Mar 11, 2013

You had to know this was bound to happen.  I know people like me have been trumpeting the end of Essence every since it was sold to Time Inc.  Once the magazine stopped being black owned, I knew the end was in sight.  If you need an example of what happens when perennial black institutions cease being black owned look no further than BET and Hip-Hop.

Constance R. White, the former editor-in-chief of Essence, admitted that it was not her choice to leave the magazine, but rather she was fired after she clashed with the editor-in-chief of Time Inc., Martha Nelson, over their view of Black Women.

White's statement confirms every suspicion we had as it relates to the going-ons of the magazine.  The fact that cover stars are constantly receycled was a clear indicator that there were some forces unfamiliar with the history of the magazine that was now dictating what was going on with it.

Here is an excerpt of the statement White gave to Journal-ism website about her departure:

"I went in there with passion and excitement and high expectations," White told Journal-isms, referring to her 2011 hiring. "It wasn't what I expected at all.

"What needs to happen is the reader is getting lost and the reader has to be at the center. To make their world smaller is unacceptable," White said by telephone. "A lot of the readers have sensed" what is happening, she said.

Essence, the nation's leading magazine for black women, was originally black-owned but has not fared well under Time Inc. ownership, White maintained. Nelson vetoed such pieces as a look at African American art and culture, and "I was not able to make the creative hires that needed to be made," White said.

She elaborated by email, "When was the last time you saw Essence in the community advocating for or talking with Black women?

"No more T-shirts with a male employee's face on it being distributed at the [Essence] Festival."

Nelson, a 20-year Time Inc. veteran, became editor-in-chief of Time Inc. in January, responsible for the editorial content of all 21 of Time Inc.'s U.S. magazines and its digital products, according to her bio. Before that, Nelson spent two years as editorial director, overseeing the 17 titles and editors in the company's Style & Entertainment Group and Lifestyle Group.

The final "tug of war" came in January, White said. Referring to Nelson, White recalled, "My boss said, 'you know what? It's time to go.' I was asked to leave my position. I asked, 'Was it something we can discuss, or has the decision been made?' She said, 'The decision has been made.'

"This is a magazine where the central DNA was laid down by Gordon Parks," she said, referring to the famed African American photographer who helped found Essence and was its editorial director from 1970 to 1973. White intimated that her efforts to maintain Parks' standards had been rebuffed."

"How is it that from 2000, when Susan [L. Taylor, longtime editor] left — she was pushed out — we have had about five editors, including two acting editors, yet Essence continues to decline? So where's the problem? And the editors are the black women. 'They are disposable. Let's keep changing them.'

"The point is, it didn't start with me," White said of the conflicts between top Essence editors and Time Inc. management. "If I can make a difference, I'd like to. If no one speaks up, it's possible it won't end with me."

She continued in an email, "Martha Nelson cannot shape the editorial [content] for the magazine, and it was a strange use of her time considering People, the cash cow of Time inc accounting for over $1 billion, was down 12-18 percent in the last two years and All You was down 38 percent." All You is described on its advertising website as "proudly" providing the value-minded woman "with practical, attainable, no-nonsense ideas for her everyday life.

"I'd really like to see Essence move forward in a stronger way. I'm even more concerned about how Essence has fared being part of Time Inc. It hasn't fared particularly well. Hopefully, this upheaval will be for the better.

"There has to be a come-to-Jesus moment when people say, 'Here's what we're going to do and here are the right people to do it. We are a very valuable audience. In my farewell speech I asked my team to present to management what needs to happen at Essence to ensure its survival because they know."
I'm glad I let my subscription expire.

Click here to read the entire article.


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