John H. Johnson is spinning in his grave right now.
Yesterday, Johnson Publications was sold to a Texas investment firm for an “undisclosed sum”. A complete and utter travesty.
Why is this a travesty? The Johnson family didn’t value the publishing institution that their patriarch established. Institutions critical to history are supposed to be protected and preserved. Unfortunately, most Black folks are so desperate for riches they’ll sell a wealth of intangibles far more valuable in exchange for it such as their history, their culture, and their legacy.
And the sale of Johnson publications shows how little value Black folks place protecting their legacies. John H. Johnson provided a place for Black people to have magazines that featured their image in a time when there were no magazines presenting the Black image, the Black experience and Black culture. Sadly because Black people never teach their children to value themselves, their culture and their cultural institutions, the next generation of Black folks won’t have a venue to present their views of Black culture to the world.
And in this age of Big six media (SONY, Warner Brothers, Disney, Viacom Comcast, Newscorp) it’s paramount that Black media remain independent from mainstream media. The Big six have no interest in presenting balance images of Blacks in their media. So we have to protect and preserve the media institutions we own while building new ones to present a counterpoint to mainstream media and the stereotypes they want to present as a standard “Black” image.
It’s clear to me that someone in the Johnson family FAILED to teach their children and children’s children the value of the assets they were blessed with. And because they weren’t taught to value the assets their parents provided to them they didn’t take time to preserve the institution not only for themselves but the Black community as well.
The sale of Johsnon Publications shows the world how little Black people value wealth. There was a wealth of information amassed by John H. Johnson’s family and it was those fixed tangible assets of publications, photo archives interviews and articles that allowed them to have something valuable to pass down from one generation to the next.
It’s also clear to me that the current generation of the Johnson family clearly doesn’t understand the value of what past generations have given them. Magazines like Ebony and Jet were how Black people controlled their image. How Black people presented themselves to the world.
The printing press is a powerful thing. The media created on it can shape the way Black people are viewed for generations. An image in a magazine can tell a story to people all over the world regarding Black culture and even define a period in Black history. John H. Johnson understood this. Sadly his children and grandchildren and the children of those generations of children and grandchildren take the images their patriarch fought so hard to create in Black magazines like Ebony and Jet for granted.
What they don’t understand is before Johnson Publications went into business, there were no Black magazines. And during that era the image of Black people was presented in a negative light. Most of the depictions of Blacks in White-owned media like books and magazines before 1945 often presented Black people as lazy shiftless coons, Black Brutes who committed horrible crimes and Mammies Jezebels, and Tragic Mulattoes.
And stories of brutal crimes against Black people like the burning of towns like Rosewood and Black Wall Street were kept out of the mainstream White-owned newspapers. If it weren’t for Black newspapers reporting the news most wouldn’t know about the numerous lynchings that went on regularly in the south.
John H. Johnson tried provided balance of the Black image with his publications. Unfortunately his heirs couldn’t understand why we needed that balance. Over the last few years they’ve mismanaged Ebony and Jet and squandered their inheritance by presenting a picture of Black life in their publications that is equal to the racist caricatures that Johnson fought against.
Some will say Ebony is “safe” because it was sold to a so-called Black-owned company but what they fail to understand is when it comes to the Black image it’s not about selling the magazine to a Black person, but the RIGHT Black person. Having the image of Blacks controlled by an incompetent person like Tyler Perry or a self-hating person with a sinister agenda like Lee Daniels can lead to generations of Black people to see themselves in a distorted way.
We know NOTHING about this so-called Black owned company who Johnson Publications was sold to. We know nothing about their views regarding the Black image or Black media. We know nothing about their long-term vision for presenting the Black image in media. The Black folks at Johnson sold their publishing business based on a promise from that investment firm that they’d keep some jobs and run it like Johnson used to.
A penny wise and pound-foolish business move. And a dangerous one in the long-term scheme of things.
Yeah some Black folks about keep jobs at the new Ebony media. But no one of today’s generation understands how important it is OWN SOMETHING.
That’s the sad lesson that wasn’t imparted to John H. Johnson’s descendants regarding the presses of Johnson publications. In publishing the OWNER dictates the viewpoint of the media presented on that platform, not the employees. And if that owner decides they want to change the view of that magazine or publications they may do so. The person who controls the dollars controls the viewpoints in the media. Everyone else works for them. And they can be hired or fired based on the publisher’s whims.
As a publisher myself I understand the power of OWNERSHIP. My dollars as limited as they are control the viewpoint in SJS DIRECT publications. I understand the value of presenting balanced images of Black life to readers. And the responsibility I have to publish the RIGHT publications for Black readers.
That’s the lesson I took from John H. Johnson when I was a teenager. Sadly his children never learned it.
The press is a powerful thing. With the press a publisher controls the image of African-Americans in society. That press can shape the way Black people are viewed to millions. It can tell the stories about Black life mainstream media doesn’t tell, and present viewpoints that most wouldn’t know about. Control over that counterpoint in media is something that should never be relinquished. The Johnson family has no idea what it has sold away from the Black community for thirty shekels of silver.