Chairman Outlines Company’s ‘Strategic Turn’

Desiree Rogers to Leave Johnson Publishing

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At the Ebony Power 100 Gala at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in December, from left: Michael Gibson, chairman of CVG Group, Ebony's owner; Machree Gibson; Linda Johnson Rice, CEO of Ebony Media Operations; CVG co-founder Willard Jackson, EMO CEO Cheryl Mayberry McKissack, former Ebony Media Operations CEO; and Eric McKissack. the company plans more such events. (Credit: Geoffrey Black, Ebony)

At the Ebony Power 100 Gala at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in December, from left: Michael Gibson, co-founder and chairman of CVG Group, Ebony’s owner, and his wife, Machree Gibson, principal at a public affairs  firm; Linda Johnson Rice, CEO of Ebony Media Operations; CVG co-founder and vice chairman Willard Jackson, Cheryl Mayberry McKissack, former CEO of Ebony Media Operations, and her husband, Eric McKissack, founder  of an  investment management  firm. The company plans more such events. (Credit: Geoffrey Black/Ebony)

Chairman Outlines Company’s ‘Strategic Turn’

The owner of Ebony magazine sought to reasssure doubters Sunday that despite recent upheaval, “We are absolutely go‌ing to survive. This is a profitable business. We’re 100 percent committed.”

“We really want to expand our brand,” Michael Gibson, co-founder and chairman of CVG Group, owner of Ebony and Jet, told Journal-isms by telephone, calling plans for the company “very exciting.” He outlined some of those intentions, part of a “strategic turn” for the company that he said follows recommendations from consultants.

Gibson said he expects a subscription logjam to be resolved soon and settlement with remaining unpaid freelancers within 60 to 90 days.

Gibson said he was particularly excited by a deal announced last week with WME, one of the world’s largest talent agencies, which could lead to turning archival Ebony stories into documentaries or television series.

Hollywood “seems to be looking for diverse content now. They have great ideas,” Gibson said of WME, which was formed in 2009 by a merger of the William Morris Agency and the Endeavor Agency.

The company also plans to expand the number of special events it conducts, such as its Women Up! programs that celebrate “amazing influencers in the world of media, business, community action, beauty and style,” as the 2016 event was described.

Ebony also has identified six historically black colleges and universities at which it will partner with the National Football League to bring athletes to the campus. Ebony will name “ambassadors” to these HBCUs.

Ebony's 2015 HBCU Campus Queens.

Ebony’s 2015 HBCU Campus Queens

A partnership with the Walt Disney Co. is to bring the winner of Ebony’s “HBCU Campus Queens” contest to Walt Disney World.

Special newsstand-only issues featuring Barack Obama and then Michelle Obama have “exceeded all expectations,” Gibson said. Six special issues are planned each year, in addition to Ebony’s regular eight issues and four print editions of Jet.

Linda Johnson Rice, CEO of Ebony Media Operations and the daughter of Ebony and Jet founders John H. and Eunice Johnson, announced on Friday that Jet editor-in-chief Tracey M. Ferguson, based in Los Angeles, would also become editor-in-chief of Ebony. Most of the Ebony masthead was let go.

Gibson confirmed that most of Ebony’s editorial staff would now be based in Los Angeles (the fashion, lifestyle, travel and some of the digital team will remain in New York) but said Rice and the production staff would remain in Chicago and an advertising staff in New York. He and Willard Jackson, CVG co-founder and vice chairman, will remain in Austin and Houston, Texas, respectively.

“Seventy percent of the covers are being shot in Los Angeles,” Gibson said of Ebony. “Whenever that happens, we have to fly a whole staff out and spend a couple of days doing the shoot.” It made sense to relocate, he said.

It also was better to have the same editor for both publications, Gibson said. Ferguson “will be hiring new folks” and expanding the publications’ digital presence, he said. Jet is targeting millennials.

The decision to lay off nearly a dozen on the Ebony masthead was made because the company wanted “the kind of skills we need to launch those platforms,” which “required significant change.”

Gibson acknowledged that he didn’t anticipate “the scope” of the changes that would take place when he bought the company last year.

Consultants spent 90 to 120 days conducting two major studies, completed in September, that resulted in much of the current restructuring, he said.

In addition, Curtis Circulation Co., based in New Milford, N.J., analyzed cover titles from the last couple of years and pinpointed what topics would “make sense” in the future, he said.

