Essence Magazine: Black Women no longer the focal point





Essence Magazine, the Jig is UP!

Constance White confirms what I have been saying for a long time about its non concern to make black women the focal point of the magazine and that is why I discontinued my subscription:

As reported by  Richard Prince’s Journal-isms

Constance C.R. White has disclosed that her departure as editor-in-chief of Essence magazine was involuntary and the result of repeated clashes with Martha Nelson, the editor-in-chief of Time Inc. who White says sought to limit the way black women were portrayed.

“I went in there with passion and excitement and high expectations,” White told Journal-isms, referring to her 2011 hiring. “It wasn’t what I expected at all.

“What needs to happen is the reader is getting lost and the reader has to be at the center. To make their world smaller is unacceptable,” White said by telephone. “A lot of the readers have sensed” what is happening, she said.

Essence, the nation’s leading magazine for black women, was originally black-owned but has not fared well under Time Inc. ownership, White maintained. Nelson vetoed such pieces as a look at African American art and culture, and “I was not able to make the creative hires that needed to be made,” White said.

She elaborated by email, “When was the last time you saw Essence in the community advocating for or talking with Black women?

“No more T-shirts with a male employee’s face on it being distributed at the [Essence] Festival.”

Essence announced White’s departure in a terse statement on Feb. 8. No explanation was given.

But White told Journal-isms that her exit came after “another tug of war with them” in January. “Them” was principally Nelson.

Nelson, a 20-year Time Inc. veteran, became editor-in-chief of Time Inc. in January, responsible for the editorial content of all 21 of Time Inc.’s U.S. magazines and its digital products, according to her bio. Before that, Nelson spent two years as editorial director, overseeing the 17 titles and editors in the company’s Style & Entertainment Group and Lifestyle Group.

The final “tug of war” came in January, White said. Referring to Nelson, White recalled, “My boss said, ‘you know what? It’s time to go.’ I was asked to leave my position. I asked, ‘Was it something we can discuss, or has the decision been made?’ She said, ‘The decision has been made.’

From left: Edward Lewis, Martha Nelson, Laura Lang

From left: Edward Lewis, Martha Nelson, Laura Lang

“I had a certain point of view about black women being central to this magazine. The boss didn’t agree with me, and the president didn’t agree with me,” she said, referring toMichelle Ebanks, president of Essence Communications Inc. “It became an untenable situation.” She would not comment on whether she had a contract with the publication.

Ebanks issued this statement Friday night: “We truly wish Constance well. Essence exists to affirm and inspire Black women. We always have and we always will.”

Essence magazine debuted in 1970, the product of a communications company founded in 1968 by a group of African Americans that included as principals Edward T. Lewis and Clarence O. Smith.

Time bought 49 percent of Essence Communications in 2000 and absorbed the rest in 2005.

Lewis said in 2000, “The reason Time Warner is interested in Essence is they are interested in the editorial view of the magazine. They are not there to change it.”

Indeed, Essence still proclaims on its website, “ESSENCE is Where Black Women Come First for news, entertainment and motivation. ESSENCE occupies a special place in the hearts of millions of Black women — [it’s] not just a magazine but her most trusted confidante, a brand that has revolutionized the magazine industry and has become a cultural institution in the African-American community.”

However, White’s comments indicate that white corporate ownership has changed the magazine after all.

“This is a magazine where the central DNA was laid down by Gordon Parks,” she said, referring to the famed African American photographer who helped found Essence and was its editorial director from 1970 to 1973. White intimated that her efforts to maintain Parks’ standards had been rebuffed.

“How is it that from 2000, when Susan [L. Taylor, longtime editor] left — she was pushed out — we have had about five editors, including two acting editors, yet Essence continues to decline? So where’s the problem? And the editors are the black women. ‘They are disposable. Let’s keep changing them.’

“The point is, it didn’t start with me,” White said of the conflicts between top Essence editors and Time Inc. management. “If I can make a difference, I’d like to. If no one speaks up, it’s possible it won’t end with me.”

She continued in an email, “Martha Nelson cannot shape the editorial [content] for the magazine, and it was a strange use of her time considering People, the cash cow of Time inc accounting for over $1 billion, was down 12-18 percent in the last two years and All You was down 38 percent.” All You is described on its advertising website as “proudly” providing the value-minded woman “with practical, attainable, no-nonsense ideas for her everyday life.”

The Publishers Information Bureau reported in January that the number of advertising pages in Essence dropped by 10.3 percent during 2012. Industrywide, ad pages were down by 8.2 percent. However, circulation rose from 1,051,000 in 2011 to 1,104,871 in 2012, according to the Alliance for Audited Media, previously the Audit Bureau of Circulations. For the industry overall, magazine circulation declined last year.

Influencing White’s efforts to speak with Journal-isms, she said, was the decision by Time Warner this week to spin off Time Inc. magazines. As a result, Laura Lang, CEO of Time Inc. since 2011, said she would step down.

“I believe that Essence may have fared better under Laura Lang’s regime because people became more accountable for their jobs rather than playing out their personal politics. But with her departure I just don’t know what’s going to become of Essence,” White said.

The Jamaica-born White was style director, brand consultant and spokeswoman for eBay, the online company, when she was named to lead Essence. “White was previously the founding Fashion Editor for Talk magazine, a celebrated Style Reporter for The New York Times and the Executive Fashion Editor for Elle magazine,” an announcement said when she was named. “She also served as Associate Editor at Women’s Wear Daily and W magazine and began her career at Ms. magazine, as assistant to co-Founder Gloria Steinem.”

“I still love magazines,” White told Journal-isms. “I’m considering my next move. I’m happy to be able to see more of my kids,” of whom there are three. “Later this month I will be speaking at Syracuse University on branding and the media and I will resume my appearances on NY Live!,” referring to “New York Live,” a daily lifestyle show on New York’s WNBC-TV.

“I’d really like to see Essence move forward in a stronger way. I’m even more concerned about how Essence has fared being part of Time Inc. It hasn’t fared particularly well. Hopefully, this upheaval will be for the better.

“There has to be a come-to-Jesus moment when people say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do and here are the right people to do it. We are a very valuable audience. In my farewell speech I asked my team to present to management what needs to happen at Essence to ensure its survival because they know.

“Essence needs stability and the brand needs a leader with a vision. Black women are social leaders, cultural leaders, we are aspirational and spiritual. Black women deserve the best. Essence is the last place where black women should be demeaned and diminished.”

Richard Prince’s Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a “column.” For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.

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