So things are shifting around in the Essence Magazine camp.

A black woman in a comfy sweater reads a magazine as she lounges on the couch
iStock/BraunS

Time Inc, full shareholder of the company for some twelve years, has announced that although Essence remains one of its “core publications”, they’re looking to grow the brand name by selling a majority of the shares. For those of us that aren’t as business savvy (so...me, basically), being a shareholder essentially means that while one is not fully legally liable for a company’s failures, your own fortunes are tied to the company’s success. And as you'd have put money into the purchase of those portions of semi-ownership, you'd have some say in the general direction of that company’s movements.

Because of that level of control, naturally, people are calling for a group of black investors to take over those shares in order to keep the magazine true to its roots of prioritizing the needs of black American women in all of our multitudes. Or at least many of our multitudes. I wouldn't pick up an Essence issue expecting to find the same things I would in AfroPunk, but that's neither here nor there.

To get to the heart of the issue, I wonder—does not having a personal stake in the troubles/triumphs of your audience necessarily equal complete tone-deafness? After all, despite being a publication for black American women from the jump, Essence was founded by four men in the 70s that noticed black women weren’t being catered to. However, though it’d be nice to say with complete certainty that anyone can found anything as long as they’re getting the right information out, Essence had experienced some representation hiccups with heavily featuring only lighter complexioned, slender models in the early 2000’s, as documented by this study by Vanessa Hazell and Juanne Clarke, after having 49% of its shares taken over by Time Inc. When Time took full ownership of all shares in 2005, it marked the first time a black magazine had been under white ownership and what I can imagine were a lot of concerned readers. In 2011, Michael Bullerdick was named managing editor of the publication amidst controversy about his being a white male, then shifted from that position the next year after racially incendiary remarks were found on his personal social media. So considering Essence's history, surely that's all the more reason to hope it gets pushed in the direction of a black and majority womanly board of investors?

Two black women and a black man sit around an office table, discussing what
iStock/JohnnyGreig

So in sync they even coordinated their outifts. I'm into it.

Well, I love seeing sisters succeed, so I do have my own reasons for wanting that. But in the more broad sense of  'Is this the only way the publication can be any good?' I don’t actually have an answer...yet.

Trust me, I'm surprised too.

It wasn’t until my 20s that I learned different  brands I consumed were often owned by parent companies. The day I found out my fun “quirky” little Odwalla drinks were owned by Minute Maid, which itself is a division of The Coca-Cola Company, I practically went into conniptions.

A glass full of sugar cubes against a pink background
iStock/AngiePhotos

And that was before I looked at the sugar content.

Certainly in the scheme of being alive and cognizant, that’s not a lot of years, or in fact atypical of most consumers. But that’s the reason I don’t have a straight answer—I can’t always say for certain that I know who owns what I buy or click. With regards to media consumption, most of the publications I read at least have an author byline letting me know who people are, and I can follow the outlet itself on social media and at least have some clue of their sense of ethics even if I rarely delve into whose name is stamped on everything. I just share what I share, read what I read without doing much research into the name on all the checks. It’s really only when I notice a trend of unsavory stuff that I start following any trails. Were I to find out today that Wear Your Voice was owned by Pfizer some-crazy-how, it’d only be after they’d published something about how medical markups help everyone by weeding out “the poors”, and not while they’re giving me hot intersectional takes, and feel-good gems like these. Similarly, while I'd like to think I'd still do my utmost at research and representation, if I were to be hired into a 'President-King of all Media' type position by an organization like ADAPT, an advocacy group for the physically disabled, I could more than understand why audience suspicion would be tossed my way.

We'll have to see what the future holds for Essence. But hopefully, whatever happens will bring out the best in the publication.

Do you think it’s possible for owners and investors that don’t fit their target demographic to still reflect the interests of their audience?
Yes, as long as they do their research.
Maybe, but they need senior staff that fit the audience label.
No, they’ll always ruin the messaging for the core group
I don’t care, I only roll with small businesses and publications anyway.

Quotes 2 Know