I read an article stating that Ebony magazine was irrelevant. I understand that the magazine has faced hard times but I often wonder why people are anticipating the demise of African American magazines. The article made some interesting points, one of which is that younger people would not be interested in a magazine only about Black people. I tend to disagree though, for a few different reasons.
While magazines like Ebony and Essence feature prominent African Americans on their cover they also feature a lot of African Americans that were big at one time but are no longer in the mainstream. African American culture does not dominate the mainstream anymore, and when it did that was partly due to the influence of the hip hop culture. But the hip hop culture is an old aspect of African American culture; it has become your parents or even your grandparents culture, we are now in a post hip hop age. That doesn’t mean that hip hop is no longer being put out, but it does mean that the relevancy of it as an artistic and cultural movement is behind us.
Hip hop culture is on its way out; like the Jazz culture that precedeed it was fifty years ago. The culture exists in museums and is taught through institutions of higher learning but it is not part of the mainstream as it once was. The artists that are big in hip hop right now are artists that just happen to use hip hop as their primary means of communication, but they aren’t primarily hip hop artists, as those that came before them. They experiment more, they use other forms of music and at times they do not use music at all; some would say that they are expanding the borders of hip hop, but I think they are often beyond hip hop. For many rapping is like singing, and rapping is just another means through which to communicate, as opposed to its own art form.
Now that the infatuation with hip hop is over, that the love affair is a distant memory, we have to find ways to reinvent ourselves to keep our culture interesting. A lot of the African Americans that would have been recognized through media publications because of hip hop are not going to get that recognition anymore. A lot of the coverage has went underground to independent publications that utilize the Internet and other media outside of regular magazines. The challenge that Black publications have now is with promoting their brand in this new day and age. The brand used to speak for itself, but now editors have to differentiate their brand from other publications. Black publications cannot just say that they are not your regular hip hop publication, because a lot of their readers also read magazines that deal in the hip hop culture. At the same time, they cannot simply copy the formula that has worked for those magazines and try to come across as being young, fresh and hip when they aren’t anymore.
Another problem that Black publications like Ebony and Essence have is an issue that was a great part of their success. The publications are polarizing; Ebony is supposed to be a mainstream publication that deals with all aspects of Black culture and Essence is supposed to be a publication for Black women without trying too hard to become a feminist magazine. The end result is that the magazines deliver interesting articles, but may not deliver articles that speak to everyone.
One could argue that the articles you find in magazines like Ebony, Essence and Jet are just as good as those you can find online. But when presented with these magazines I still stop and take a look through them. I never visit their websites because I find their online presence to be “after the fact” of their success in the mainstream. There is nothing compelling about the websites of any of the major Black magazines. Most of the true action can be found in smaller independent blogs that cover niche aspects of the Black experience.
I had the pleasure of writing a few articles for a Black website called The Atlanta Post. It was a lot of fun and I liked how they found interesting African Americans and profiled them through videos on their own website. I think there is a lot to be said about videos that are posted by independent media through their own websites and sites like YouTube that is just as interesting as what you would see on the printed page. The Internet has given many a new voice, but we still need to see images of professional African Americans that are not actors or musicians, but business owners, entreprenuers, writers or even visual artists. It isn’t that Blacks are not open to reading other publications; I think there are more of us that read mainstream publications of which 99% of the people featured are White than are willing to admit. But the idea of a publication that primarily features African Americans is a strong part of our cultural heritage. Somehow the more we assimilate into the larger mainstream culture, the more those of other races seek out that “authentically Black” experience. Times have changed, and all Black publications need to do is to change with those times in order to continue to exist …