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African American: A Year of Turmoil and Opportunity

By Emily Guskin, Amy Mitchell and Mark Jurkowitz of the Pew Research Center

This report examines news sources aimed at a black audience. Some of these outlets are no longer (or never were) owned by African Americans, such as The Root (owned by The Washington Post), Black Entertainment Television (owned by Viacom), Essence magazine (owned by Time Inc.), and more.1 The report also includes some data on broad news consumption trends among the African American population. 

The story about how African American-oriented news media coped last year was a difficult one at best.

In the newspaper sector, many historic African American publications both lost circulation and struggled to find advertising revenue. The Chicago Defender, for example, declined in circulation and laid off two editors because of reduced advertising.

On television, a platform African Americans turn to for news at even greater rates than Americans over all, news continues to fight for a place in African American programming.2

While several new channels geared toward African Americans emerged in 2012, only one of them planned any news content. Still, BET, the most popular channel geared toward a black audience, gave a news talk show yet another try and TV One, another channel aimed at African Americans, partnered with NBC in coverage of the 2012 presidential election.

In radio, African American voices became even scarcer in 2012. Black-owned radio stations continued to wither in number and several programs hosted by major African American personalities went off the air. The year also witnessed the consolidation of two of the largest black radio networks.

As traditional media become more difficult to maintain, the digital world offered some hope. African American-oriented websites continue to develop, and survey data suggest, moreover, that African Americans are more likely than web users over all to access social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook.

The handful of African American magazines that carry at least some news had different stories to tell in 2012. One of the most popular, Ebony, enjoyed a solid rebound after years of decreasing circulation, but other magazines did not fare nearly as well.

One of the broader challenges for African-American news media in general, and most notably the newspaper sector, is striking a balance between appealing to a younger generation with a contemporary product and fulfilling a mission to honor a history that includes the defining civil rights struggle of a half-century ago.

“History has got to be a definitive weave in what we do,” said John J. (Jake) Oliver Jr., the publisher and chief executive of the Afro-American newspapers in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. “We’ve got to redefine our personality from just a straight delivery of community news to helping people really educate themselves.”3

Newspapers

In many ways, maintaining an African American newspaper is more challenging than ever – and not just because of tough financial times. “There are a lot of barriers these days to black newspapers surviving and being successful,” said Dr. Clint C. Wilson, a professor of journalism at Howard University’s School of Communications.4

One of these barriers, according to Wilson, came as a result of desegregation when African Americans dispersed more broadly, making it more difficult to distribute newspapers.

Despite the challenges, most African American newspapers have managed to hold on. The largest black press association, the National Newspaper Publishers Association, lists more than 200 newspapers in its member list, most of which are weeklies. This report examines some of the larger black newspapers in the U.S. for which reliable data are available, including The Afro-American newspapers, The New York Amsterdam News, The Philadelphia Tribune and The Chicago Defender.

Newspaper Circulation

Only one of the African American newspapers examined, The New York Amsterdam News, grew circulation in 2012. The paper, founded in 1909, had an average circulation of 14,042, an 11% increase in circulation for the six months ending September 2012 compared to the same period the year before – but that increase includes the distribution of educational copies through the Newspapers in Education program, which puts newspapers in the hands of schoolchildren and was not included in 2011’s count.5

(Circulation figures, as measured by the Alliance for Audited Media for these newspapers has included both paper and e-edition circulation since at least 2009.)

For the six months ending in September 2012, educational copies totaling 2,901 were distributed, more than 20% of the total average circulation. Sponsors cover the costs of the educational copies, so they do bring in revenue. The Amsterdam News is also trying out another new distribution model.

“We’re trying to expand in neighborhoods that we’re already in and to some new communities as well,” said Elinor Tatum, the publisher and editor-in-chief of the paper. The paper has extended its reach to an area that extends from Albany, N.Y., to Southern New Jersey and is creating new hubs to assist the broader distribution area.6

Most Black Press Titles Fall in Circulation in 2012

SEE FULL DATA SET

All other papers studied here saw circulation declines, even with the consideration of e-editions.

The Afro-American saw both of its papers lose circulation in 2012.  The Washington Afro plummeted almost half (49%) to an average paid circulation of 6,007 for the six months ending September 2012 and the Baltimore Afro declined by 7% to 6,840 in the same time period.

Oliver said the company did still plan on expanding to the Baltimore suburbs as it had successfully done in Prince George’s County, Md., a Washington suburb, but had not taken steps to do so yet. The Afro papers in May 2012 also got a new executive editor, Avis Thomas-Lester, a 22-year veteran of The Washington Post.7

The Chicago Defender, founded in 1905 and one of the country’s first black-owned newspapers, declined 8% year to year, to an average paid circulation of 7,737 for the five months ending September 2012, down from 8,396 during the same period the year before, according to Verified Audit Circulation.8

A paper that saw a similar decline in circulation was The Philadelphia Tribune. The paper, published three days a week and founded in 1884, had an 11% decrease in its Tuesday paid subscription for the six months ending September 2012 to 13,320 copies and a 22% decrease for its Sunday edition to 9,950. Its Friday edition did not fare as poorly, losing only 3% of its average circulation in that time period.

