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‘Ebony’ is still important to black people

The magazine — along with ‘Jet’ — still tells stories no other magazine will


Courtesy Johnson Publishing Company

Ebony magazine saved me.

In December 2009, I was laid off from my job as a celebrity reporter for USA Today, where I was mostly covering red-carpet premieres and writing profiles of some of the biggest names in Hollywood. That job was transformative.

It took me from being a highly regarded, but regional, entertainment reporter and moved me into a national space. It helped me build a platform and taught me how to navigate the Hollywood social scene, connect with high-stakes Hollywood publicists and look the world’s most famous people — and, ahem, most beautiful — dead in the eyes and ask them the questions I thought my readers would want to know.

I didn’t have much time to mourn the loss of the job because I immediately received three phone calls from editors following my very public layoff: ESPN’s Page 2, NAACP’s The Crisis magazine and Ebony. They all wanted to hire me immediately to write entertainment pieces for them; Ebony wanted me to write what would be my first cover story.

Ebony was one of a few places that helped me wash away any fears I had about running my own freelance business, which I successfully did for about five years.

That magazine is important.

At that point, I’d been working as an entertainment journalist for more than a decade. I’d recently won a national Emmy for a broadband documentary on singer Aretha Franklin’s 40th anniversary of her cover of Respect, and I’d either won or been a finalist for several major journalism awards. But it wasn’t until that dual cover of the very pregnant actress Paula Patton dropped — in April 2010, for May’s Mother’s Day issue — that my years of hard work were really recognized (and understood) by the people who mattered most to me.

Newspapers, even major metro dailies, such as the Detroit Free Press or the Chicago Tribune, for which I both worked, aren’t a daily diet for many readers. With very few exceptions, people don’t save newspapers. They don’t fan them out on coffee tables. This makes me sad, of course, as a former newspaper reporter, but I’m well aware of reality.

But when that cover dropped, everything changed.

My people read Ebony.

That magazine is important.

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Courtesy Johnson Publishing Company

Even if you don’t subscribe, you’re aware of the legacy of the brand. Everybody’s Big Mama and Big Daddy got one delivered to the house during all of our childhoods. Our parents can recall stories and pictures they read in Jet magazine — for which I wrote many, many covers stories as well — that tell important parts of our history; nuggets of news they weren’t getting anywhere else. My mother, a Detroiter who would go visit her aunts, uncles and cousins in Alabama as a kid, described in great detail to me when I was a kid how deeply the photos of young Emmett Till, who was lynched in 1955 at 14 years old, looked in his coffin.

Those magazines were important to black people.

As a former entertainment editor for Ebony who was tasked with securing cover stories for the magazine, I’d argue that they still are.

Outgoing Ebony Editor-in Chief Kierna Mayo — a friend of mine — has taken that magazine to great, new heights and made it palatable for a fresh new generation. She boldly put a shattered image of the 1984 version of The Cosby Show on the cover in an effort to talk about uncomfortable black family issues that we whisper about, but are afraid to talk about in front of white people. She dared to put a group of sexy, curvy and plus-sized women on the cover in an effort to talk about the commercialism of black women’s bodies and very important body-positive image issues.

That magazine is still important to black people.

Save for Essence magazine, no one else on the newsstand is telling those stories. In a universe where the Kate Hudsons and the Anne Hathaways command the Allure and In Style magazines of the world, we still need a place in the magazine world where we can see the 2009 Taraji P. Hensons of the world — someone black folks have been rocking with since her 2001 Baby Boy debut, not someone we only recently discovered via the powerful explosion of a hot network show that everyone (white people) pays attention to.

That magazine is still important.

It was announced Tuesday evening in a Chicago Tribune story that Ebony and Jet magazines were sold to a Texas investment firm. We don’t know what’s going to happen to the legacy of those magazines now that they’re out of the hands of the Johnson Publishing family, the family that made those Emmett Till moments happen.

In that same Chicago Tribune article announcing the sale, it also announced that another friend, Kyra Kyles, will be the new leader. I’m confident that she’ll be able to bring us those very significant moments.

The moments, I imagine, that the next generation will hear us tell them about.

Because those magazines are still important.

We need that voice on the newsstands.


Kelley L. Carter is a senior entertainment reporter and the host of Another Act at Andscape. She can act out every episode of the U.S. version of The Office, she can and will sing the Michigan State University fight song on command and she is very much immune to Hollywood hotness.