I spent a good amount of the Saturdays of my formative years sitting in beauty salons with my mother, thumbing through issues of Ebony and Jet magazines while I waited in between services. Those magazines represented everything about blackness and black media to me. They were
“for us by us” as the motto goes.
That is why the current state of affairs at Ebony magazine has me so disturbed. It’s like watching an elder relative that you loved and respected slowly dying before your very eyes. Because that is what’s happening, y’all. Ebony is dying.
The National Writers Union (NWU/UAW) announced Tuesday that Ebony had failed to honor an agreement it made with the union and 44 freelance writers who were owed about $80,000 for work that Ebony published but never paid for.
NWU filed a court case against Ebony Media Organization (EMO) and its parent company, Clear View Group (CVG) in September 2017. EMO, CVG and NWU came to an agreement in February 2018 that Ebony would pay all its unpaid invoices by Dec. 31, 2018. The payments would be made quarterly, beginning with the oldest invoices first. According to the union, almost half of the unpaid invoices that Ebony owes date back to 2016. CVG guaranteed the payments.
Ebony made its first two payments on time. They covered about $30,000 owed to 14 writers. Another 14 writers were scheduled to be paid on Sept. 30, for another $30,000. To date, Ebony has not made that payment. NWU lawyers have attempted to contact both Ebony and CVG to no avail.
NWU President Larry Goldbetter said he will ask the court to enforce the order if Ebony does not make the Sept. 30 payment this week. One that happens, not only will EMO and CVG have to pay the writers they already owe, but they will also be responsible for paying court costs and attorney fees as well.
“This is just a huge disappointment,” said Goldbetter. “Some of the Ebony freelancers have been waiting nearly two years to receive the money they’re owed and others have experienced significant financial hardship as a result of the non-payment. For Ebony to stop paying and stop communicating at the same time, is not the sign of someone acting in good faith. However, we aren’t going away until every writer is paid what they are owed.”
All of this bad publicity cannot be good for Ebony’s bottom line. Even the quality of writing that you would expect from a legacy black media organization has gone down. Articles on the Ebony website have grammatical, spelling and syntax errors, all things that a quality copy editor would catch, but if you aren’t paying your writers, you probably aren’t paying your copy team either, and now your publication and its readers are suffering.
Shanita Hubbard, a freelancer who is one of the plaintiffs in the NWU case told NWU “In this political climate where the media is constantly being attacked by a sitting president, and mainstream publications are moving towards stories that elicit sympathy for Trump supporters, Black freelancers have fewer outlets to publish articles that challenge the narrative of this current administration. This is bigger than Ebony’s failure to remain consistent with the agreement. This is about Ebony’s failure to remain consistent to their commitment to elevating Black voices at a time where it’s desperately needed.”
The situation at Ebony made national headlines last year after the hashtag #EbonyOwes went viral. Writer Jagger Blaec wrote about her personal experience with the magazine and not being paid for The Root. NWU stepped in to help the freelancers involved with their lawsuit in July 2017 after an earlier demand for payment was ignored by Ebony.
Now that the magazine has missed its most recent deadline the #EbonyOwes hashtag has morphed into #EbonyStillOwes on social media as writers continue to call out the publication for its mishandling of the situation.
Ebony is dead y’all. Our granny favorite magazine is gone.