Newspaper Advertising and Financial Resources

On top of circulation challenges, declining advertising revenue is a problem for every African American newspaper examined. While most of the black press does not report advertising revenue, virtually all the editors interviewed expressed concerns. Decreased revenue has resulted at many outlets in staff cuts and reduced publication schedules.

Even with its recent circulation growth, the advertising picture for The New York Amsterdam News has not improved. “The economy is still very bad,” Tatum said, “And [advertising] still struggles, but we’re holding our own and working very hard to see through this downturn. I’m hopeful.”

One way the paper is trying to stay ahead is by keeping up with technology. It now has a mobile site for its newspaper to make it easier for consumers to read the publication on mobile devices and is also reaching out to its audience through Twitter and Facebook. None of these activities, though, currently brings in extra advertising revenue.

Prices of African American Newspapers

At The Washington Informer, the picture seems even more challenging. Some advertisers are not following through on payments while others are now advertising only in every other issue, Ron Burke, the Informer’s advertising and marketing manager, told the Pew Research Center.9

Summing up a consensus heard from many people active in the black press, Burke said, “[It’s] always a struggle for any newspaper these days, especially for a small community paper.”

The Chicago Defender, owned by the Detroit-based Real Times Media, which owns four other black newspapers, is facing many of those same financial struggles, but to an even greater extent.

The paper was thousands of dollars behind in its lease, according to reporting in The Chicago Sun-Times. In that same article, The Defender’s publisher and president, Michael A. House, said the newspaper’s problem was increased online competition, decreased advertising and rising print and operating costs, compounded by difficulties collecting its accounts receivables.10

Previous financial difficulties had forced The Defender in 2008 to cut back from four days to one day a week.11 Then, in October 2011, The Defender laid off its only two editors left among a staff of 18, including news editor Rhonda Gillespie, as well as an accounts receivables staffer. The Defender hired Gillespie back in December 2012, as managing editor, though that still left an editorial staff of four. The Defender did not respond to Pew Research’s inquiries, but earlier in 2011, House told The Sun-Times, “We’re facing the same struggles as everyone else.” And, he added, “[O]ur receivables are taking longer to collect. We’re facing 60 and 90-plus days from advertisers, which creates a backup in terms of our being able to make our own payments.”12

Earlier monetary troubles put The Afro through cutbacks, too. The paper cut its operations to four days a week in May 2010. After that decision, several people left or moved to part-time and The Afro did not rehire for those positions – and still does not plan to.

“We’re using a lot of freelance writers,” said Oliver, and those who remain, he said, “have doubled their efforts.”

Tied to the financial challenges, the number of pages in both papers has been on the decline for years. In 2008 the Afro papers ran 28 to 32 pages per issue, on average, and are now down to around 16 to 20.13 Oliver says they make up for it with news-related emails sent to readers several times throughout the week and a Twitter feed that can provide followers with  more up-to-date headlines than a weekly paper can provide. And in August 2012, the Afro put out a special 128-page, commemorative issue celebrating the newspaper’s 120th anniversary.14

That special issue highlighted the history of the black community in Baltimore and Washington, something the paper is trying to focus on more.

Television

African Americans stand out for their reliance on TV news. Almost seven out of 10 (69%) of African Americans said they watched television news “yesterday.” That compares with 56% of non-Hispanic whites, 43% of Hispanics and 55% of Americans over all, according to a May 2012 Pew Research Center survey.15

Despite these figures, black-oriented television news programs are rare and few last more than a few seasons. Instead, African American programming tends to center on music, culture and other subject areas that have had more lasting power. This trend continued in 2012, though there were some signs of dedication to news. The most popular channel, BET, launched a new news program in 2012. BET and TV One also both aired special election-related programming and one new channel emerged with a heavy emphasis on news programming.

A Higher Percentage of African Americans Rely on TV News

SEE FULL DATA SET

 

New Television Channels

New multicast channels made possible with the shift to digital transmission have opened the door to niche programming that earlier had trouble finding a place in the more competitive realm of cable.

With the move to digital transmission, stations that previously carried only one analog signal have the ability to air multiple channels through the same bandwidth, a system termed multicasting. This means broadcasters can lease those subchannels to others who can air programming targeted to a niche audience, instead of vying for distribution on tightly packed (though more lucrative) cable channel lineups.

