Hamilton Journal News

Ebony has relaunched iconic magazine digitally

- By Robert Channick Chicago Tribune

Ebony, the Chicago-born magazine that served as the voice of Black America for more than 75 years, launched a digital version of their iconic publicatio­n Monday under new owners.

Bought out of bankruptcy for $14 million in December by Louisville-based Bridgeman Sports and Media, a company owned by retired Milwaukee Bucks forward Ulysses “Junior” Bridgeman, Ebony has relaunched with a startup mentality, a lean operation and lofty aspiration­s. The storied publicatio­n’s print format and its Chicago roots will be relegated to the past.

“We’re going to ask for grace, because we did this quickly,” said Michele Ghee, 54, a media veteran named CEO of Ebony in January. “But we are in a rush to show that we have great intentions.”

Ghee said Ebony, ebony.com, will offer a new look as part of a plan to reclaim its cultural influence. That mission will fall on Ghee and a staff of about seven full-time employees scattered across the country.

Ghee said the website will be updated daily and entirely ad-supported, with no plans to charge for digital subscripti­ons. A handful of freelance writers will provide the editorial content. There are no plans to return Ebony to print.

Returning Ebony to prominence, however, is at the top of the list for Ghee, who formerly worked as an executive at CNN, A&E, History Channel and BET Networks.

“Our destinatio­n is in everyone’s home,” Ghee said.

First published in 1945 by John Johnson, Ebony became an influentia­l

Ebony, the Chicago-born magazine that served as the voice of Black America for more than 75 years, launched a digital version of their iconic publicatio­n Monday under new owners.

monthly lifestyle magazine that documented the African American experience for more than seven decades. During its heyday, Ebony’s reporters and photograph­ers followed Martin Luther King Jr. from the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott to the 1965 Selma march, culminatin­g in the assassinat­ed civil rights leader’s 1968 funeral.

But Ebony struggled during the digital age, and in 2016, Chicago-based Johnson Publishing sold the magazine and its sister publicatio­n, Jet, to Texas-based private equity firm CVG Group.

The magazines didn’t fare much better under CVG Group, with separate lawsuits by employees and freelancer­s over unpaid compensati­on, several publishing interrupti­ons and deepening financial woes. Ebony’s owners filed for bankruptcy in July after defaulting on about $10 million in loans.

Ebony, which had a monthly circulatio­n topping 1.2 million less than a decade ago, ceased the print edition in spring 2019.

Last year, as the Black Lives

Matter movement resonated nationwide, Ebony’s website was mostly dormant as the company worked its way through a Texas bankruptcy court, ending up in Bridgeman’s hands along with the Jet website, set to relaunch in June.

Junior Bridgeman became a successful fast-food restaurant franchisee after retiring from basketball in 1987. He sold his restaurant interests and in 2017 launched Heartland Coca-Cola Bottling Co., a Kansas-based facility whose distributi­on territory includes Kansas, Missouri, and Southern Illinois.

In 2019, Bridgeman dropped efforts to buy Sports Illustrate­d from Meredith Corp., which sold the magazine to Authentic Brands Group for $110 million.

The company plans to take the Ebony brand beyond its website, forming partnershi­ps with TV and movie production­s, beauty products and other licensing opportunit­ies, said Junior Bridgeman’s daughter, Eden Bridgeman Sklenar, 34, who will oversee the broader Ebony business operations.

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