Johnson Publishing, Which Started Ebony And Jet Magazines, Files For Bankruptcy

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Written by Dana Sanchez
Johnson Publishing
Jet magazine founder John H. Johnson, head of Johnson Publishing Co., sits in his Chicago office Monday, Dec. 10, 2001. Fifty years after starting the magazine, Johnson is holding fast to his original idea of spotlighting black achievements and reporting the national and international events he believes are important to the black community. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The historic Chicago publishing company that covered every aspect of African-American life for 77 years has filed for bankruptcy after a failed attempt to restructure, get financing or find a buyer.

Responsible for starting Ebony and Jet magazines, Johnson Publishing sold the two publications in 2016 to Texas equity firm Clear View Group. Ebony and Jet will not be affected by the Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing.

“Johnson Publishing Company was caught in a tidal wave of marketplace changes and business issues which, despite exhaustive efforts, could not be overcome,” the company said in a press release.

This tidal wave included “the failure of the purchaser of the company’s media division to make required payments; (ii) the bankruptcy of one of the company’s largest retailers; (iii) increasing competition from e-commerce in the cosmetic business; and (iv) a costly recall resulting from receiving products with quality issues from one of its manufacturers.”


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Founded in 1942, Johnson Publishing Company started Ebony magazine in 1945 and Jet in 1951. The magazines inspired Black youth including Barack Obama. They highlighted “positive, everyday achievements from Harlem to Hollywood,” Chicago Sun-Times reported, while also focusing on race as the biggest problem in the U.S.

Founder John H. Johnson borrowed $500 against his mother’s furniture and turned Johnson Publishing into one of the country’s most successful African-American-owned corporations. He donated millions of dollars to African-American educational and civil rights causes.

“This decision was not easy, nor should it have been,” the company said. “Johnson Publishing Company is an iconic part of American and African American history since our founding in 1942, and the company’s impact on society cannot be overstated.”

The company struggled since Johnson’s death in 2005, The Root reported. In 2010, it sold the building that had been its home for almost 40 years at 820 South Michigan to Columbia College Chicago. The building was a centerpiece for Black culture and trends during the heyday of Ebony and Jet — a destination for celebrities and politicians, Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Jet became a digital-only publication in 2014. After Ebony and Jet were sold in 2016, Johnson Publishing focused on its archives and Fashion Fair Cosmetics brands. The company said it plans to sell some of its assets.

“A group with a proven track record of advancing cultural preservation, supporting community-based businesses and building and operating legacy brands has offered to purchase certain assets, and the offer will be presented to the Trustee for evaluation,” according to a press release.   


About Dana Sanchez

Dana Sanchez was born in South Africa and is a U.S. citizen. After working in advertising, she went back to school and earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of South Florida. As a business writer, she won regional and national writing awards. As editor of a daily newspaper, she coordinated staff writers, freelancers and photographers in the fast-paced environment of daily news. Dana was an editor at Moguldom Media Group for four years, helping to build and manage a team of staff and freelance writers. She works now on Moguldom.com for Nubai Ventures. A long-distance hiker and cyclist, she writes about the business of technology.