African American audiences have been among the populations served in this new realm. “[African American channels] don’t need coverage in 100% of the country, they just need to have substantial coverage in the markets that make up the majority of the black audience in the U.S.,” Bill Carroll, the vice president and director of programming for Katz Television Media Group, a media representation company and a subsidiary of Clear Channel Communications, told Multichannel News.16

One forthcoming multicast channel, Soul of the South, announced plans to include a strong news component. The channel is to be aimed at African Americans in the South, though its launch has had extensive delays. Originally, the premiere was scheduled for first quarter of 2012. It was then pushed back to September 2012. But as of this report’s release, there was still no sign of an opening air date.17

Among the channel’s planned programming is a two-hour morning news show, an hour-long evening newscast and a nightly half-hour news program.18 While it is to be geared toward African Americans in the South, the channel, according to its website, also plans to air in cities in the North, including Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit and others.19

The network is looking to capture both local and national advertising on the channel.

“In some of the instances, the local channels that we will broadcast on will sell their own advertising and, in other instances, we will control the local advertising revenue and all of the inventory in that local market,” Edwin Avent, chairman and CEO of Soul of the South, told Multichannel News. “We see ourselves more as an NBC or a CBS in that we have the network, but we have the ability to offer local-origination programming through news that relates to the viewers.”

Most of the other new multicast channels aimed at African American have little if any news components.

Bounce TV, for example, launched in September 2011 with syndicated entertainment programs and sports from the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, the country’s largest African American athletic conference.  By August 2012, Bounce TV was available in 80% of African American homes.20

In December, Univision announced it would begin carrying the channel, which brought Bounce TV’s coverage to 86% of African American homes and 68% of the total U.S.21

Cable Channels

BET

Launched 33 years ago, BET has tried airing various news programs over the years, but none have displayed much staying power.

The last attempt was a political talk show, Weekly With Ed Gordon, that first aired in October 2010. While the show still had a website at the time this report was released, the last clips were uploaded in March 2011.

In October 2012, the station tried again, with a news/talk program, Don’t Sleep!, hosted by former CNN reporter T.J. Holmes. The 11 p.m. show, guided by BET’s president of music programming and specials rather than its news division, is targeted toward anyone interested in black culture, according to Holmes.

“We’re not doing necessarily just black stories, if you will, or just black people,” Holmes told Lee Bailey’s eurweb. “But everyone you will see on this show will certainly have something to offer and something relevant to the black community.”22

Six weeks after Don’t Sleep! went on the air, though, BET announced that it was scaling back the program from a half-hour Monday through Thursday to an hour once a week, starting Wednesday, November 14. Then in December, the show went on hiatus and as of January 2013, a date for its return was “not yet determined,” BET spokeswoman Jeanine Liburd told Journal-isms.23

According to The Washington Post, the show’s launch averaged about 400,000 viewers (an episode on October 9 approached one million viewers, but it never came close to those numbers since,  with some episodes bringing in numbers as low as 203,000 viewers). That is, according the Post report, about 50% fewer viewers than BET had in the timeslot the same period a year ago.24

“To be honest, the ratings haven’t been great in the past two weeks,” BET chief executive Debra Lee said at a screening in New York City, “Our audience always says they want this kind of programming, but they don’t show up.”25

BET News has also produced documentaries and reports about specific issues over the years. Most recently, in both March and April 2012, BET aired half-hour programs about Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teenager shot to death in Florida.26 In December 2011, BET aired a documentary about the African American Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain.27

Digitally, BET has a specific web page dedicated to news, and it emails breaking news headlines about prominent African Americans to its members. It had a dedicated microsite for the 2012 election, BET.com/Vote2012, which provided news from BET along with a breakdown of issues and candidates.28

TV One

Another black-focused cable station, TV One, airs several news-related shows on a regular basis and in 2012 instituted a partnership with a major news network. TV One has more news content than any other cable channels geared toward a black audience and is also part of the same company that produces the News One website, which provides news stories geared toward an African American audience.

TV One paid special attention to the political conventions in 2012. For the first time, it joined with NBC News to air coverage of the last nights of both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, with correspondents from TV One, NBC News and theGrio on air. The channel also provided live coverage of election night in November, also in partnership with NBC News.29

The channel also provided coverage of President Barack Obama’s second inauguration in January 2013, including coverage of the swearing-in and the Inaugural Address, anchored by Roland Martin. The executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, Angela Rye, as well as Dr. Chris Metzler, a political scientist at Georgetown University, provided commentary.

TV One’s public affairs program is Washington Watch With Roland Martin, which debuted in September 2009 and provides a traditional Sunday morning talk program from the African American point of view. Martin also hosts occasional primetime editions of the show covering specific issues and topics.30

TV One also airs Black Enterprise Business Report, a show affiliated with Black Enterprise magazine.The show includes “Powerplayer” interviews with black businesspeople, personal finance tips, highlights of successful small-business owners and lifestyle trends.31

