The largest Black-owned publisher in the U.S. is leaving the industry behind after serving more than 70 years as narrator of the African-American story.
Johnson Publishing announced Tuesday it has sold Ebony and online-based Jet to an Austin, Texas-based private equity firm. African-American owned Clear View Group acquired the iconic brand in May for an undisclosed sum, the Chicago Tribune reports.
Chicago businessman John Johnson and wife Eunice Johnson founded the company in November 1942 with just $500. Driven by the success of flagship publication Ebony, the business transformed into a fashion, cosmetics and publishing giant.
“This is the next chapter in retaining the legacy that my father, John H. Johnson, built to ensure the celebration of African-Americans,” Linda Johnson Rice, who will continue as chair of the publishing company, said in a statement Tuesday.
Rice will join the board as chairman emeritus of newly christened Ebony Media Operations, which will oversee headquarters in Chicago and editorial offices in New York City, according to Clear View co-founder and chair Michael Gibson. He said Ebony would soldier on in print, despite the weak revenues plaguing the entire hard copy industry.
“There’s a lot of good reasons to keep the print,” Gibson said, per the Tribune. “That will always be our anchor. We want to grow the digital platform more consistently with both Ebony and Jet.”
Gibson said most of the staff will stay in place, though there have been a few shake-ups at the senior level.
Ebony editor-in-chief Kierna Ali Mayo shared via Twitter Tuesday she had accepted a new position as Senior Vice President of Content and Brands for InteractiveOne. Kyra Kyles, who was promoted to VP and head of digital editorial for Ebony and Jet last June, will assume the chief role.
Cheryl McKissack, current chief operating officer at Johnson, will take over as CEO of the new media company.
Johnson Publishing will maintain ownership of Fashion Fair Cosmetics and the Ebony archives with former White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers still on board as CEO.
“The overall strategy of separating these two distinct businesses — media and cosmetics — will ensure that both iconic brands are positioned for future investment and growth,” Rogers said in a statement.
Where does this leave Black Media?
According to the Pew Research Center’s State of the News Media 2016, African-American media outlets have stood the test of time and technology, continuing to maintain a presence in print, broadcast and Web. Weekly newspapers hold the biggest share of the market, with an estimated 200 in circulation today, according to the National Newspaper Publishers Association.
In magazines, the three publications with audited audience data (Ebony, Essence and Black Enterprise) all saw declines in circulation over the last one or two years. Ebony‘s subscriptions decreased from 1,260,564 in 2014 to 1,180,065 in 2015. The fall for Time Warner-owned Essence was less pronounced: 1,083,461 (2014) to 1,059,285. And Black Enterprise saw a decline of less than 10,000 subscribers between 2013 and 2014. The figures for 2015 were not available.
In 2015, there were 12 Black-owned television stations, an increase from the previous year due to the purchase of two stations by Armstrong Williams. Pew notes Williams is one of only four African-Americans to claim ownership of any television stations in the United States and now owns seven of the dozen.