Ebony, the Chicago-born magazine that served as the voice of Black America for more than 75 years, is set for a digital rebirth 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 will relaunch 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 who was named CEO of Ebony in January. “But we are in a rush to show that we have great intentions.”
A countdown clock on the website, ebony.com, highlights the March 1 relaunch. Ghee said Ebony 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 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.