OWN 

Oprah Winfrey’s cable channel, OWN, which started in January 2011, struggled to gain viewers in 2012 which led to the dismissal of chief executive Christina Norman. But in January 2013, the channel gained both eyeballs and news media attention for Winfrey’s interview with seven-time Tour de France champion cyclist Lance Armstrong. After Armstrong had repeatedly denied using performance-enhancing drugs, he admitted publicly to doping in the interview with Oprah. The first part of the Armstrong broadcast garnered 3.2 million viewers on a Thursday evening. When it was repeated later that evening, an additional 1.1 million people tuned in.32 This is still lower than her syndicated days on network TV (her show averaged more than 7 million viewers a day in 2007). But it could lead her to seek out more news-related moments, as the network tries to stay afloat financially. According to MediaDailyNews, pricing for national advertising for Oprah’s Next Chapter had been going for around $12,000 for a 30-second spot, but the Lance Armstrong interview garnered prices as high as $50,000. High-profile interviews have paid off for the network in the past year. Winfrey interviewed Whitney Houston’s family in March 2012 following the singer’s death (which garnered the highest ratings the network has seen, 3.5 million viewers), Rihanna about her relationship with Chris Brown in August 2012 and David Letterman about his sex scandal in January 2013.33

The network lost an estimated $142.9 million in 2012, according to SNL Kagan. That same firm expects OWN to pull in $35 million in operating profit in 2013.34 Much of that will come from growing subscriber fees, which will raise network revenues to $150 million from $20 million, according to The Wall Street Journal.35

New Cable Channels

Two new African American channels emerged on cable, as part of an agreement with the Federal Communications Commission when Comcast bought NBCUniversal, but again they are focused on entertainment rather than news. One of them, Aspire, is headed by Magic Johnson, the former basketball player and business magnate. It was launched in June 2012 and focuses on contributions African Americans have made to culture.36 The other is a music channel, Revolt, that is expected to be launched in 2013.37

Radio

African American radio stations and voices have been disappearing in recent years and saw accelerated decline in 2012. So much has been the decline that in June 2012 a group of black media organizations sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, demanding that the FCC look into the “demise of black radio in America” and the impact that has had on urban communities.

The impetus for the letter was the merging of 30-year-old KISS-FM (WKRS) in New York City with its long-time rival, WBLS. The old WKRS was bought by Disney in April 2012 and switched from African American-oriented urban radio to sports talk. At that time, KISS-FM and WBLS began simulcasting on WBLS.38 KISS-FM had suffered in ratings and advertising when Arbitron switched to Portable People Meters in New York. (Portable People Meters are pager-sized devices that register everything the wearer hears, instead of a diary system where Arbitron listeners notated their listening habits.) The meters were first tested in two markets in 2007 and have slowly grown throughout the country since then. Many have charged that the meters included too few minority listeners, negatively affecting those ratings of stations aimed at them.39

As a result of the merger, New York City, the country’s largest radio market, lost two popular nationally syndicated news and talk shows, The Tom Joyner Morning Show and The Michael Baisden Show, both of which claim over eight million listeners weekly nationwide.40

The number of urban radio stations has been in decline in other cities, too, including Miami, which lost one of its three urban radio stations to a Spanish-language pop station in May 2010.

“Black radio, ownership and voices have been spiraling backwards since the Telecomm Act of 1996,” Paul Porter, the co-founder of media watchdog group Industry Ears, and one of the authors of the letter to the FCC, told theGrio.41

The 1996 Telecommunications act lifted the ban on the number of stations a company could own, which makes it harder for small stations and companies to compete. As a result, more of the radio landscape is controlled by a few large companies, like Clear Channel. 42

Indeed, in January 2013, two of the largest black radio networks consolidated their programs. Radio One consolidated its Syndication One Urban lineup with Reach Media and increased its ownership in Reach Media from 53% to 80%.43 This means that several of the most popular news/talk/information shows will be under the same syndicate, including Tom Joyner, Rickey Smiley, Russ Parr and the Rev. Al Sharpton.44 Reach also plans to launch a new network and expand its sales and marketing staff to sell ad inventory and sponsorships.45

Another well-known station, WPFW in Washington, D.C., part of the Pacifica radio network, had plans to change its format because of financial pressure. In place of local programming with local personalities, including jazz and community talk, WPFW announced it would move largely to syndication of national shows like Tell Me More, The Tavis Smiley Show and The Takeaway from NPR and PRI.46 But there was such a negative reaction from listeners and its parent company, Pacifica, that WPFW did not change formats.  It is still struggling financially, though.

“We have to stop the hemorrhaging,” Tony Norman, the chairman of the community board that oversees WPFW, told The Washington Post. “We’re losing money and audience. We have to make these changes.” The station is facing its third straight deficit in 2012, between $150,000 to $200,000 on annual revenue of about $1.6 million.47

Elsewhere in black radio, social critic and Georgetown University sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson ended his show in March 2012.

With the expense of radio and relatively low levels of listenership over all, the internet may represent an option for future African American-targeted audio programming.

“Can we use the web and social media to help sustain a radio audience by continuing what black radio was known for?” asked Neil Foote, a senior lecturer at the University of North Texas’ Mayborn School of Journalism. “[Radio was] the source to get the word out for what was going on in the black community. The source for what was going on during the Civil Rights Movement and where folks traditionally have gone to find out about the issues they want to know about.”48

Digital Media

While traditional media sources for African American news are still popular, there are several online-only publications geared toward the black population.

