As of next week, there will be no more Jet Magazine, that pint-sized publication that’s been a weekly best friend to the Black community since 1951.
For there to no longer be a Jet is a watershed moment in contemporary African-American history. There’s always been a Jet; for all African-Americans except senior citizens, there’s never not been a Jet – giving us the news that Black people needed to know, yearned to know, but that we couldn’t get from the mainstream media. News for us, about us.
So it was sad to hear the recent announcement from the Johnson Publishing Company, parent of Jet Magazine, that it will cease publishing a printed version and convert to digital exclusively, except for one annual “Best of Jet” print issue. The last printed Jet publishes in June. After that, the “publication” moves to digital through its website and a paid subscription app.
Another One Bites The Dust
The extinction of the dinosaur is upon us as far as it relates to print publications being the primary platform to deliver information. Moveable type has been done in by the lower cost and consumer preference for digital technology, which has killed circulation at the same time print advertising revenue has plummeted like a skydiver with an unopened parachute, while printing costs continue to rise.
Jet is just the latest to succumb to the sad trend of magazines and newspapers that have recently reduced or eliminated their print publications after sharp drops in revenue and loss of circulation.
Ladies Home Journal, which has been around since 1883, recently made a similar announcement as Jet. The last monthly issue of that 131-year-old magazine will publish in July. Other than that, Ladies Home Journal will have a regular online presence, with a quarterly print version sold only at newsstands.
New York Magazine moved from a weekly to a bi-weekly print edition last month, while Newsweek was among the first weekly news magazines to convert exclusively to a digital edition.
Without a doubt, digital has become the new reading. One Sunday while in church, I observed how people read first hand. The minister quoted a scripture and asked the audience to read with him. An older lady pulled out her printed version of the Bible, her daughter pulled out her iPad, and her little 8-year-old read from her mobile phone. I saw the generational shift of reading in the church pew.
A Storied History
Every contemporary publisher faces the decision to abandon or adjust print in favor of digital; we at N’DIGO are struggling with it right now. Still, Jet’s conversion raises an eyebrow. It still has a circulation of 700,000, making it the largest circulated Black weekly publication in the country and the third largest Black monthly publication behind its big sister Ebony and Essence magazines.
However, many people don’t realize that since last year and despite those numbers, Jet has been publishing only every three weeks instead of weekly in order to cut costs.
The late publishing giant, Mr. John H. Johnson, started Jet Magazine in 1951 and since then, Jet has provided news to Black America that probably would never have been reported. The history of Black America is on the pages of Jet.
The most popular and iconic issue of Jet told the story of the horrific Emmett Till murder and showed pictures of his battered body in his coffin at Chicago’s A.A. Rayner & Sons Funeral Home. Till’s story, told from Jet’s exclusive Black perspective, shook America.
Jet gave the chronicles of the civil rights movement long before it was mainstream news. The pocket-sized digest was varied in its news reporting and features, from “Beauty of the Week” pinups, to politics, marriages, deaths, anniversaries, fashion, and the social scene.
In the back section of Jet were the best selling albums and single records for the week, and the last page provided the schedule of Black entertainers’ television appearances. There was a photo section – before modern TV’s entertainment news shows – that captured Black celebs at the party or onstage or with their families.
Black Boys On Trains
Jet was the sole national source to convey the lifestyles of Black people, from the doctor to the entertainer. It provided a reality check for Black America, that is, the real happenings of people and events of Black America. The slogan became, “If it isn’t in Jet, it didn’t happen.” Defying the stereotype and telling the real story of Black people, Jet was “now news.”
Many Black writers and photographers started at Jet; this was their port of entry into professional journalism. Jet kept Black America connected, from the social scene to the new movie, the new album, to the new beauty. Jet wrote what others didn’t.
Little boys proudly carried their Jet pouches, selling the magazine on the buses and trains of the major commute routes in major cities, delivering the news directly to the people for whom the publication was intended. And the people bought it.
The world moves on. Technology changes. The printed word becomes digital. The blog replaces the column. The stars get covered everywhere. Black TV appearances are far too numerous to be listed on a single page. The news cycle is 24-hour constant. Race relations have changed.
But I cry that Jet will no longer be on the cocktail table at home or in the doctor’s office or at the beauty shop. It may still live on the computer screen in a modified format, but it will never be the same. An era has ended.