As Robert Channick reported Friday for the Chicago Tribune, “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 missing issues are on their way to readers, Gibson told Journal-isms. Similarly, he said, “We really value our freelancers,” some of whom have complained on social media about not being paid.

“In the transition, a few freelancers fell by the wayside,” Gibson said, adding that most payments have been made and that the rest would be delivered within 60 to 90 days.

The layoffs have been greeted with alarm. The National Association of Black Journalists, for example, said Friday that it was “disheartened” by the news.

However, Gibson maintained that advertisers are responding favorably to the company’s plans and that its websites are drawing “well over 2 million unique visitors per month.”

“Our clients are very, very excited” about the expansion plans, he said.

Desiree Rogers (Credit: ABC News)

Desiree Rogers (Credit: ABC News)

Desiree Rogers to Leave Johnson Publishing

‘Perfect Time to Pursue Other Interests’

Desiree Rogers, CEO of Johnson Publishing, will exit the Chicago company next month,” Lynne Marek reported Saturday for Crain’s Chicago Business.

“With her departure, Chairman Linda Johnson Rice will reclaim both titles of her namesake firm, the former parent of Ebony and Jet magazines.

“. . . ‘I have appreciated my time with the company and am proud of the work we have done here, guiding the sale of legendary assets and strengthening Fashion Fair with a new team,’ Rogers said in the statement. ‘Now is the perfect time to pursue other interests.’

“Rogers is chairman of Choose Chicago, the city’s tourism bureau, and holds board positions at Chicago institutions including the Museum of Science & Industry, World Business Chicago and the Economic Club of Chicago.

” ‘We are well-positioned to continue my father’s legacy and move these businesses forward in the future. . . . I am delighted to resume the leadership of both companies,’ Johnson Rice said in the statement. . . .” She is the daughter of founders John H. and Eunice Johnson.

As Marek wrote on March 9, “Johnson Rice, whose father founded the magazine company, had been CEO of the Chicago-based magazine outlet until she tapped former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers to lead the magazines as CEO of Johnson Publishing in 2010. . . .”

After Ebony and Jet were sold last year, Rogers remained CEO of Johnson Publishing’s now-separate Fashion Fair cosmetics entity, which is still owned by Rice.

Ebony Ousts Editor, Most of Its Masthead

May 5, 2017
Jet Editor to Lead Both Publications

Black Writer Loses Column Over NRA Ties

Disrupter Chooses Activism Over Column

Was That Trump in the Stands at Fenway Park?

In Spanish, the News Priority Is Immigration

Gannett Layoffs Hit Small Papers Hardest

The Story of Two Who Ran From Police

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 Linda Johnson Rice handles some of the photos in the archives at Johnson Publishing in 2015. (Credit: Nancy Stone /Chicago Tribune)

Linda Johnson Rice handles some of the photos in the archives at Johnson Publishing Co. in 2015. (Credit: Nancy Stone /Chicago Tribune)

Jet Editor to Lead Both Publications

Ebony magazine Thursday laid off nearly all of its masthead — as many as a dozen key members of its editorial team, members of that team told Journal-isms — and named a new editor-in-chief.

Linda Johnson Rice, CEO of Ebony Media Operations, confirmed the changes, though not revealing the number of layoffs, in an email Friday morning as she was about to board a plane.

In addition, Michael Gibson, whose firm bought the publication from Johnson Publishing Co., told Robert Channick of the Chicago Tribune Friday that the company is cutting nearly a third of its staff and consolidating editorial operations with sister publication Jet in Los Angeles.

Rice wrote, “Ebony Media continues to assess all areas of the business with a overall effort to streamline our operations and workforce to meet the demands of an increasingly fragmented media and digital landscape.

“As media continues to evolve, the company remains focused on implementing a strategic growth plan and building an infrastructure that enables the company to be poised for long term success.

“With that being said, Tracey Ferguson has been named

Tracey M. Ferguson

Tracey M. Ferguson

the Editor In Chief of both Ebony and Jet and will oversee their respective digital sites as well as print publications.”

Ferguson was founder and editor-in-chief of Jones magazine, which targets the lifestyles of black women, when she was named editor-in-chief of a revived Jet magazine in February.

Kyra Kyles issued a statement Friday confirming her departure as editor-in-chief and senior vice president of digital editorial.

“I have enjoyed an exhilarating ride, and I am grateful for the opportunities in which I leveraged my digital, print and broadcasting skills for the benefit of our audiences across platforms. Looking ahead to my next media moves, I will continue to embrace my personal ideals and, through my own company Myth Lab Entertainment, continue to create content that keeps media audiences informed and entertained.”