Of those news sites, the most popular is The Huffington Post’s BlackVoices. The site shares the same format as Huffington Post, but gears its content to a black audience.  Like The Huffington Post, the site has a mix of articles from Huffington Post writers, wire stories and special posts from politicians and other well-known people. The average monthly audience from October through December 2012 amounted to 2.4 million. That is lower than the November 2011 average of 3.3 million. But, The Huffington Post said, many articles also appear elsewhere on The Huffington Post’s site, which means they may reach more individuals than the numbers indicate.49 The Huffington Post over all averaged 59.4 million users a month for 2012.50

A new online video series, HuffPost Live, which debuted in August 2012, also sometimes carries stories geared toward black audiences. For example, the site aired a discussion on mental health in the black community and another on Mitt Romney courting black voters.

In August 2012, Christina Norman, formerly of OWN, who had been executive editor of BlackVoices, was reassigned to editor-at-large. Instead of managing editorial material on a day-to-day basis, Norman’s tasks will be “contributing blogs and helping set the overall direction for Black Voices,” Huffington Post spokesman Rhoades Alderson told Journal-isms.51

The site saw other management changes in 2012:

Another popular news website geared toward an African American audience is theGrio, an NBC-owned website launched in 2009. The site hired a new political editor, Perry Bacon, Jr., in 2011. Bacon joined The Washington Post in 2007 and left in 2011 to become political editor of theGrio.com and a contributor to MSNBC.53

Filled mainly with news and opinion pieces, theGrio’s audience spiked in November 2012, compared to the same period the year before. Its total number of visitors in was nearly that of BlackVoices, 1.96 million, a 76% increase from 1.11 million the same month the year before.54

The Washington Post’s The Root, another news-focused site, attempted to find a local audience in 2011. The site was founded by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Washington Post Company chairman Donald E. Graham in January 2008 and aims to be a “Slate for black readers.”55 In August 2011, The Root released The Root DC, which focuses on local Washington news stories of interest to an African American audience.56 In November 2012, the site saw an 18% decrease in unique visitors, to 709,000 from 864,000 November 2011.57

Unique Visitors to African American Websites

Other Black News Sites

In addition to those sites, radio programs that have found it increasingly difficult to find radio air time, are turning online to broadcast their shows. For example, when KISS-FM and WBLS merged, The Tom Joyner Show lost its slot. In response, Joyner urged his New York listeners to tune in to his show on his website.

Two digital areas where the black news media may find a large audience are in social networks and in the tablet realm. While African Americans still access the internet at lower rates than the white population (70% of African Americans say they use the internet, compared to 81% of non-Hispanic whites), those on the internet are more likely to use social networks like Facebook, Google+, Twitter and Instagram than whites and the population over all, according to 2012 surveys from the Pew Research Center.62

African Americans Use Some Social Media at Higher Rates than Whites

SEE FULL DATA SET

A 2012 Pew Research Center study on the use of mobile devices, found non-Hispanic black tablet owners are more likely to use their tablets to get news than are other ethnic groups. Over half, or 56%, of tablet-owning non-Hispanic blacks get news daily from their tablets, compared to 37% of Hispanics and 36% of non-Hispanic whites.63

“The black media in particular have needed to get online and needed to ramp up their use of technology,” said Dr. Clint C. Wilson, a professor of journalism at Howard University. “When we’re talking about a platform or a delivery system, that’s one half of the equation. The other question is what content you’re putting on that platform. . . . Black people still need news that’s of interest and importance to them.”

Wilson, who believes the black press needs to practice more aggressive advocacy journalism for the community, added:  “The purpose of the black press was never economic. Obviously they want to survive. But it wasn’t just about the money.”64

Magazines

Most magazines geared toward African Americans are not news-oriented. Still, they have historical importance as national sources of information for a black audience.

Two Different Tales at Johnson Publishing

The largest African American magazine publisher, Johnson Publishing—the publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines—physically downsized its headquarters in January 2012, from 110,000 square feet to about 11,000 tucked inside a Chicago skyscraper.65

Ebony Increases in Circulation While Jet Decreases

SEE FULL DATA SET

The company’s two magazines faced different levels of success in 2012.

Jet, Johnson Publishing’s small-format news and entertainment magazine, has been struggling with circulation for several years and the situation worsened in 2012.

Its circulation decreased by 9.1% to 745,809 for the six months ending June 2012, down from 820,557 during the same period the previous year.66 Its number of ad pages dropped 16.1% in 2012 compared to 2011, to 330.69.67

The magazine is “quietly revamping,” though, according to an article in Crain’s Chicago Business. Jet decided to spend less on increasing its circulation and more on overhauling the publication, Johnson Publishing CEO Desirée Rogers told Crain’s.

In January 2012, Jet decreased its publishing model from weekly to biweekly and hired a new managing editor, Anslem Samuel Rocque, previously the culture editor of The Source Magazine (a hip-hop publication) and editor-in-chief of Ave magazine (also a hip-hop magazine).

