by Sherri Kolade
We want our stories told to us by us and through us, and Michele Ghee, entertainment and media space guru plans to sprinkle her Black Girl Magic over the unstoppable, powerhouse Black magazines Ebony and Jet in their upcoming relaunch. Ghee will be taking over as chief executive after the publications’ purchase out of bankruptcy by former NBA player Ulysses “Junior” Bridgeman and his family, according to an LA Times article.
“This is personal for me,” Ghee said in the article during an exclusive interview days before the sale was to be completed this week. Ghee pulled no punches in stating the reasons behind her wanting to lead the rebirth of these household-name magazines that our mothers, aunties, and beyond kept on their coffee table, inside the salon, and that we, more often than not, read online. Ghee, from Oakland, described her passion to develop a company she would want to visit daily, per the article, and one that champions the depths of what is to be Black, while answering the call of what Black readers want to read from these publications.
And yet, despite the interest in amplifying melanated voices, mixed with mass culture and mainstream publications, the article states that “the path ahead for Ebony and Jet is daunting.”
Chicago-based publisher John H. Johnson found Ebony magazine in the 1950s and was one of the leading publications known for chronicling all aspects of Black American life. its sister publication, Jet was founded six years later and has continually acted as a counterweight to mainstream media’s constant diminishing force of communities of color.
Like the now-infamous photo of Emmett Till’s mutilated body, taken by a Jet magazine staff photographer. It was on the magazine’s Sept. 15, 1955, cover, but white publications chose to not print it. Or Moneta Sleet Jr.’s Pulitzer-winning image of Coretta Scott King holding her daughter Bernice in a front-row pew at Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral. Sleet worked at Ebony, according to the article.
The magazine also highlighted the highs of Black life and our experiences, like Essence, Vibe and others would down the line.
“It’s impossible to overstate the significance of Johnson publications in telling the story of Black America,” said Donovan X. Ramsey, curator of the Instagram page @blackmagcovers, an ode to iconic magazine covers featuring Black folks in the article. “For many years, Ebony and Jet were the only outlets where Black life was reported on seriously, or covered at all.”
Yet with times changing, the media industry experienced change right along as Ebony and Jet, and other outlets considered “niche,” dealt with tough blows — Jet ended print production in June 2014. Two years later, Johnson Publishing sold both publications, except for the photo archive, to private equity firm Clear View Group, per the article. Under new ownership, troubles persisted as unpaid freelancers sued Ebony, and the publication ended its print operation in 2019. Bridgeman’s $14-million purchase of the magazines marks, however, a new future.
“Those publications came out of a specific vision and worked for a specific time,” Ramsey said in the article. “It’ll take someone with John Johnson’s business acumen, his understanding of Black communities, and his commitment to quality journalism to make Ebony and Jet work again. It’s not an impossible feat but a tough one for sure.”
The vision for Ebony and Jet, fashioned in close collaboration with Bridgeman’s daughter, Eden Bridgeman has taken the helm representing the family. Some print editions have not been completely eliminated, but the primary focus will be toward a digital audience, with an emphasis on reporting, commentary, and video, according to the article.
Experiential plans, such as a revival of the Ebony Power 100 gala, are geared to be a major revenue stream, per the story.
Ghee added that she is going to lead the enterprise like a startup, “although it has 75 years of history that I have the honor and privilege to tap into” she said in the article. Ebony will target Black folks ages 25 to 54, while Jet will target those 18 to 34.
“That’s how I’m going to talk about it in the marketplace,” she added in the article. “I need folks to know that I have a budget, based on the amount paid for this asset, and I have to operate in those confines.”
Black audiences have multiple outlets that they can choose from to get their fill on Black news. From Blavity and TheGrio to the Medium publications Zora and Level — also blogs like the Shade Room and LoveBScott — many outlets cover Black communities and reminders of a media space that primarily didn’t make significant strides to promote Black voices and experiences until the aftermath of the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor tragic killings and the subsequent 2020 summer protests, per the article. Ghee feels there’s a space for everyone to take part.
And she has an eagle’s eye direction her mission is clear when it comes to properly lift speaking to the Black community and sharing their stories.
“I want my people back,” Ghee said, “and we’re going to do what it takes to get them.”
A screenshot of Ebony’s homepage, left, and a previous issue of Jet Magazine featuring Oprah Winfrey.