Ebony Ain't What it Used to Be?

An Ebony magazine cover from December 1974
An Ebony magazine cover from December 1974

Jody Watley, yes, that Jody Watley (although it isn't a verified Twitter account), recently tweeted about the potential sale of Ebony by Johnson Publications.


She typed: Thinking Ebony/Jet never really changed with the times & Essence really needs a wider net for its cover subjects, same faces ovr&ovr

Here's my two cents regarding Ms. Watley's assessment:

1. She's right. Ebony and Jet really haven't changed over the years. I know that Ebony has tried to step up its game a little, including its design. But the new media, content and advanced technology terrain requires leaps, not baby steps.

2. I still think Jet is great. Not really for the journalism or "reporting," but for the fact that you can get the whole lowdown on black America in less than five minutes. I appreciate this. Although, for real, the magazine needs to do away with the Beauty of the Week. I mean, honestly, it's not improving the image of black women by having us talk about our interests in bikinis.

3. Ms. Watley is right about Essence and its cover subjects. How many times has Mo'Nique been on the cover? Or even my girl Mary J. Blige, whom I love, but geez, aren't there other black women making cover-worthy moves? Oh yeah, Beyoncé.

4. While we're talking about Essence, let me say this: I think the magazine is important. But as I continue to grow into a multidimensional, nontraditional, incredibly original, simply complex black woman, I need more from Essence. I need Essence to recognize that my world doesn't revolve around picking the right pair of jeans or stalking a prized "bachelor." That's not to say that Essence doesn't publish articles of great substance. They do. But I need more of the sustenance. I need less gossip and star-gazing. I need more articles (not just recycled ones) to help me navigate this crazy life, to help me better understand myself, to better understand my sisters, to help me change the world while rocking Pumas or stilettos. Is this too much to ask a Time-owned publication?

5. I recently scored a 1968 copy of Negro Digest, a Johnson Publication, from a quaint cultural store in Los Angeles. The cover features a picture of Richard Wright and the issue contains a roundup of black writers discussing literary values, an excerpt on "The Crisis of the Black Intellectual" and an article about black cultural nationalism. Holding the issue in my hands made me remember the political and social role that black publications can serve, which doesn't really translate into having Diddy talk about a "new sound, new vibe." I was also reminded that Johnson Publications, like many institutions trying to keep up with a fast-paced present, needs to regroup, recharge and rethink its overall mission, audience and future. And I was reminded, albeit prematurely, that the closing of a company like Johnson Publications is not a good thing.


What do you think?


is a writer, speaker, author of books for adults and youth, and the book columnist for The Root. Her most recent book is \"The Message: 100 Life Lessons from Hip-Hop’s Greatest Songs.\" Visit her at feliciapride.com.