Make no mistake. The Jet started by John H. Johnson in 1951, your grandmama’s Jet—heck, even my Jet—is not the new myJet247.com the digital age online Jet. Still, as folks in churches and barbershops and beauty parlors and grandmamas’ living rooms have said for more than half a century in whatever vernacular: If it ain’t in The Jet, it ain’t happened yet.
“Beyond the nostalgia, Jet has this connection with the community undeniably, and people want to know what we’re doing, what we’re covering. Through our rebranding, we’ve tried to focus on some of the modern-day issues that folks are engaged in and want to know more about,” says Mira Lowe, Jet’s editor-in chief.
“It’s undeniable that we are the trusted source for the black community,” says Wendy Parks, the corporate communications director.
If you’ve recently seen the print version of the pocket-size magazine, you’ll know that there’s a new look and a new attitude – aiming at a younger audience, the 21- to 34-year-olds. And if you check out myjet247.com, you’ll enter the 21st century that even Mr. Johnson, who died in 2005, only have imagined. His daughter, Linda Johnson Rice, is now at the helm of JPC and after a few years of turmoil and fear for its future – including a suspension of the traveling society event and charity fundraiser, the Ebony Fashion Fair- she has brought in a team that is confident it can make Jet relevant in these times.
Jet became the must-go-to publication in 1955 when Emmett Till was lynched in Mississippi and his mother insisted on an open-coffin wake and funeral in his hometown, Chicago, an event that horrified, drew thousands to bear witness and, in great measure because of the photos in the magazine, inspired a young generation to become social workers and journalists and lawyers.
This new team, led by Lowe, has determined that theirs is increasingly a college-educated audience that uses the Internet at least three to four hours a week. She arrived at Johnson Publishing Company in 2007 after 19 years in the newspaper world to “take the Ebony and Jet brand to another level from an editorial standpoint.” Having grown up in a household of longtime subscribers to the magazines, she saw this as “a once in a lifetime chance to work with brands I grew up with.” Based on their own research, she concluded that, “The African-American community is wholeheartedly engaged with the Internet, and that’s where a lot of them go to get their information, particularly the younger generation. The printed product is not something they are likely to pick up any more.” But even older loyal readers of Jet want up-to- the-minute information and are turning to the Internet, she says.
The magazines, which have seen top editors leave in frustration in the last couple of years because of the financial situation and questionable editorial decisions, are being heavily marketed at deep discounts. Lowe says this is not a hail Mary desperation move but rather a strategy to attract a new audience. “Part of it is a way for us to use the rebranding of Jet and really appeal to a broader audience, a newer audience, a younger audience. This is a way we thought we could engage and attract people quickly by discounting the subscription – mostly, we hope, to the first time readers of Jet. It’s a strategic plan to do so.”
Acknowledging that there is competition, including from theGrio, she says: “We are positioning ourselves to be the go-to source that quickly delivers on what is the latest in news and entertainment.” Some of this may have been touched upon in mainstream media, but may not have been seen, heard or read by blacks. “We are sort of culling that information and putting it into one place that people can come to and read about what may be happening across the nation and the globe involving black folks.”
In addition to news, there will be a focus on women redefining beauty – so even people like me who would never make the old centerfold – have a chance! It will feature on “this living, breathing beast”, as Lowe refers to the Internet, the works of independent filmmakers and also nontraditional sports such as the combination martial arts/boxing/wrestling mix of the United Fighting Championship Federation that many young black men follow.
Jet has been hemorrhaging in the paid circulation department, though we all know that, as the journalist Sam Fulwood noted in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer on the magazine’s 50th anniversary in 2001 when the official circulation figure was 900,000 per week: “Those circulation figures are way too low because most people who read Jet don’t subscribe; they skim old, dog-eared copies that are passed along in barber shops, beauty parlors and doctor offices. Some media experts put Jet’s actual readership at 10 times the circulation.”
There once was a time when black America had room for robust newspapers like the Chicago Defender, the Pittsburgh Courier, the Baltimore Afro-American and the New York Amsterdam News – all publishing at once, all highlighting the issues of great import to people who were largely ignored in other media. Jet’s entry into a growing Internet world should add to, rather than subtract from, the opportunities to see who’s speaking truth to power – and just having fun.