At 50-plus years of age, Ebony positively aches for the editorial equivalent of CPR. Granted, the magazine aims broad - it's general interest and proud of it - but even so, the hodgepodge of editorial offerings and bland Family-Circle- on-NyQuil tone can't possibly continue to thrive in this era of specialized media.
The former is more of a problem than the latter. Over the stretch of 50 pages or so, the June issue offers everything from midday kids' recipes to wedding-planning tips to a feature on the "male biological clock" to a listing of top black high-school seniors. There's nothing wrong with most of these items per se, but grouping them so close together begs the question: Is there a single audience group that's going to be diverted by more than two of them?
To muddy up the waters even more, the same stretch of the mag also includes the "For Brothers Only" examination at redefined roles within the so-called traditional marriage and the "Sister Speak" look at the shifting responsibilities that come with parenthood. Then there's the feature on the "Top Bachelors of the Year." I know, I know - I can't believe that one of the Boyz II Men fellas is single, either. Separately, as a bachelor, the section made me question if maybe I'm setting my sights too low: One of the honorees says he's "looking for an intelligent, God-fearing woman who enjoys working out." Me, I'm merely hoping that the current Ms. Magazine Rack doesn't eventually confess that she believes "The Da Vinci Code" to be the pinnacle of western thought.
As for Ebony's tone, it's so unremittingly, maddeningly positive as to test the limits of even the sunniest readers. Check out these first three sentences from the mag's three "Sounding Off" music reviews: "Soulful, sexy Kem is back with an other stimulating recording, 'Kem Album II,' that is a captivating follow-up to his hit gold debut"; "With her new CD, Vivian Green demonstrates that she is not a one-hit wonder"; and "Maestro Terence Blanchard thrills and delights listeners with a vibrant new recording, 'Flow,' that further extends his reach as a trumpeter, composer and bandleader." It's one thing to accentuate the positive; it's another to essentially deny the existence of the negative.
The June issue fares best with its longer features. It's about time that Don Cheadle found himself on the cover of a mass-market publication, though I question why Ebony buried its profile of him on page 179. The focus on a handful of "Phenomenal Fathers," on the other hand, doesn't lapse into cheap emotional manipulation. It's terrifying to think what People might have done with the tale of a Texas dad who reunited and adopted eight siblings (my best guess: Demetria woke up in the middle of the night. Again. Where was her family? Where were Robert, Jeremie, young Kevin? She was alone. Alone. She listened to the ticking of the clock. It ticked. Alone.). Kudos to Ebony for serving up a compelling story without aimless melodramatic garnish.
Ebony still sells plenty of copies and ads, and still boasts the loyal readership that most publishers thirst for. But with a host of up-and-coming rivals, both at the magazine stand and elsewhere, targeting this audience, the mag shouldn't take its market-leadership for granted. It's high time for Ebony to enter the 21st century.