Madison J. Gray, managing editor, digital, editorial, confirmed that he was one of those laid off, called into a room and given the news Thursday in a 10-minute conversation.

“We did amazing things with very little resources,” Gray said by telephone. He said that the team raised web traffic significantly.

Madison J. Gray

Madison J. Gray

He also pointed to an Ebony interview with Nate Parker, creator of the film “Birth of a Nation.”

“Exclusive: Nate Parker on Campus Incident, Consent and Toxic Male Culture,” the Aug. 26 article was headlined. “In a one-on-one interview, the ‘Birth of a Nation’ star gets candid about rape culture and shares what he’d tell his 19-year-old self about consent.”

Gray also said, “The current political climate demands journalists like the ones we had on our team. It’s time to dig in our heels and do what we need to do, looking at documents, interviewing people. We have a guy who decided to gut health care. That requires journalism . . . African Americans victimized by police negligence and law enforcement negligence . . .”

Gray acknowledged that many African American-oriented websites had turned “more pop culture-y” and oriented toward opinion pieces. He said that “social media had a lot to do with that.” However, Gray said, “there is space now to bring the concept of original reporting to social media.”

The turnover among Ebony’s editorial staff is only the latest shakeup since last June, when Johnson Publishing Co. sold the historic publication, founded in 1942, to Clear View Group, an African American-owned private equity firm based in Austin, Texas.

At that time, Kierna Mayo stepped down as editor-in-chief of Ebony and Kyles, who headed up digital content for Ebony and Jet, added the role of editor-in-chief of Ebony.

Cheryl McKissack, who had been chief operating officer of Johnson Publishing since 2013, became CEO of the new publishing entity, Ebony Media Operations, under Clear View. Operations remained in Chicago.

Rice, chairman of Johnson Publishing and daughter of founders John H. and Eunice Johnson, was chairman emeritus on the board of the new company.

But McKissack departed, Lynne Marek reported March 9 for Crain’s Chicago Business. Rice returned to day-to-day involvement as CEO of Ebony Media Operations.

“The former weekly Jet ceased print editions in 2014, but Johnson Rice said she is reviving the magazine with print editions four times this year and added a new editor-in-chief, Tracey Ferguson, who is focused on millennial readers,” Marek reported. “In addition to its website, the magazine has a presence on social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat. . . .”

However, financial problems mounted. Things appeared to be looking up in January when Rice outlined some of her plans before students at Harvard Business School, who used Ebony as a case study in dilemmas facing black businesses.

Ebony was considering reviving its Jet sibling as a newsstand product for millennials, Rice told the students. It also planned to publish more special single-themed issues for newsstand consumption and is branching out to stage special events as it seeks ways to extend the brand.

Those plans appear to be on track, with newsstand-only special editions and the hiring of a Jet editor. But Ebony is now operating out of shared office space operated by the wework chain.

In addition, Channick reported for the Chicago Tribune, “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 related to a change in printers.”

On April 19, a tweet from freelance journalist Cat Distasio made public Ebony’s delays in paying writers. “I am not the only one who is owed thousands by @ebonymag. I have spoken to at least a half a dozen writers who have not been paid for 2016 work.”

Writing for The Root on April 26, Jagger Blaec described the reaction from Clear View co-founder Willard Jackson.

There was no comment until after The Establishment article went live.

“In a text message exchange, Jackson replied, ‘Love to chat. I hear you are one of those reporters that like to tear down black businesses.’ When asked if there were any plans to recoup the missing funds for all of the freelancers affected by these delayed payments, Jackson claimed to have no knowledge of unpaid compensation.

“ ‘Missing funds? Exploited? Of course they are all getting paid. We bought the business to turn around all this stuff,’ he messaged.

“But other freelancers confided that they have yet to receive payment for work that had been invoiced in 2016. . . .”

Jackson did not respond to a request for comment on Friday, but some writers, such as Eric Deggans, television critic for NPR, have said they have since been paid.

Separately, Michael Sneed of the Chicago Sun-Times reported Thursday that she has been told that Desiree Rogers, “who was once the White House social secretary during President Barack Obama’s first term, is this/close to exiting Johnson Publishing Co. after five plus years, returning the management reins to the Johnson family. . . .” (second item)

On Saturday, the National Association of Black Journalists said it was “disheartened by news that Ebony Magazine laid off nearly a dozen key staff members this week, including several long-time NABJ members.”

