history and culture.

In 2016 Jackson and his Texas firm, the CVG, purchased Ebony and Jet from Johnson Publishing Company for an undisclosed price. The board of directors in a press release July 2 said the acquisition was financed by Parkview Capital Credit Inc. (PCC) through a series of loans.

In April 2020, Blueprint Capital Advisor took over management from PCC.

Seeking to revitalize the brand, the firm created Ebony Media Group. With no experience in media or magazine publishing, EBONY and Jet magazines continued to decline under CVG.

Sources told the Crusader that Michael Gibson, who co-owned the Ebony Media Group, had not been with the venture for a year.

Linda Johnson Rice, who once served as CEO of Ebony Media Group, left the company, saying it failed to meet the standards set by her father, founder John H. Johnson.

EBONY’S current board of directors remains hopeful in reviving the magazine.

“The board of directors individually and collectively understands the legacy and value of EBONY to Black communities globally,” said Jacob Walthour Jr., newly elected chairman of EBONY’s board of directors and co-founder of Blueprint Capital Advisors, a Black-owned asset manager. “Founder John H. Johnson conducted himself and EBONY business with a level of class, integrity and honor that has come to define Black professionalism in America. While the board expects that EBONY will always need to adapt its business model to stay relevant, it must never compromise the core values of Mr. Johnson.

“As we approach EBONY’s 75th anniversary, now more than any other time since the Civil Rights movement, Black people need a medium to express ‘their’ voice and record this historical moment,” said John C. Robinson, an EBONY director. “We are committed to the preservation of this valuable asset to the Black community and being a part of the next 75 years.”

EBONY has not published a print edition since May 2019.

Last year, Ebony Media Group created the Ebony Foundation, which in May sent an embarrassing press release to media outlets informing them that former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick would be released from prison. That story turned out to be false.

In 2017, the National Writers Union filed a lawsuit against Ebony Media Group and CVG, which eventually agreed to pay 44 freelancers $80,000 for their work that had long ago been published.

In June 2019, seven members were reportedly fired after they walked out when the company sent out a memo informing staffers that their pay for the period ending May 31 would be delayed because of a “delay in receiving capital” that week.

John H. Johnson created Ebony in 1945 while working in the Supreme Life Insurance building at 35th and King Drive in Bronzeville. The magazine would eventually become the flagship publication of Johnson Publishing Company. Johnson became one of America’s richest Black businessmen, and made the Forbes 500 list of wealthiest Americans.

Johnson’s daughter, Linda Johnson Rice, took over the company when her father died in 2005. Rice sold the building that served as the headquarters of the Johnson Publishing Company in 2010. In 2019, the building opened as modern apartments, a year after it was designated a Chicago landmark.

Capping years of decline, Johnson Publishing filed bankruptcy in May 2019 and sold its vast photo archives for $30 million to a group of philanthropic foundations.

In April, Johnson Publishing reached a $500,000 settlement in a defamation lawsuit filed by the family of two Georgia high school students. The family alleged the magazine, in a series of articles in 2014, falsely implicated the students in the mysterious death of a Black classmate in 2013.

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