No magazine, now no website. Is Ebony gone for good?

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By Erick Johnson

The magazine that graced the coffee tables of millions of Black homes is gone. So is parent company, Johnson Publishing Company. Now, Ebony’s website has vanished from the world wide web.

It’s the 75th anniversary of Ebony Magazine, but will there be a celebration or a funeral with few mourners in this age of social distancing?

After years of decline, lawsuits, settlements, unpaid debts, missed paychecks and layoffs, are Ebony and Jet gone for good?

Unreturned emails. Unanswered questions. Hardly anyone from Ebony and Jet is talking.

Its death has been prematurely reported, but with no magazine and no website, is it finally over for the iconic Black empire?

For more than 20 years, Ebony’s digital platform has strived to keep America’s groundbreaking Black magazine relevant, and the legacy of its founder, John H. Johnson, alive.

But on Thursday, March 26, the Crusader was unable to access ebony.com. Readers would get a message on a white screen that said, “The site you were looking for couldn’t be found.”

The same message would appear when readers clicked on links to any story on the internet.

On March 30, the Crusader sent emails to Clear View Group, which purchased Ebony and Jet from Johnson Publishing Company for an undisclosed amount in 2016.  No answer.

On Tuesday, the Crusader spoke to Sabrina Taylor, a journalist whose “Ebony Power 100,” about America’s Black media leaders was published this month on the magazine’s website.

Taylor told the Crusader that the website would be back up the next day, but that didn’t happen on Wednesday, April Fools’ Day. She also promised to email the Crusader a statement. When that didn’t happen, the Crusader sent Taylor a follow-up text message. Taylor never responded. The website was still down on Friday, April 3.

During the initial conversation, Taylor said there were a “lot of issues going,” but didn’t elaborate.

Michael Gibson, co-chairman and founder of Clear View Group, has seldom made comments about Ebony’s problems, citing his company’s “policy of not commenting on any employment practices or issues.”

Sources tell the Crusader that Ebony had not paid its remaining five-member digital web staff. They kept the website going with several stories since June 2019. At that time, several media outlets reported that Ebony Media closed for good by laying off its remaining staff members after they walked out when the company couldn’t make payroll.

Ebony Media, the company that runs Ebony and Jet, never released a statement about the layoffs, but the damage to the quality of Ebony’s digital platform began to show with very few new stories.

In the past six months, Ebony’s website has struggled to produce fresh stories and content that harks back to its glory days.

A story about the Ebony Foundation and another one about Black college queens remained the top stories on the website for weeks. One of the last stories on Ebony’s website before it went down was an interview with Tyler Perry by author and former Ebony journalist Margena Christian.

With no magazine and no website, questions remain whether Ebony will celebrate its 75th anniversary. When Ebony’s website was up and running, it did not mention any plans to celebrate the milestone.

For its 50th anniversary, Ebony hosted a two-hour televised special on ABC in November 1995. Titled, “Celebrate the Dream-50 Years of Ebony,” the show featured Cicely Tyson, Oprah Winfrey, Whitney Houston, Patti LaBelle, Ossie Davis, Luther Vandross and many other prominent Black figures.

It was a big 50th birthday bash where they reminisced about the stories and achievements that defined Ebony as the nation’s preeminent Black magazine.

That same year, Ebony published a special 50th anniversary issue featuring General Colin Powell with his wife, Alma, on the front cover.

John H. Johnson created the magazine in 1945 while working in the Supreme Life Insurance building on 35th and King Drive in Bronzeville. The magazine would eventually become the flagship publication of Johnson Publishing Company.

Johnson’s daughter, Linda Johnson Rice, took over the company when her father died in 2005.

 In 2010, Rice sold the company’s headquarters to Columbia College, which sold it to 3L Real Estate in 2016.

In 2014, Jet magazine ended its print edition.

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

Rice sold Ebony and Jet in 2016 to Clear View Group, which, at the time, had no experience in media and publishing.

Earlier this month, 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.

Under Clear View Group, both magazines continued to decline, experiencing staff and editorial problems.

Clear View Group suspended Ebony magazine’s print edition on May 24. Four days later, the company reportedly held a town hall meeting and told staffers they were safe.

In June2019, 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.

Employees reportedly said they were “rubbing pennies together” to make ends meet when they were laid off.  One ex-staffer even reportedly claimed her company-sponsored retirement account might have been shortchanged.

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 been published.

At one point, Rice was CEO of Ebony Media under Clear View Group ownership, but eventually left saying the quality of Ebony no longer met the standards set by her father.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. I’m guessing Clear View Group never spoke to the Chicago Defender, Chicago Citizens Newspaper Group and N’DIGO either.

    Surely, Chicago Crusader and the above named newspapers would have assisted Clearview somehow.

  2. The loss of the Ebony-Jet-Fashion Fair empire is a sore spot with me. Why? Because being a Chicagoan of a certain age, I watch and see how subsequent generation of Black men and women grow up without realizing the HARD WORK it took to create their parents’ dreams that they left for them to continue. I don’t know why Linda dropped the ball. I used to see her at Gibsons the few times that I dined there. The Chicago Defender is also a shell of its former self.

    The Lusters continued their parents’ legacy, and a few more. But majorally, our Black children grew up privileged and thought they didn’t have to work to keep whatever business started in previous generations going. I pray that those coming up today look at this loss and learn something from it. We can’t blame this on the White man, can we?

  3. As a former employee of Johnson Publishing Company (WLNR/WJPC Radio) from 1989 until 1993, my heart breaks over and over whenever I am reminded of the tremendous contribution that John H. Johnson gave to this world. I also shed tears whenever I am reminded of the legacy of Robert Abbott and John Sengstacke and the beloved Chicago Defender where I worked in 2001. Sad for all. ❤.

  4. I wonder what Clearview Group’s track record is, with other acquired companies? I looked, but couldn’t find anything. ಠ_ಠ

  5. Clearview Group was some black folk pretending to be business investment experts. Either out of desperation or gullibleness, Ms. Rice, accepted their deal. These guys never had any real money and didn’t bring the smarts or creativity in the magazine business to overcome what they lacked in cash. Ebony could have not only survived it could have thrived. From Rice herself, to Desire Rogers and others, Ebony’s failure captures the false promise of higher education and impressive references. They just didn’t have a clue, yet, clues of what to do to fix it were all around. The magazine Savoy is doing well. It has carved out a niche and is sticking to it. Almost every other page is a full page paid for ad. One of the few bright spots in all of Black media. A man with a high school diploma created one of the largest and most profitable Black Businesses and the children of promise, privilege and the best education in America can’t keep it going. Sad, sad, obituary.

  6. I learned about Black History as a young boy in the 1960s by reading Ebony Magazine. When I heard of Mr. Johnson’s passing, I knew, sadly, the end was near. As I fight back tears, I say, “Love You All”.

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