Last month, we learned that the editor of Essence Magazine, Constance White, was leaving the publication after a little over two years. Initially, it was reported that she left the publication (not to mention we hear they did a number of cuts), but months later, she is singing a different tune. In short, in an interview with Journal-isms she says she was fired. Referring to when she began at Essence, she explained:
“I went in there with passion and excitement and high expectations. It wasn’t what I expected at all.
“What needs to happen is the reader is getting lost and the reader has to be at the center. To make their world smaller is unacceptable. A lot of the readers have sensed what is happening. I was not able to make the creative hires that needed to be made. When was the last time you saw Essence in the community advocating for or talking with Black women? No more T-shirts with a male employee’s face on it being distributed at the [Essence] Festival.”
So how did she get axed? Constance says that things came to a head in January.
“My boss said, ‘you know what? It’s time to go.’ I was asked to leave my position. I asked, ‘Was it something we can discuss, or has the decision been made?’ She said, ‘The decision has been made.’ I had a certain point of view about black women being central to this magazine. The boss didn’t agree with me, and the president [Michelle Ebanks, president of Essence Communications Inc.] didn’t agree with me. It became an untenable situation.”
Constance also suggests that Susan L. Taylor didn’t voluntarily leave, but was also forced out, for attempting to push the magazine further.
“This is a magazine where the central DNA was laid down by Gordon Parks. How is it that from 2000, when Susan [L. Taylor, longtime editor] left — she was pushed out — we have had about five editors, including two acting editors, yet Essence continues to decline? So where’s the problem? And the editors are the black women. ‘They are disposable. Let’s keep changing them.’ The point is, it didn’t start with me. If I can make a difference, I’d like to. If no one speaks up, it’s possible it won’t end with me.”
And although she was forced out, Constance says she hopes nothing best for the magazine and it’s future, targeted African American women. She still insists that lots of work has to be done.
“There has to be a come-to-Jesus moment when people say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do and here are the right people to do it. We are a very valuable audience. In my farewell speech I asked my team to present to management what needs to happen at Essence to ensure its survival because they know. Essence needs stability and the brand needs a leader with a vision. Black women are social leaders, cultural leaders, we are aspirational and spiritual. Black women deserve the best. Essence is the last place where black women should be demeaned and diminished.”
Essence has yet to respond to Constance’s comments. If you’re an avid reader of Essence, what are your thoughts on the magazine? And does Constance have a point? Or are you not a fan of the mag? [Maynard Institute]