New Life For Ebony and Jet

With a new CEO, Johnson Publishing Co. has reinvented itself -- and it's working.

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Johnson Publishing Co., the company responsible for Ebony and Jet magazines, saw circulation plummet over a number of years. But now, NPR reports, it's turning things around. Readership is up, it's hiring and company officials are celebrating the black American icon's survival of the turmoil that shook the media industry.

The CEO of Johnson Publishing, former White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers, who's been in her position for just over a year, was charged with breathing new life into the company's magazines and its Fashion Fair Cosmetics line.

"There's a new energy," Rogers says, "a new excitement and a new pace. We're taking what was and building on that to the next level."

Rogers says as the company works to reinvent itself, the original vision for the publications -- being an inspiring voice for black Americans -- remains, even though there is keen competition for the African-American market.

After changes such as outsourcing circulation, the magazines are on the rebound. The first half of this year, readership for Ebony rose 11 percent; for Jet, readership rose 8 percent. In August, both made the list of the top 25 fastest-growing consumer magazines.

In addition, Johnson Publishing sold an equity stake to banker JPMorgan Chase. Speaking on NPR's Tell Me More, Johnson Publishing Chairwoman Linda Johnson Rice, daughter of the company's founders, said it was not a decision taken lightly.

"I really wanted this business to grow, and I really stopped and I thought, if we really want to expand and we want to expand Ebony and Jet and Fashion Fair Cosmetics as brands, right now we just can't do this alone," Rice said. "It's too challenging of an environment."

A lot has changed in this country and in the media industry since Jet's historic coverage of the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till helped spark the country's civil rights movement. But it's good to know the evolution of Johnson Publishing will allow it to continue the tradition of documenting and influencing the black experience in America.

Read more and listen to the story at NPR.

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