Will Your Black Business Lose Its Voice If It Is Bought by "The Man"?

Will Your Black Business Lose Its Voice If It Is Bought by "The Man"?

JPMorgan Chase has acquired a substantial minority stake in Ebony and Jet's publisher.

Published July 6, 2011

Johnson Publishing's Desiree Rogers (Photo: Ben Gabbe/Getty Images)

One of the largest banks has acquired a stake in one of the most historic Black publishing companies, but could that mean that the feistiness we love so much about its publications could be lost?

 

Wednesday, Johnson Publishing Co., the publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines, announced that it will now partner with JPMorgan Chase & Co., which has taken a subtantial minority stake in the struggling company.

 

"We've never had a partner in the business before. It's always been 100 percent family owned," Johnson  Chief Executive Desiree Rogers told the Chicago Tribune.

 

For nearly 70 years, the Chicago-based company has catered to African-American readers. The magazines have photographed and interviewed high-profile Black figures from Dorothy Dandridge to Barack Obama. Though they have strived to address minority issues over the years, they’ve recently struggled to circulate, or distribute copies of its magazines, and advertising sales have dropped. Last year Ebony’s circulation base dropped from 1.25 million to 997,000.

 

When things go either really well or get tough, businesses often seek out financial assistance from “The Man,” or large corporations. In 1991, BET became the first Black-controlled company on the New York Stock Exchange. In 2003 it was sold to Viacom for $3 billion.

 

Johnson Publishing Co., which ranks No. 30 on Black Enterprise's Largest 100 Black-Owned Companies list, brings in about $120 million each year.

 

Other media companies on the list include TV One LLC, owned by Johnathan Rodgers, Harpo, owned by Oprah Winfrey, Radio One, run by Alfred Liggins III, and ICBC Broadcast Holdings, run by Pierre Sutton.

 

Today, however, a main question is what does “Black-owned” really mean? According to the BE 100s list, it means that the “majority ownership of voting class stock is held by African-Americans.”

 

Though there is only a handful of Black-owned or predominately Black-oriented media companies, there may not be enough evidence to say if non-minority shareholders can help or hurt a company. What we do know, however, is that businesses, no matter who’s running the show, need money to stay alive.

 

Cy Charney, in his The Leader’s Tool Kit, asks, “Why do organizations exist? To satisfy customers, to provide employment, or to line the pockets of shareholders?”

 

His response? “The answer surely is all of the above—we need to satisfy all the stakeholders.”

 

JP Morgan has now acquired a “substantial” minority stake in Johnson Publishing Company. Although in order to pay bills companies must "satisfy all of its stakeholders," let’s hope that it’s not at the expense of the publications addressing issues affecting the population that has kept it alive for 70 years: African-Americans.

 

Terms of the investment weren't disclosed.

Written by Danielle Wright

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