Ebony Magazine: From Black American Icon To Defaulting Deadbeat

“All good things must come to an end.”
-Geoffrey Chaucer

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Numerous media outlets – among them, News One, the Chicago Tribune and the Root – have reported that Ebony magazine, that iconic symbol of Black American achievement, journalism and fame, has been giving mostly young aspiring Black freelance writers the serious runaround when it came to making good on their contractual agreements. One estimate puts the arrears, based on at least half a dozen such writers owed, to around $15K USD (whew!), with particular writers being owed as much as $3K USD. The arrears goes back as far as the year 2013 – several years prior to Ebony’s recent buyout by the upstart venture capital outfit, the CVG Group.

This comes as Ms. Linda Johnson Rice – daughter of Ebony founder John Johnson – retakes the reins as CEO for the seriously faltering company. While some see the return of a Johnson to the helm as a sign of good things to come, I take a much dimmer view; I see it as the last vestiges of a bygone era, trying to “hold on” like the “cougars” hanging out at trendy lounges on the make for new “cubs”.

Yes, what I just said was indeed predatory – and Ebony has been predating on its young writers for far too long.

None of this comes as any surprise to yours truly; as I noted in a column I wrote for A Voice for Men two years ago, I saw Ebony then, and the whole of what I’ve coined the Negrosphere Media, as becoming increasingly irrelevant:

“While the Cathedral Media still reels from revelations that Nightly News anchor Brian Williams made up stories of combat during his time in Iraq and the pincers seem to be closing in on Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, what seems to get left out of the mix is just how badly Black news media has fared over the past few decades. The vast majority of it could hardly be called “real” journalism – at best, they are advocacy pieces, centered around “uplift” themes that aim to show Black folk in its best light – at worst, the big names in the business – from OWN to BET to NewsOne and Essence, Ebony, MadameNoire and Clutch, peddle in celebrity gossip that isn’t fit to line the proverbial dog kennel with.

Aside from the fact that the lady heads of the Johnson Publishing Co. have “leaned” it into the ground due largely to the kinds of incompetence that Black elite leadership is notorious for, and the general news media continues to devolve into irrelevance, a real burning question for guys like me have another to consider:

Who are telling the stories that matter in Black America? Is it the Negrosphere Media?

“Negrosphere” – that is my term for the aforementioned gaggle of “news” organizations of varying stripe, that in their own ways, purport to reflect the Black America that is today. Yet, one is hard pressed to think up any Black equivalents to Woodward and Bernstein, Mark Bowden or Steve Lopez, Ernie Pyle or David Simon, or George Anastasia. Sure, there are Black journos out there who are putting in standard AP copy on the regular, but what are they really saying? Are they really speaking truth to power? Or are they just getting along to go along?”

And I argued as to how and why their increasing irrelevancy was the case:

“Last summer, ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith came close to doing just that, when he gave his take on the-then raging controversy surrounding former Baltimore running back Ray Rice and his newlywed wife, Janay. Smith dared to suggest that it could be possible that women, in this case Black, could play a role in the violence that goes on in domestic situations between couples, something that is indeed well documented. For his daring to notice actual reality, he was quickly punished.

And he’s not alone: last month, during a panel discussion on Black fatherhood, The Nightly Show host Larry Wilmore dared to raise the question as to whether one of the reasons why the Black marital rate was so low might have had to do with so many Black women being so “bossy” – he immediately apologized, did his mea culpas, and just recently, had on an all-Black woman panel to discuss how oh-so-hard they have it.

The message is clear: Black journos, especially if they happen to be male, simply are not to question out loud anything that might make Black folks, and especially Black women, look bad. This accounts for the utter lack of reporting about the rampant corruption, malfeasance, incompetence and in-your-face nepotism that is par for the course in any Black precinct you can think of in America. I mean, let’s keep it brutally 100 – with all that goes on in Black America along these lines, not even including the daily bloodletting, one would think that there would be at least a few Black journos out there doing Pulitzer-level work, reporting on the reality that is urban America’s gritty streets.

