The Black Press Problem

Johnson Publications, the irrelevant venerable old institution that brings Ebony and Jet magazines to Black beauty/barbershops and grand mama’s coffee tables all over the country, is laying off a bunch of people.

I guess I feel bad for most people losing a gig, but Black people really need to ask ourselves–is Ebony or Jet worth saving?

I hate to be the one to say it. But it’s 2007. These publications still look like 1974. Why in the hell do we still have a “Beauty of the Week” in Jet magazine? It’s foolish. Most of the articles read like rehashed press releases. I know they don’t have a big budget, but they could do better. The Beauty of the Week, the Bourgie Black Society/Wedding page, and the Top Songs/Albums of the week just have to go.

Ebony has made some slight improvements since they got a new editor in chief last year, but it’s still full of corny articles about Black celebrities and has had some really problematic articles on issues they’ve tried to take on, like HIV/AIDS. They’ve improved the website,, which looks great and has decent writers & content, but it needs to be better promoted. They said to Richard Prince at Journal-isms that they plan to invest their dollars (saved in the print employee layoffs) in improving upon their web presence. Here’s to that!

The Black press grew out of a need to not only cover news in the Black community, but also to show the Black community in a positive light. But now, we only have fluff and no news–at least not reported or written well half the time. The short-lived Emerge magazine was probably the best news magazine to come up in a long time, but it was killed in 2000 after seven years in publication.

The black weeklies are usually a mess. But that’s a whole ‘nother discussion.

Alternatives? There’s Black Commentator and Black Agenda Report. Both of which I used to read regularly, but they could really use a skillful web designer to make them more appealing and easy to read.

Also, The Washington Post (sensing this dearth) has just launched The–an online publication targeting African-Americans. Keith Boykin is the new Editor in Chief of The Daily Voice. As much as I’d like to write for a Black publication, I am rarely asked to do so–or am ignored when I do pitch them. Usually I am too radical for the Black gays, and too gay for the Black radicals.

Can we get a progressive Black left publication (online or print) that is well written, comprehensive in scope, and looks hot? Am I asking too much?

7 thoughts on “The Black Press Problem

  1. No, you’re not asking too much. But sometimes we have to create the world we want to live in.

  2. The improvements at Ebony since they got a real journalist (Bryan Monroe) at the helm make it worth saving for now — or at least giving it a little more time to develop back into something that is useful to black America.

    I worry that the general advertising downturn, which is what led to the layoffs at Johnson Publications, will so limit funds that Monroe won’t be able to implement enough of his vision for the company’s magazines.

    The Root…needs more time. It’s messy right now, and doesn’t seem to have a real voice or purpose as a publication, besides throwing together a bunch of black folks with opinions.

  3. How much you wanna bet that the “Beauty of the Week” team over at Jet Magazine will remain unscathed?

  4. Wait, people still read those magazines? Yawn. lol

    “Usually I am too radical for the Black gays, and too gay for the Black radicals.”

    Aint it the truth. I actually got into a discussion that was bordering on nonsensical with a Black radical. He asked if gay black people should be “allowed” to participate in discussions on black progress, then likened their behavior to the impact of gangs. To which I replied, “for all the discussion about anti-assimilation, you have internalized sexism and homophobia in ways that even white supremacists would applaud.”

    Fuck them! Start your own e-zine!

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