” ‘And so it begins,’ said Marlon A. Walker, NABJ’s vice president of print. ‘Fear that Ebony would lose its place on coffee tables around the country began when the Johnson family sold the business. Over the last two years, talented journalists such as (now former) editor Kyra Kyles and (now former) managing editor Kathy Chaney produced keepsake issues after the death of Prince and the demise of Bill Cosby’s legacy. As a print journalist, I hope the owners understand how important it is to keep Ebony as a mainstay in black households, telling stories that reflect our community.’ . . .”

Black Writer Loses Column Over NRA Ties

Conservative writer and radio host Stacy Washington has lost her column at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch because of a conflict of interest surrounding her involvement with the National Rifle Association,” Jessica Chasmar reported Wednesday for the Washington Times.

“Editorial page editor Tod Robberson issued a statement Tuesday evening saying Ms. Washington’s ‘active promotional activities and professional association’ with the NRA represented an ‘unacceptable conflict of interest,’ which resulted in her suspension last week.

“The paper said Ms. Washington chose to terminate her contract, and her column would not be returning. . . .”

Danny Wicentowski added in St. Louis’ Riverfront Times, “However, Washington says she has never been paid by the NRA. And beyond that, her ties to the organization shouldn’t have surprised Robberson. Her credits for co-hosting shows on NRA News are highlighted her own website — and, even closer to home, the Post-Dispatch’s own Joe Holleman had reported on Washington’s contribution to an NRA documentary in August 2016, just a few months before she joined the paper on a freelance basis. . . .

“On Sunday, she tweeted the news of her suspension using a conservative meme initially created as a reference to attempts to ban AR-15 rifles. . . .”

A meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board was adjourned abruptly April 20, when journalist and activist Desmond Cole refused to leave in protest at the decision police make to retain data collected through the controversial practice of "carding," he police practice of stopping people on the street and recording their personal information in a database. (Credit: Wendy Gillis/Toronto Star)

A meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board was adjourned abruptly on April 20, when journalist and activist Desmond Cole refused to leave in protest of the decision police make to retain data collected through the controversial practice of “carding,” stopping people on the street and recording their personal information in a database. (Credit: Wendy Gillis/Toronto Star)

Disrupter Chooses Activism Over Column

Desmond Cole, a black Toronto journalist who was in this column several times in 2015 after writing a piece headlined, “The Skin I’m In: I’ve been interrogated by police more than 50 times — all because I’m black,” will no longer freelance for the Toronto Star, he wrote on Facebook Thursday, because the Star objected to his activism.

I’m leaving the Toronto Star so I can better serve my community,” Cole wrote.

“This week I met with Andrew [Phillips], the Toronto Star’s editorial page editor, who has essentially served as my boss at the newspaper. Phillips called me in regarding my political disruption of the April 20 meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board.

“Phillips said this action had violated the Star’s rules on journalism and activism. He didn’t discipline me or cite any consequence for my actions — Phillips said he just wanted me to know what the Star’s rules are.

“I have no formal employment with the Star. I’ve never signed any contract or agreement, and no one ever directed me to any of the policies Phillips cited. However, I knew my police protest was activism, and I could have guessed the Star wouldn’t appreciate it.

“At no time during this week’s meeting did Phillips try to tell me how I must conduct myself in the future. He did say he hopes I will continue my bi-monthly column. I appreciate the offer but I’m not going to accept it. If I must choose between a newspaper column and the actions I must take to liberate myself and my community, I choose activism in the service of Black liberation.

“There’s so much I feel and could say about this decision, but for now I will limit my commentary to my experience as a freelancer with the Star. For the last year I have been contributing to the Star once every two weeks. I started as a weekly columnist in September of 2015 but my space was cut in half after eight months with almost no explanation (at the time Phillips cited budget struggles and told me ‘times are tough’).

“I doubt any freelance columnist in the recent (or even not so recent) history of the Star has consistently generated more interest and readership, and consequently more revenue, than I have. . . .”

(Credit: Dan Wasserman/Boston Globe)

(Credit: Dan Wasserman/Boston Globe)

Was That Trump in the Stands at Fenway Park?

Dan Wasserman, editorial cartoonist at the Boston Globe, saw a connection between the racial slurs tossed at Baltimore Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones on Monday at Boston’s Fenway Park and President Trump’s taunting of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., as “Pocahontas,” a jab at her Native American ancestry.

