Commentary: For Jet Magazine, An End of An Era

As the historic African-American publication now moves from print to digital, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on what it has meant to generations of readers.

Posted: 06/17/2014 10:29 AM EDT

(Photo: Jet Magazine, June 2014)

The news that Jet magazine has published its final print edition represents an unquestionable end of an era. Although the magazine is now converting to a digital-only format, the end of the print edition is a moment of reflection for this historic publication that has adorned the living rooms, bedrooms and bathrooms of Black America for generations.

Jet, the magazine once described by comedian Redd Foxx as “the Negro bible,” began publishing in 1951 by the late Chicago entrepreneur John H. Johnson, when Harry S. Truman was president of the United States and when segregation was still a part of American’s daily life. Jet made a name for itself – and won the hearts of Black America – by carrying the stories that were rarely if ever covered in the large national weekly magazine.

In the 1950s, the magazine covered everything from the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the murder of Emmett Till. In the 1960s, it was a reliable source of consistent information about events of the civil rights movement.

But with its diminutive page size, Jet always seemed to pack in a wide and fascinating array of information. It was the place to look for the top hits in African-American popular music each week. It contained information that no one else covered about Black fraternities and sororities, health, fashion, dating advice and, of course, the Jet “Beauty of the Week” photo.

What I always found to be especially enthralling and enduring about Jet is that, no matter how old an issue might be, I would always find it interesting enough to read cover to cover.  Somehow, an issue never seemed too old, too dated for a reader to find it worthwhile. What’s more, for more than 60 years, Jet has been part of the African-American family. It was a publication that was somehow exclusively ours, serving a population that would rarely see itself in esteemed, notable and respected coverage.

So now the historic magazine will continue in a digital format and readers will have to trade seeing Jet sitting in their bathrooms to reading it via an app on their phones. It is a rather dramatic change of pace in the history of the magazine, but one that is hardly uncommon in this new millennium. “We are not saying goodbye to Jet,” said Johnson’s daughter Linda Johnson Rice, who now heads Johnson Publishing. “We are embracing the future as my father did in 1951.”

How that transition succeeds remains to be seen. One can only hope that Jet will continue its historic mission and, additionally, that the reading public will continue to appreciate and support the journalism it has championed for decades.

Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan

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