‘I Wanted To Leave On A High Note’: ‘Ebony’s Former EIC Amy DuBois Barnett Talks About Leaving The Iconic Mag

May 8, 2014  |  

When last we heard from Amy DuBois Barnett, she was promising us on Twitter that there is “change afoot” and asked us to “#staytuned.” That was on April 22 and we’d all just learned that the editor-in-chief position at Ebony magazine had gone from Barnett to Mitzi Miller, ending a tenure that had included major change for one of the oldest and most iconic magazines in the country.

“There comes a moment as editor-in-chief when you realize you’ve done what you can do,” Barnett told us in her first public comments since the news broke. “This was a moment when I realized I did everything I set out to do.”

According to Barnett, this was a planned departure that came after a year of great success for the magazine including growth in newsstand sales and the Saving Our Sons town hall program coming this year after the successful launch of a series of the same name focused on issues impacting black boys. After launching, it attracted the attention of the White House.

“I wanted to leave on a high note,” she said.

 

Barnett moved to Chicago and began to work for Ebony in 2010. At that time, her “mandate,” she told MadameNoire, “was to make the magazine relevant for the next generation of readers.” The result was a complete redesign, the first, she says, in its long history, unveiled in 2011. (The magazine will celebrate its 70th anniversary next year.) The redesign resulted in a new “look, feel and tone.”

“Young people understand it’s for them, not just auntie and grandma,” Barnett added.

The upcoming June issue has four covers featuring Beyonce (the Diva), Rihanna (the Rebel), Jay Z (the Mogul) and Kanye (the Poet), each artist chosen because, in Barnett’s words, “They are the four artists that are dominating black music today.

“They are our modern-day icons. The idea was to honor them and their dominance while looking to the past,” she continued.

And what about the new artists, like say Kendrick Lamar? Or the artists who are killing it behind the scenes as well as on the mike, like Pharrell? There’s a package on the inside where artists of the past and present come together.

“When you have a choice of four to make and you’re putting together a package, it made sense to us as editors to honor the most successful artists,” Barnett said.

Barnett’s willingness to talk about a magazine she no longer works for is interesting, but can best be explained by the high esteem in which she holds both the publication and its new EIC. Barnett hired Miller years ago when she was editor of Honey magazine. “I have watched her grow into a smart, unique voice,” Barnett said. And she says it’s great to “pass the torch” to Miller at Ebony, who she wishes “nothing but tremendous success.”

Barnett still wouldn’t reveal too much about what she’s got in the works, but she’s currently teaching a course — “The Shifting Business Framework in Media and Entertainment” — at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. She looks back on her time at Ebony fondly.

“It was an honor just to touch Ebony, let alone to reshape it for the 21st century,” she said.

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