Ebony Magazine has been going through it.
Once a sanctuary for black achievement, the legacy publication has stumbled into its 75th anniversary year battered by bankruptcy filings, unsettled debts to contributors, abrupt layoffs and class action lawsuits that have tarnished its reputation as a beacon of cultural pride.
To add insult to injury, The Root recently discovered that Ebony’s website is returning a 404 error, rendering decades of pivotal moments in black history completely inaccessible.
As of Tuesday, the website is informing visitors that “the site you were looking for couldn’t be found.”
Ebony’s website has been down since at least March 26, despite recently revealing its annual Ebony Power 100 List and announcing EbonyCon, a “global virtual experience” scheduled for April 10 that will serve to educate attendees on how best to secure a stimulus package from the government in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
EbonyCon is the latest initiative from the Ebony Foundation, the national nonprofit arm of Ebony Capital Partners, LLC. It was founded in 2019 amid turmoil at the magazine and addresses myriad causes such as mass incarceration, criminal justice reform and providing food assistance for families impacted by the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
In February, the foundation requested clemency for disgraced former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
When asked to comment on the status of Ebony’s digital platform, Sabrina Taylor, Ebony’s chief communications officer and head of development, offered an explanation.
“We’re trying to revamp our website because we’re trying to rebrand,” she told The Root. “We are really working on putting the website back up. We thought it would be down for just two days, but now it’s been down over a week. A lot of that has to do with the coronavirus and our assets. We are working with people who are volunteering to help us change it and update it.”
She added, “We’ll be back up if not this week, next week. And we didn’t intend to be down that long. We are actually trying to find a way to put up a standby place card for it that we will put on our social media today.”
Additionally, Taylor confirmed that Clear View Group, LLC remains the owner of Ebony Media Operations, LLC and that Ebony’s remaining internal staff “was furloughed because you all know we’re in the middle of a pandemic.”
Taylor also insisted that when Ebony returns, it will feature a complete overhaul.
“I think we’re going to come out with a different face and a different approach, but we will definitely come back looking different,” she said.
Taylor also provided the following statement exclusively to The Root:
No need to fear, A new and improved Ebony.com will be up and running within the next 7 days. 2020 marks 75 years for the EBONY brand which has served as a trusted resource for the black community worldwide. Upon our return we will continue to serve as a much-needed resource during this pandemic.
We have, however, had to suspend all plans for this year’s EBONY Power 100 gala. We are, however, committed to celebrating our honorees virtually. Stay tuned...
Regarding Ebony’s storied Power 100 Gala, which takes place annually and recognizes prominent individuals and achievements within the black community, Taylor explained that it’s another casualty of the coronavirus.
“We planned on having Power 100 in March. We were scheduled to have it on Tyler Perry’s studio lot and he was going to receive our [Ebony Power 100] Icon Award,” she said. “We decided to move it to May, looked at dates in May, but right now we don’t have a commitment of trying to do anything for 2020. We can’t spend the resources. We have to sit [it] out and wait.”
Ebony was founded in 1945 by publisher John. H. Johnson, who built off the blueprint of Life Magazine to create his own publication that highlighted the trials and triumphs of the black community. It was an immediate success that initially focused on sports figures and entertainers before expanding its editorial mandate to celebrate black progress and achievement in its totality.
At its peak, Ebony boasted a circulation of millions, but in recent years its popularity and relevance have waned as it has struggled to adapt to the demands of the digital age.
In July, Ebony’s iconic photo archive was sold to a group of philanthropic organizations led by the J. Paul Getty Trust in order to settle outstanding debts owed by the magazine’s founding publisher, Johnson Publishing. The archive, which captured seven decades of black progress and culture, was sold for $30 million.
Prior to auctioning off its archive, Ebony was dogged by allegations that it had failed to compensate its pool of writers and contributors, leading to the emergence of the #EbonyOwes hashtag as individuals took to social media to air out their grievances. As a result of Ebony’s blatant mistreatment of journalists, the very lifeblood of its publication, NABJ gave Ebony its Thumbs Down Award in 2017 for “engaging in practices at odds with the goals of the National Association of Black Journalists.”
Ebony settled with the National Writers Union in 2018, agreeing to pay 44 freelance contributors nearly $80,000 for unpaid work, but even that proved to be a challenge, with the once-revered publication failing to honor the terms of the agreement.
The #EbonyOwes saga would then take additional twists and turns in 2019, including taking The Root to court for spearheading a “systematic campaign of misinformation” and “making false and misleading comments” and Ebony laying off its entire digital staff without pay, triggering a class action lawsuit from its former employees.