by Yvette Carnell
With many black media companies not seeing the earnings of their white counterparts, some companies are getting out of publishing. Johnson Publishing is leaving the stage after 71 historic years in the black media business.
According to the Chicago Tribune, the company announced on Tuesday that it had sold Ebony and Jet to a Texas firm. Both media properties had been struggling, raising eyebrows when the company put its iconic archives up for sale.
As the Tribune notes, “In recent years, though, Johnson Publishing has seen declining media revenues as it struggled to evolve from print to digital platforms.”
At the same time Ebony and Jet were being sold, Byron Allen was purchasing TheGrio.
“We are excited to have TheGrio join Byron Allen’s ever-expanding Entertainment Studios media empire,” says David A. Wilson, Co-Founder and Executive Editor of TheGrio, according to Deadline. “Byron shares our vision of growing TheGrio into the leading video content creator and distribution platform for African-Americans. We look forward to developing the next iteration of TheGrio, and the fact that it will remain 100 percent African American-owned is very significant.”
Byron Allen added that he is “investing heavily in digital publishing, and TheGrio has an excellent management team, making it the perfect asset to start our portfolio of online publishing.”
Black Media Left Behind
Allen has other profitable media properties which are not geared toward African-Americans, allowing him the freedom to take a chance on running a black media property. In an environment where even white media companies like Buzzfeed are seeing declining revenue, however, this isn’t a lucrative field for someone not awash in capital.
NBC once owned TheGrio, but returned the website to its original owners and debuted its own black media outlet with NBC BLK.; why own a black media outlet when you have all the resources, as NBC does, and they have none? It makes more sense to do it all in house.
Always be Selling
Accusing Johnson Publishing of ‘selling out’ in a pejorative sense would be an incomplete analysis of the reasons behind the sale. In truth, media publishing is now about selling. It’s about how many eyeballs you can reach and how many of those pairs of eyes have fat wallets. In black media spaces, we have less eyes and most of our readers are working class, certainly not a benefit to investors in our capitalist society. Even if the rumor is true that Ebony and Jet were sold to a black holding company, it still doesn’t bode well for black publishers. There are not enough black buyers with the available capital to replicate this process.
Allen can afford to buy in, but the future of black media remains a lingering question.