The company also adjusted its rate base down to 700,000 from 900,000, meaning that it promised advertisers a circulation of at least 700,000, which it delivered upon for the most recent audit period. The magazine also decreased the percentage of free magazines distributed to community businesses, down from 9.2% to 1.2%, according to Crain’s.68

“We’re very happy that we made rate base,” Rogers told Crain’s, “It’s just a more difficult environment than we’ve seen in many years.”69

Adding to that difficult environment, one of the magazine’s most prominent writers, Clarence Waldron, departed in November 2011. Waldron, called “the dean of arts and entertainment reporters” by the National Association of Black Journalists, left Jet after 29 years to focus on his university teaching career and book writing.70

Jet’s sister publication, Ebony, a general-interest monthly magazine, had a much more promising 2012. Its average circulation saw a second straight year of growth. And ad pages increased in 2012 well. The magazine’s average circulation for the six-month period ending June 30, 2012, was 1,255,542, a 1.6% increase from the same period in 2011.71 And its ad pages shot up 22.9% in 2012, one of the largest increases in ad pages that any magazine had that year (only the large print format of Reader’s Digest had a larger increase).72

Stephen G. Barr, the senior vice president of Johnson Publishing, told the online column Journal-isms that he attributed Ebony’s success to sales and marketing team efforts to secure more first-time advertisers, an increase in spending by existing advertisers, and advertiser and reader feedback on the magazine.73

Ebony’s website saw even larger increases, although its overall number of visitors is moderate. In November 2012, ebony.com had 87,000 monthly unique visitors, an almost six-fold increase from 15,000 visitors in November 2011.74 JetMag.com, Jet magazine’s website does not meet the minimum reporting thresholds for comScore to provide data on unique visitors.

Ebony's Ad Pages Increase, While Jet's Decline

SEE FULL DATA SET

The magazine’s staff and CEO Desirée Rogers, the former White House social secretary for President Obama, are given much of the credit for Ebony’s turnaround. When Rogers took over the magazine in 2010, it had missed its rate base repeatedly and ad pages had dropped drastically.

After taking the reins, Rogers hired an outside firm to work on Ebony’s circulation issues and a new publisher, Stephen Barr, who subsequently reassembled the ad sales department. (Barr is senior vice president/group publisher for both Ebony and Jet.) The magazine’s editor-in-chief, Amy DuBois Barnett, oversaw a redesign of Ebony in April 2011 and in January 2012, ebony.com was revamped by the same company that designed vogue.com and The Daily Beast.

“We’re going to do better than last year,” Rogers told WWD, “The goal is much higher than it was.”

Still, the magazine faces some challenges. Its readership is aging and Ebony feels that it has to perform a balancing act, making sure the magazine appeals to a young audience while not offending its older readers, according to Women’s Wear Daily.75

In December 2012, Terry Glover, Ebony’s managing editor, died, after a long illness. She had been managing editor since 2009.76

Changes at Other African American Magazines: Uptown and Black Enterprise

 

Other African American-focused magazines underwent change in 2012 as well.

Uptown is a magazine geared to affluent black readers in Washington, Chicago, Atlanta, New York City, Charlotte, Detroit and Philadelphia. Co-CEOs Len Burnett and Brett Wright both left the magazine while Burnett negotiated a deal to buy Uptown back from Vibe Holdings, the company backed by Magic Johnson, in November 2012. Uptown had been part of Vibe Holdings for almost two years.77 Wright and Burnett will reunite as co-owners of Uptown.78

Uptown saw a slight dip in circulation in 2012: for the six months ending June 2012, the magazine had an average circulation of 228,488, a 0.5% decrease from the same period in 2011.79

Another popular magazine geared toward African Americans is Black Enterprise, a business magazine. The magazine had a decline in ad pages sold in 2011, while its circulation increased.

Black Enterprise’s circulation increased 3.7% in the six months ending June 2012, compared to the same period in 2011. In 2012, ad pages for Black Enterprise decreased by 9.7% compared to 2011.80

Black Enterprise’s website had 233,000 unique visitors in November 2012, a 19% decrease from 288,000 in November 2011.81

An Increase in Circulation and Decline in Ad Pages for Black EnterpriseSEE FULL DATA SET

Click here for information on two magazines geared specifically toward black women, but with little news content, Essence and Heart & Soul.