But: Nada!”

Indeed – in fact, of the known Black freelancers to have come forward, a clear majority of them have been male. Which not only goes to reinforcing my argument from two years previous, but raises some very powerful – if not embarrassingly sober – questions in our time, right now: the notion that Black women are “on the move”. It’s been something of an accepted truism, that Black women are the most educated and most business-savvy people in America. And while there IS some truth in those statements, one has to pay attention to the fine print, so to speak.

For example, Black women are the most ENROLLED people in America, when it comes to colleges and universities. And before anyone utters a word, yes, Black women still do outnumber Black men with higher formal educations – but then, this has always been the case in Black American life, dating back to at least the late 19th century. However, that gap has narrowed significantly over the past generation or so; GenXers are the most college-educated cohort ever seen in American life. As documentary filmmaker Janks Morton and Howard University professor Ivory Toldson notes, there are four times as many Black men attending or graduating from college, than there are in and out of jail.

As for the idea of Black women being the largest group of business owners: yes, there’s some truth to this. However, what we have to note is the fact that we’re talking about startups – and we know how many of those fail. Very little is written or known, about the actual performance of Black women owned and operated businesses over time. One can speculate as to how and why such a paucity of information and reportage exists; but the paucity is real.

That brings us to the current situation with Ebony and its revolving door of Black female faces in high places, all of whom seem unable to get a handle on the media giant’s stumbling from one brush fire to the next. This is important, because while I can respect Ms. Jagger Blaec’s article in The Establishment – which is what sparked all of the mainstream media coverage on the Ebony deadbeat issue as well as the #EbonyOwes and #freelanceaintfree hashtags in the first place – she misses the mark on what’s really at issue here. It ain’t race, so much as it is gender.

Think about it. If Ebony, or any other major Black-owned media business or just a business period, were doing something fishy with regard to its employees or even customers, and said business was owned by Black men, do you honestly think people like Blaec wouldn’t notice? In an age where its customary to “call out” the faux pas of “toxic masculinity” at the drop of the proverbial hat, it’s hard to see how it and the offending Black businessman wouldn’t be pilloried. A case in point is the current ordeal of Shea Moisture CEO Rich Dennis in the aftermath of his company’s attempts to do what any good and profitable business does, which is expand its brand to new markets. But Dennis and his company were roundly denounced by Black women across the nation, with the trending hashtag “#Cancelled” – suggestive of calling for a boycott of the natural hairstyle and personal care fixture. Black women and that includes journalists, like this one writing for New York Magazine, didn’t hesitate to suggest a gendered slant to the story.

But that same gendered scrutiny is conspicuously and oddly absent when it comes to the Ebony default debacle.

Oh, I wonder why?

As I’ve argued to my listening audience via my daily podcast talk radio show “Obsidian Radio”, the third rail of Black American sociopolitical discourse isn’t politics, or “the gay/lesbian thing”, or race – it’s gender, particular female. Simply put, Black women are in many ways, a Protected Class(TM) – they are unassailable. They are infallible. And they are above reproach.

Period.

Bob Johnson was called everything but a child of God, both when he owned and ran BET and when he sold it to Viacom. Hip Hop music, which fields a platoon of Black male impresarios, moguls and entrepreneurs, has been a whipping boy for self-styled “critics” of the musical form and business for decades, by such notables as the late C. Dolores Tucker, Tricia Rose and Brittney Cooper, for decades. But Ebony has been lurching from one disaster to the next and all on the watch of Black women who made all of the key decisions. Where’s the outrage? It certainly didn’t get started by Black women. As Blaec states in her lead-off piece, it was a White woman who first blew the whistle on Ebony’s deadbeat ways.

Oh, the irony.

Mumia Obsidian Ali is the Sunday columnist for the Negro Manosphere. He also hosts a daily podcast “talk radio show” called “Obsidian Radio” on YouTube. Follow him on Twitter @ObsidianFiles.

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