Ebony magazine is cutting nearly a third of its staff and consolidating editorial operations with sister publication Jet in Los Angeles — a major shake-up for the venerable Chicago-based chronicler of the African-American experience.
A monthly lifestyle magazine that has called Chicago home since it was launched in 1945, Ebony is laying off about 10 of 35 employees, including editor-in-chief Kyra Kyles. Tracey Ferguson, who became the Los Angeles-based editor of Jet in February, will be responsible for both magazines going forward.
“There was a significant consolidation of the editorial staff as well as some of the digital staff,” Michael Gibson, co-founder and chairman of Ebony owner CVG Group, said Friday.
Ebony Media will retain a downsized Chicago office after the magazine pulls up stakes for the West Coast, Gibson said. Linda Johnson Rice, newly renamed Ebony Media CEO, will remain in her role and will be based in Chicago.
Johnson Publishing, the family-owned business that founded Ebony and Jet, sold both publications to Texas-based private equity firm CVG Group in May 2016 for an undisclosed price. Since then, Ebony has struggled to find its footing under the new owners, plagued by everything from delayed subscription deliveries to unpaid freelance writers.
While new issues of Ebony have continued to hit newsstands, subscribers haven’t received copies of the magazine since the November issue, Gibson said, a problem he attributed to a change in printers in December.
“The old printer was committed to finishing up the December-January subscription (issue) and sending those out. At some point, the old printer backed off of that commitment,” Gibson said.
Copies of Ebony through the April-May issue have reached newsstands. Gibson said the new printer, Wisconsin-based Quad/Graphics, will print the December-January issue for Ebony’s 1.2 million subscribers, who he said will receive all back issues within 60 to 90 days.
In April, freelance writers for Ebony, who contribute a large amount of the magazine’s content, took to social media to complain that they hadn’t been paid for months. Gibson said Friday that the magazine is “100 percent committed to getting those people paid.”
Ferguson, who previously served as editor-in-chief for Jones Magazine, a fashion and beauty magazine for women of color, opened the Los Angeles office for Ebony Media when she took the helm of Jet in February.
Formerly a weekly digest, Jet became a digital-only publication in 2014 but is set to return to print on a quarterly basis this year. The magazine targets an urban millennial audience.
Founded by John Johnson, Ebony has been the centerpiece of a Chicago publishing dynasty for more than 70 years. Gibson said there are no plans to change the format of Ebony, which has documented and shaped African-American culture throughout its history, coming of age as it reported from the front lines of the Civil Rights movement during the 1960s in powerful photos and prose.
Its recent history has been somewhat rockier as the publisher struggled to adapt to the evolving digital media landscape.
In 2010, Desiree Rogers, the former social secretary for President Barack Obama, became CEO of Johnson Publishing and made a number of moves to shore up the company’s finances. Those included taking on a minority partner in 2011 and taking the money-losing weekly digest Jet out of print circulation.
Johnson Publishing put its entire photo archive up for sale in January 2015, hoping to raise $40 million. The historic collection spans seven decades of African-American history, chronicling everyone from Martin Luther King Jr. to Sammy Davis Jr.
The collection remained with Johnson Publishing after the sale of the magazines.
The exit of Ebony is not the first time the editorial staff of an iconic Chicago magazine has fled for the West Coast.
In December 2011, Playboy magazine, which was founded by Hugh Hefner in his Chicago apartment and grew into a global cultural icon, announced it was leaving for Los Angeles after more than a half-century as a Chicago-based institution.
At the time, Playboy executives said the editorial, art and photo departments would relocate to Los Angeles but that no final decision had been made about other departments. By April 2012, Playboy’s Chicago office was closed for good.
Source: Chicago Tribune