NPR Story
1:33 pm
Thu May 8, 2014

Barbershop Staple 'Jet' Magazine To Print Its Last Page

Originally published on Thu May 8, 2014 6:59 pm

Jet magazine announced Tuesday it will stop publishing its print edition and go all digital. The magazine has documented African-American news and culture for more than 60 years and became a staple on many Black families' coffee tables, in barbershops and beauty parlors.

Founder John Johnson apparently chose the name 'Jet' back in 1951 because his readers wanted news and information more quickly. "That's exactly the situation we felt that we were in today. People want to get their information wherever they are. And advertisers are interested in having a more interactive relationship with the consumer," says Cheryl Mayberry McKissick, COO and president of digital at Johnson Publishing, Jet's parent company.

Jet was "a glue for the African-American community nationally," says Richard Prince, who writes the online publication "Journal-isms" about diversity in the media. That glue, he says, "has sort of disappeared as we have more and more media outlets, and as the mainstream media has become a little more inclusive," Prince spoke to NPR's Celeste Headlee about the legacy of the print publication.

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Transcript

CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:

I'm Celeste Headlee, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Jet magazine announced yesterday it will stop publishing its print edition and go all digital. The magazine has documented African-American news and culture for more than 60 years. It became a staple on many black families' coffee tables and in barbershops and beauty parlors.

For more, we turn to Richard Prince. He writes "Journal-isms." That's an online publication about diversity in the media. Welcome, Richard.

RICHARD PRINCE: Thank you.

HEADLEE: You know, we asked our Twitter followers if they're going to miss Jet magazine. And we got journalist Gwen Ifill to respond. She said, what will I read in the shop? Author Joshua DuBois tweeted, my grandma Katie in Nashville will lose her mind. There've been stacks of Jets in her bathroom since reconstruction.

So what about you? Is this something, a print edition at least, that you're going to miss?

PRINCE: Well, you know, actually, I have not read Jet in the print edition for quite a while. But it's been in my consciousness. I think if all of those people who say that they read Jet faithfully were actually reading it, they would have said something before now because the frequency of the publication was knocked down to every two weeks and then every three weeks without a peep really from the public. So I think this move was really something that had to happen. They had to do something because the times have changed and sort of left Jet behind.

HEADLEE: It could mean of course that this is a chance for Jet to expand. It could also mean that Jet isn't turning a profit.

We spoke earlier to Cheryl Mayberry McKissack. She's the COO and president of digital for Jet's parents company, Johnson Publishing. And here's what she said about why the founder, John Johnson, named it Jet back in 1951.

CHERYL MAYBERRY MCKISSACK: He saw a change in the habits of consumers and people who wanted to procure their news and information in a faster manner. And so that's why he called it Jet.

And it really seemed to talk to us in the sense that that's exactly the situation that we felt that we were in today. People want to get their information wherever they are, OK? And advertisers are interested in having more of an interactive relationship with the consumer.

HEADLEE: That almost sounds like they're really planning to expand the magazine. What's your response?

PRINCE: I think that's something they have to do. They have to try something. But I have to also say that there are a lot of people who are not very optimistic about this move. I talked to one of them who was a magazine expert called Samir, who's known as Mr. Magazine. He calls it a sad, sad day for the black press in America.

Digital is more like the new life support for the magazine. Soon they will pull the plug, and nobody will notice. Out of sight out of mind. If they thought they can't survive in print but they can on digital, they must think again. It's a jungle out there. And for folks and advertisers to follow them there, it's one of those pipedreams.

HEADLEE: You know Jet holds a very sentimental place for people of the older generation because of the role it played in covering the civil rights movement. What did Jet become known for, and how did it become such a big component of the civil rights movement in the '50s and '60s?

PRINCE: Well, it was a big component of the civil rights movement. And the photographs of Emmett Till, the disfigured body in that casket played a huge role...

HEADLEE: That was the young man that was murdered...

PRINCE: Exactly.

HEADLEE: ...For allegedly looking at a white woman...

PRINCE: In Mississippi, exactly. But truth be told, it was also known for the beauty of the week. It was known for listing every black person who was on television back in the days. It may be hard for young people to remember this, but there was a time when it was rare to see black people on television. And Jet had a special page right near the back that would list all the black people who were on television that week. That eventually disappeared, but that's where you could go to to look at that. And also - and this is very important - it was a place, if you were getting married or had an anniversary and you wanted black America to know about it, it would be listed in that social section.

HEADLEE: If it wasn't in Jet, it didn't happen.

PRINCE: There you go there you go. There you go. So, yes, they did the civil rights things. But it was also a sort of a glue for the black community nationally that has disappeared as we have more and more media outlets and as the mainstream media have accommodated and become a little bit more inclusive.

HEADLEE: How well can Jet then appeal to the younger audience? African-Americans do tend to get their news and information on mobile - either mobile phones, tablets or some kind of mobile device. But how well can Jet make that transition from kind of something that holds a sentimental place to something that people go to for breaking news?

PRINCE: Jet is already online in the mobile configuration, and the publishers are very happy with the way that is now. If they keep that up and if they are timely - and that's very important, being timely, because, you know we are in a 24/7 news cycle, even with the celebrity stuff that Jet is now pushing - you know, they can compete.

HEADLEE: So, I mean, Richard Prince, you write about diversity in the media. So I have to kind of ask this bigger question.

PRINCE: Yes.

HEADLEE: Is there a bigger meaning to this about black publications and minority publications? Or this just a business story?

PRINCE: No, it is something bigger. It's part of our history. And they are still saying, I think, that one of the appeals of Jet is you would pick it up and there was always something you didn't see anywhere else or that you didn't know, you hadn't heard about. And I think that will continue, and that's the kind of thing - that's the reason why we have a black press, including Jet.

HEADLEE: Richard Prince writes "Journal-isms." It's an online publication about diversity issues in the media. He joined us from home in Virginia. Thanks so much, Richard.

PRINCE: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.