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Future of Ebony magazine…

June 4, 2010 by  
Filed under News, Weekly Columns

(Akiit.com) Top editor shares her plans to bring iconic journal to multiple media platforms…

Amy DuBois Barnett, the new editor-in-chief of Ebony magazine, the Chicago-based voice of the African-American community struggling with declining revenues, intends to attract readers with a strong editorial voice on important issues that will ring out on people’s cell phones, iPads and other on-the-go media.

It’s impossible to have a one-dimensional media brand. Extending the Ebony brand across many media platforms will be crucial in introducing it to new audiences,” while remaining respectful of the print magazine and its legacy, Barnett said in an exclusive interview with the Sun-Times.

She also intends to expand the Ebony brand to new products beyond its existing “Inspirations” line of greeting cards, but declined to give details.

And Barnett, 40, who was born in Hyde Park to parents who earned their PhDs at the University of Chicago, will introduce her trademark humor, fashion smarts and familiar tone to the iconic voice of black America. Her parents, who traveled the world on teaching assignments when Barnett was a child, gave her the distinctive DuBois middle name as a source of aspiration and inspiration, in honor of famous sociologist, historian and civil-rights leader W.E.B. DuBois.

“Being smart and dedicated doesn’t preclude being stylish and reflecting a more modern aesthetic,” said Barnett, who has already started work at Ebony and will move to Chicago later this summer from her home in New Jersey with husband Jeffrey Brown, a sales and marketing executive, and their son Max Robeson Brown, 4. (The middle-name tradition continues with Max.)

Barnett credited Ebony’s acting editor, Harriette Cole, who is leaving Johnson Publishing, with overseeing important updates to Ebony, including introducing last year a “Power 150” list celebrating black trailblazers in business, science, technology, education and other fields.

But Barnett has her work cut out for her in today’s fast-changing media industry. The Media Industry Newsletter reported in September that Ebony’s advertising pages were down 40 percent from January through October 2009 compared with 2008, and Web sites are filled with comments that Ebony has lost touch with today’s generation.

Barnett has transformed and reincarnated magazines before. Barnett did so by leveraging her early career experiences in corporate finance at Chase Manhattan Bank, as a buyer for Lord & Taylor, and as a cultural and style-and-fashion writer for first-generation Web sites Total New York and Fashion Planet. She is a Brown University graduate, studied writing and literature at University College Dublin in Ireland, and holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from Columbia University in New York.

Barnett won plaudits for being the first African-American woman in the country to head a major mainstream consumer magazine when she worked as managing editor at Teen People magazine.

Barnett was credited with leading a redesign that propelled Teen People to lead the teen category in audience with 14 million readers. Her redesign of the Web site, TeenPeople.com, was credited as among the first to bring video into regular Web content.

Barnett said she changed 65 percent of the content of Teen People and oversaw a “top-to-bottom visual redesign” from 2003 to 2005.

I was trying to move (Teen People) toward what teens were interested in and talking about,” she said. “I wanted them to feel as though the magazine was by them, so I incorporated pages that looked like graph paper, quizzes, polls and other areas in which readers could contribute their opinions.”

Barnett introduced texting “news blasts” and a “fun fact of the day” to readers’ cell phones.

Prior to joining Teen People, Barnett was credited with doubling the circulation at Honey magazine. Barnett worked as the Editor-In-Chief from 2000-2003.

At Honey, Barnett’s monthly editor’s column became the best-read feature in the magazine, whose readers are 18 to 35-year-old ambitious, stylish and urban women of color.

Honey magazine was my baby,” Barnett said. “I oversaw a complete redesign. I was able to combine my understanding and appreciation of the style industry with my intellectual curiosity about current affairs, along with my humor and sense of adventure.”

Barnett’s philosophy is spelled out in her book, “Get Yours: How to Have Everything You Ever Dreamed Of and More,” a sisterly compilation of advice that was nominated for the NAACP’s Image Award for Black Women.

She wrote the book after the 1992 death of her mother, Marguerite Ross Barnett, the first African-American woman to run a major research institution — the University of Houston.

My mother was very, very inspirational to me,” Amy Barnett said. “I did a complete psychological 180-degree turn (after her death). I decided, ‘Only I own this life. I am the only person who can make myself happy. What am I doing to make myself happy? I stopped doing things that I couldn’t be passionate about, and I haven’t done them since.”

For the past three years, Barnett has run her own consulting firm, Polymath, out of her home. In that role, she has helped shape and launch Jones magazine and JONESMAG.com, a Houston-based shopping and lifestyle resource for multicultural women, and the Web site, Work Her Way, for Carolyn Kepcher, known for her role as Donald Trump’s executive vice president and role on “The Apprentice.”

Prior to that, Barnett spent six months as deputy editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar, where she worked with Editor-In-Chief Glenda Bailey, whom Barnett described as “one of my publishing heroes.”

One of her key messages is that intelligent journalism doesn’t have to be boring and dressed in pinstripes.

I freely use humor, and it’s hard to deliver a resonant package without putting it in a stylish, attractive package,” she said.

Expect to see Barnett’s unique stamp on Ebony, all the while elevating its status as a voice motivating African-Americans to act on issues of importance to them.

Ebony is such an important and resonant brand for my community,” Barnett said. “It should be the definitive chronicle of African-American achievement.”

Written By SANDRA GUY


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