Endnotes

  1.  According to Dr. Clint C. Wilson, a professor of journalism at Howard University, “The definition of African American media used by most scholars encompasses outlets that are (1) at least majority-owned by African Americans, (2) operated and produced by a majority African American staff and (3) targeted for the African American audience. “News” in this report also has somewhat of a broader definition than in general. Several of the monthly magazines and television shows may include some news content, but may not be solely news outlets.
  2. For more data about news consumption in particular, visit the Pew Research Center’s latest news consumption study.
  3. Oliver, John J. (Jake) Jr. Interview with the Pew Research Center. Aug. 29, 2012.
  4. Wilson, Clint C. Interview with the Pew Research Center. Aug. 16, 2012.
  5. Newspaper Publisher’s Statement: New York Amsterdam News. Alliance for Audited Media. For six months ended Sept. 30, 2012.
  6. Tatum, Elinor. Interview with the Pew Research Center. Aug. 28, 2012.
  7. Prince, Richard. “Thomas-Lester, El-Bashir Leaving Washington Post.” Journal-isms. May 30, 2012.
  8. Audit Report: Chicago Defender. Verified Audit Circulation. April 1-Sept. 30, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.
  9. Burke, Ron. Interview with the Pew Research Center. Aug. 23, 2012.
  10. Ihejirika, Maudlyne. “Defender Cuts Editors, More Staff.” Chicago Sun-Times. Oct. 23, 2011.
  11. Sjoerdsma, Don. “Another Round of Layoffs for the Chicago Defender, Another Pub in Need of Web Strategy.” Digiwatchdog. Oct. 25, 2011.
  12. Ihejirika, Maudlyne. “Defender Cuts Editors, More Staff.” Chicago Sun-Times. Oct. 23, 2011.
  13. Hinton, Takiea. Email to the Pew Research Center. Jan. 8, 2013.
  14. Oliver, John J. (Jake) Jr. Interview with the Pew Research Center. Aug. 29, 2012.
  15. African Americans stand out for their reliance on TV news. Almost seven out of 10 (69%) of African Americans said they watched television news “yesterday.” That compares with 56% of non-Hispanic whites, 43% of Hispanics and 55% of Americans over all, according to a May 2012 Pew Research Center survey.
  16. Umstead, R. Thomas. “Broadcasters in Black: Why Black-Targeted TV Channels Are Forgoing Cable for Multicast.” Multichannel News. Feb. 13, 2012.
  17. Prince, Richard. “New Black Networks Push Back Launch Dates.” Journal-isms. June 18, 2012.
  18. Prince, Richard. “Soul of the South Releases Promotional Video.” Journal-isms. June 8, 2012.
  19. Soul of the South website.
  20. Bounce TV Renews Uptown Comic, Rodney Perry to Host Second Season of Original Comedy Series to Debut this Fall.” Press release. Bounce TV. Aug. 16, 2012. And Couret, Jacques. “Bounce TV Signs on in Phoenix, Minneapolis and Orlando.” Atlanta Business Chronicle. Aug. 27, 2012.
  21. Univision to Carry Bounce TV in Seven Major Markets in Groundbreaking Distribution Agreement Teaming Leading Hispanic & African American Media Companies.” Bounce TV Press Release. Dec. 10, 2012.
  22. Saunders, Cherie. “T.J. Holmes on New BET Gig ‘Don’t Sleep’ and Why He Left CNN.” Lee Bailey’s eurweb. Aug. 23, 2012.
  23. Prince, Richard. “No Date for Return of T.J. Holmes’ ‘Don’t Sleep.’” Journal-isms. Jan. 29, 2013.
  24. de Moraes, Lisa. “BET’s ‘Don’t Sleep!’ to Become Weekly Late-Night Show.” The Washington Post. Nov. 12, 2012.
  25. Prince, Richard. “BET Scales Back T.J. Holmes Show.” Journal-isms. Nov. 12, 2012.
  26. BET News Presents.” BET press release. April 19, 2012; and “BET News Examines the Socially-Charged Case of Trayvon Martin in its Exclusive Special: ‘Shoot First: The Tragedy of Trayvon Martin’ Premiering Monday, March 26 at 7:30 p.m.” BET press release. March 23, 2012.
  27. BET Networks Presents the First and Only Interview with Herman Cain, About Black America, in A Half-hour News Documentary.” BET press release. Dec. 5, 2011.
  28. BET Networks Announces its Comprehensive Multiplatform Political Destination For the 2012 Elections Examining the Issues that Matter Most to the African-American Community.” BET press release. Aug. 27, 2012.
  29. “NBC News and TV One Partner to Deliver Presidential Election Coverage to Black Viewers.” TV One press release. Aug. 8, 2012.
  30. Washington Watch With Roland Martin website.
  31. Umstead, R. Thomas. “TV One CEO Lucas to Leave Company.” Multichannel News. October 22, 2012.
  32. Oprah’s Lance Armstrong Interview Ratings: 3.2 Million Tune in to OWN.” Huffington Post. Jan. 18, 2013.
  33. Friedman, Wayne. “Advertisers Race to Oprah’s Armstrong Show.” MediaDailyNews. Jan. 18, 2013.
