Recently, Linda Johnson Rice, chairman of Johnson Publications, came to Pittsburgh for the gala celebrating the opening of the Carnegie Museum’s “Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story,” the exhibition presenting the archives of photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris, which is still on display at the museum through April 2012; and then will tour several locations throughout the country.
|LINDA JOHNSON RICE
Rice, who serves as the national chair for the exhibit, said she got involved with it when she was approached by Judy Davenport, founder of Pittsburgh’s Sheridan Broadcasting, and the head of the Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh. “I thought that what the Carnegie Museum did was first class and very impacting, it was great,” she said. “It is a chronicle of the history of African-Americans.”
She also mentioned the connection between the Pittsburgh Courier and Johnson Publishing Company Inc., two print mediums who had an impact on reporting the things occurring in the Black community, and how it was special for them to be involved in this endeavor.
“The Courier was a great outlet for Teenie Harris to showcase his work and gave him a chance to do so at a time when most would not have given him the chance,” she said.
Along with her involvement with the exhibit, Rice is overseeing the revamping of Johnson Publishing and several of its brands. Rice’s father, John H. Johnson, and her mother, Eunice W. Johnson, founded Johnson Publishing in 1942. Under their leadership was the creation of Ebony and Jet magazines and Fashion Fair Cosmetics.
Rice began her career at Johnson Publishing in 1980 and now holds the position of chairman of the company. For more than 60 years, Ebony and Jet are the two largest read magazines among the Black community, due to their coverage of what the Black community is interested in and Blacks as a whole.
“We throughout the years have been and continue to be there to document the issues,” said Rice. “The African-American community believes in what is relevant and we continue to cover what is relevant to the Black community. We cover what general magazines do not because we are African-Americans writing for us and about us.”
Like most print publications, at one time circulation had gone down, but Rice says it has since gone back up.
Recently, all three brands have begun to undergo a redesign to rejuvenate their image and maintain their present audience, while also appealing to a new one.
“We have new staff and teams and they have brought a new freshness to these publications,” she said.
Some of the changes include, new hires such as Desiree Rogers, the CEO of Johnson Publishing and celebrity makeup artist Sam Fine as the creative makeup director for Fashion Fair Cosmetics and digital editors; a new website for Ebony, which is to be launched in January 2012; several brand extensions, a redesign of the physical look of Jet and a new website design; and Siren Call, the new holiday collection for Fashion Fair Cosmetics.
“We have made a lot of key moves with the company to keep us current and going. Because in order to stay current in this fast moving world, you have to move with it,” Rice said. “Especially when it comes to the digital component of the brands.” She added that if one stays stagnate, so does their company.
But with all the upcoming changes, Rice stresses to the audiences of Ebony, Jet and Fashion Fair that the changes will not be so drastic that the products they know and love will not be the same.
“It is important that our audience knows we will not veer so far off the path that our audience will not recognize it.”
When it came to fashion in the Black community, especially in Pittsburgh, one of the most anticipated shows was the annual Ebony Fashion Fair Fashion Show and its cancellation last year brought heartbreak. The show not only presented the latest fashions, but also raised millions of dollars for scholarships and local charities within the Black community.
“It was a great vehicle to reach out to the community and it put Ebony and Jet into the community,” she said. “It also brought theater and culture into the community.” Rice said the show is being redeveloped and may return as early as next year.
With all her success, Rice credits it to the fact that she believes in the power of Ebony and Jet magazines as brands. “I have a great passion for what I do, I respect our readers and I am blessed to be surrounded by people in the Johnson Publishing Company that share the vision,” she said, which, as the website says, is to be committed to celebrating the rich Black American experience by creating products that inform, engage and inspire.