Declining support from traditional advertisers and the emergence of internet sites is taking a toll
Goodbye June, and good riddance. That could be a rallying cry for black media struggling through a really difficult summer. In the month of June alone:
- AdWeek reported that GlobalHue, arguably the nation’s No. 1 African-American advertising agency, had not paid its employees’ salaries for more than three months.
- Johnson Publishing Co. announced it had sold its iconic magazine, Ebony, to a black-owned venture capital fund, ending 71 years of ownership by founder John H. Johnson and his daughter, Linda Johnson Rice. The sale marks the end of media publishing by the Johnson family.
- Facebook announced it was making changes to its newsfeed to limit the number of newspaper stories appearing in timelines — a move that could devastate black weekly newspapers who have come to rely heavily on Facebook for content distribution and exposure.
Even July is off to a rocky start. On July 2, The New York Times published a Sunday front-page story lamenting a crisis, at least in the black community, of an accelerating loss of black-owned media.
The Times reported that since 1995, 84 black-owned radio stations have gone out of business or have been sold to white-owned companies. The newspaper quoted Leonard Burnett Jr., publisher of black-owned Uptown Magazine, as saying the magazine is “marginally profitable,” largely because many major advertisers are attempting to reach African-American consumers through general market campaigns — and thus potentially doing less business with black or multicultural ad agencies such as GlobalHue.
Earl G. Graves Jr., president and chief executive officer of Black Enterprise magazine, told the Times that his company is “not as strong as it was,” prompting Graves to reduce the number of issues published each year while focusing more on its events business, such as the annual Black Enterprise Golf and Tennis Challenge.
No one can pinpoint exactly when this downturn began. Dorothy R. Leavell, publisher of the Crusader newspapers in Chicago and Gary, Indiana, said a shift in attitudes nearly eight years ago — when Barack Obama was elected president — might have been the tipping point. She told George Curry, editor-in-chief of EmergeNewsOnline.com that she suspects some black media executives may have become complacent under Obama.
“More than anything many of the black magazine owners forgot their mission and were too anxious to emulate the white magazines,” she told Curry. “They were and are pretty much like they thought that with the election of Barack Obama, that we were living in a post-racial America. Many of the owners were, and are too consumed in their personal wealth, so many sold their products and ran to enjoy the good life.”
Pluria Marshall, Jr., publisher of the Los Angeles Wave Publications Group, told Curry that a turnaround will depend on the black media’s ability to fully embrace digital publishing.
“We are no longer in the print business, we are media companies that happen to use print to deliver a message,” he said. “We have to better embrace the web. Online is just one component that should be incorporated with print, across the board. Clients want it and we have to deliver it.”