  34. SNL Kagan. OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network Economics.
  35. Stewart, Christopher S. “Oprah Struggles to Build Her Network.” The Wall Street Journal. May 6, 2012.
  36. Aspire Network Launches, Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson Aims to Inspire African-American Community.” The Huffington Post. June 28, 2012.
  37. Malone, Michael. “Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs Planning to Launch Music-Themed Cable Network.” Broadcasting & Cable. Jan. 23, 2012.
  38. Reid, Joy-Ann. “Black Media Groups Confront the FCC on the ‘Demise of Black Radio.” theGrio. June 25, 2012.
  39. Best, Neil. “KISS AM Goodbye: ESPN Radio Moves to 98.7 FM on Monday.” Newsday. April 26, 2012.
  40. Prince, Richard. “Civic-Minded Jocks Out as KISS Folds into WBLS.” Journal-isms. April 30, 2012.
  41. According to the letter, African Americans own just 3% of full-power commercial radio stations in the U.S.
  42. Reid, Joy-Ann. “Black Media Groups Confront the FCC on the ‘Demise of Black Radio.” theGrio. June 25, 2012.
  43. Radio One Raises Stake in Reach Media to 80% from 53%.” Yahoo Finance. Jan. 7, 2013.
  44. Reach Media and Radio One, Inc. Combine Their Network Programs to Create the Leading African-American Network Radio Company.” Radio One press release. Dec. 3, 2012.
  45. Reach also plans to launch a new network and expand its sales and marketing staff to sell ad inventory and sponsorships.
  46. Fischer, Jonathan L. “The Airing of Grievances.” Washington City Paper. Dec. 14, 2012.
  47. Farhi, Paul. “WPFW-FM Will Undergo Radical Change to a More Mainstream Lineup of Programming.” The Washington Post. Nov. 30, 2012.
  48. Foote, Neil. Interview with the Pew Research Center. Aug. 22, 2012.
  49. Alderson, Rhodes. Email to the Pew Research Center. Jan. 18, 2013.
  50. comScore. Email to Pew Research Center.
  51. Prince, Richard. “Christina Norman Reassigned at Huffington Post.” Journal-isms. Aug. 6, 2012.
  52. Prince, Richard. “Danielle Cadet, Jermaine Spradley Named to Top Roles.” Journal-isms. Nov. 16, 2012.
  53. Prince, Richard. “J-Students Say Author-Professor is AWOL.” Journal-isms. Dec. 14, 2011.
  54. ComScore data. Dec. 19, 2012.
  55. Ahrens, Frank. “Post Launches Site with African American Focus.” The Washington Post. Jan. 28, 2008.
  56. The Root DC Celebrates One Year.” The Washington Post. Aug. 31, 2012.
  57. ComScore data. Dec. 19, 2012.
  58. ComScore data. Dec. 19, 2012.
  59. ComScore data. Dec. 19, 2012.
  60. Prince, Richard. “’Black Snob’ Joins Clutch; BlackVoices Gains Clicks.” Journal-isms. July 11, 2012.
  61. ComScore data. Dec. 19, 2012.
  62. Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. “The State of Social Media Users.” Feb. 14, 2013.
  63. The Demographics of Mobile News.” The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. Dec. 11, 2102.
  64. Wilson, Clint C. Interview with the Pew Research Center. Aug. 16, 2012.
  65. Kapos, Shia. “Johnson Publishing Will Move into New Digs on Michigan Avenue.” Crain’s Chicago Business. Jan. 6, 2012.
  66. Alliance for Audited Media. Publisher’s Statement: Jet.
  67. The Association of Magazine Media.
  68. Marek, Lynne. “Johnson Publishing Adjusts Strategy on Jet Magazine.” Crain’s Chicago Business. Aug. 9, 2012.
  69. Marek, Lynne. “Johnson Publishing Adjusts Strategy on Jet Magazine.” Crain’s Chicago Business. Aug. 9, 2012.
  70. Foster, Stella. “Million-Dollar Winner Comes to Chicago.” Chicago Sun-Times. Nov. 14, 2011.
  71. Alliance for Audited Media. Publisher’s Statement: Ebony.
  72. The Association of Magazine Media.
  73. Prince, Richard. “Ebony, Hispanic Magazines Gain Amid Overall Losses.” Journal-isms. Jan. 14, 2013.
  74. comScore data. Dec. 19, 2012. Looking at website visitors for this report, we look at month-over-month for November 2011 vs. November 2012 just to get a snapshot of the change year-over-year using one month, which is how comScore shares those data.
  75. Koblin, John. “Ebony Sees Traction Under Desirée Rogers.” WWD. Jan. 18, 2012.
  76. Prince, Richard. “Terry Glover, Ebony Managing Editor, Dies at 57.” Journal-isms. Dec. 24, 2012.
  77. Len Burnett Inks Deal to Leave Vibe Holdings LLC and Re-Purchase Uptown Magazine.” Target Market News. Nov. 27, 2012.
  78. Prince, Richard. “Pair Buys Back Magazine from Magic Johnson Firm.” Journal-isms. Nov. 28, 2012.
  79. Alliance for Audited Media. Publisher’s Statement: Uptown.
  80. The Association of Magazine Media.
  81. comScore data. Dec. 19, 2012.