“Boston is rightly convulsed with the latest evidence of persistent racism in the city,” Wasserman told Journal-isms by email.

“But the bigger, more startling reality is that there is a unabashed racist sitting in the White House. The ‘Pocahontas’ taunting of Warren is only the latest example of his toxicity, and it gives permission to small-minded bigots, like those at Fenway, to [follow] his example and spew their hatred.”

In April 2016, when few pundits gave Donald Trump much chance of victory, the Boston Globe Opinion team tried to imagine, via the satirical Ideas cover pictured here, how the world might look should he keep his promises. "In key ways, our page was eerily prescient," the Globe wrote on April 29.

In April 2016, when few pundits gave Donald Trump much chance of victory, the Boston Globe Opinion team tried to imagine, via the satirical Ideas cover pictured here, how the world might look should he keep his promises. “In key ways, our page was eerily prescient,” the Globe wrote on April 29.

In Spanish, the News Priority Is Immigration

On Saturday, April 29, President Trump celebrated his first 100 days at a rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, itemizing self-proclaimed triumphs and mocking the fancy-dress crowd of Hollywood and media celebrities who were at that moment partying in Washington,” John Carlos Frey wrote Wednesday for the Marshall Project.

“Meanwhile, at the White House [Correspondents’] Association’s annual gala in the Washington Hilton and a separate black-tie gathering organized by the comic Samantha Bee, speakers mocked the president back. The deliberate juxtaposition and dueling vitriol highlighted what many, left and right, regard as two Americas.

“But anyone who follows the news of America on Spanish-language media knows there are more than two Americas. For broadcasters like Univision and Telemundo, the giants in this parallel version of America, the main story of that April Saturday was obvious.

“It was the president’s confident assertion that ‘We will build the wall, folks, don’t even worry about it.’ After lingering over Trump’s remarks, the two broadcasters segued into reports on an impending protest march against the new administration’s immigration policies, to which Univision added a report headlined ‘The 44 times Trump has criminalized undocumented immigrants and refugees since taking office.’ . . .”

Gannett Layoffs Hit Small Papers Hardest

Sylvia Ulloa

Sylvia Ulloa

As long as there have been big corporate newspaper chains answering to the stock market rather than independent, family ownership, newsrooms have braced for ‘layoff season’ — coming right before the start of a new fiscal year, or immediately following,” Matt DeRienzo reported Thursday for medium.com.

“A far more brutal round of layoffs comes after a local, family-owned newspaper is acquired by one of these companies. And that’s happened at increasing frequency over the past few years as Gannett and Gatehouse have gone on buying sprees.

“But also in the past few years, we’ve seen ‘layoff season’ become year-round.

“Gannett eliminated newsroom jobs across the country on Wednesday, at as many as 37 local newspapers, according to one employee. Already-lean small town newsrooms were hit the hardest  —  papers such as the Times-Herald in Port Huron, Michigan, the Reporter-News in Abilene, Texas, the Daily Record in York, Pennsylvania, and the Sun-News in Las Cruces, New Mexico. . . .”

The Sun-News laid off three journalists and the newspaper’s top editor resigned Wednesday, Heath Haussamen reported for nmpolitics.net.

“. . . The journalists laid off at the Sun-News were community editor Frances Silva, news reporter Steve Ramirez and print planner Ruben Villegas.

Lucas Peerman, the newspaper’s news director, was named interim editor after Managing Editor Sylvia Ulloa resigned. She had served in the position since November 2013. . . .”

"We teamed up with WYPR to investigate why running from police has become a fraught – and sometimes deadly – practice for some Baltimore residents.:

“We teamed up with WYPR to investigate why running from police has become a fraught – and sometimes deadly – practice for some Baltimore residents.”

The Story of Two Who Ran From Police

For years, ‘unprovoked flight’ from police was considered a sign of guilt(podcast), according to the Weekly Reveal newsletter this week from the Center for Investigative Reporting.

“Following a 2000 Supreme Court decision, officers had the right to chase – and stop – a suspect if he or she ran. But last year, a court in Massachusetts ruled that fleeing wasn’t inherently an admission of wrongdoing; after all, someone ‘might just as easily be motivated by the desire to avoid the recurring indignity of being racially profiled,’ the court observed.

“For this week’s episode, we teamed up with WYPR to investigate why running from police has become a fraught – and sometimes deadly – practice for some Baltimore residents. The episode tells the story of two people whose split-second decisions yielded enormous consequences later on. . . .”

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