African American Media Struggling to Survive

PRI, August 11, 2009

Just like mainstream media, African American publications and media outlets are struggling. Fans of “Ebony” and “Jet”–two of the oldest black magazines–are urging friends not to cancel their subscriptions. But despite more than two million subscribers, owner Johnson Publications has had to mortgage its historic Chicago office building.

Minority broadcasters have asked the Treasury Secretary for what amounts to a temporary bailout, and in Massachusetts, the long-time African American newspaper “The Bay State Banner” closed until it received a bridge loan from the city of Boston. During that time, it missed one of the biggest race-based stories of the year: The arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Kai Wright is senior writer for TheRoot.com, a webzine focused on black politics and culture published by the “Washington Post.” {snip}

Wright believes part of the reason black media is struggling financially is due to advertisers shifting their shrinking advertising dollars from Black consumers to Latino consumers.

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As for the roles that the national magazines like “Ebony” and “Jet” play in the African American community, Wright says they are cultural touchstones, but younger generations feel they are outdated, {snip}.

Christopher Smith is communications professor at the University of Southern California. He thinks the national magazines are losing relevance because of the class divisions within the black community, as well as generational differences.

“‘Ebony’ and ‘Jet’ really emerged in that post-World War II era when black Americans coming out of World War II were just beginning to feel a little bit that they could be a part of the mainstream. And ‘Ebony’ and ‘Jet’ spoke to that mainstream aspirational aspect, but now you have a whole post-affirmative action generation who now don’t really feel the need to pay homage to those touchstones the same way that previous generations did.”

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