Magic Johnson in Talks to Buy Publisher of Ebony, Jet Magazines

Retired NBA star Earvin Magic Johnson is in talks to purchase Johnson Publishing Co., owner of Ebony and Jet, magazines that have documented African-American life for more than half a century.

“There have been discussions,” Eric Holoman, president of Los Angeles-based Magic Johnson Enterprises, said yesterday in an interview. “There’s no definitive agreement.” He declined to comment further.

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Johnson, 50, would fold the publisher into Magic Johnson Enterprises, said a person with knowledge of the discussions. The company he founded while a player with the Los Angeles Lakers has partnerships with Starbucks Corp., 24 Hour Fitness Worldwide Inc. and T.G.I. Friday’s Inc. Ad revenue at Ebony declined 38 percent to $35.5 million last year on a 39 percent drop in ad pages, according to Publishers Information Bureau.

Johnson Publishing’s Chicago headquarters would be included in the sale, said the person, who declined to be identified because talks are private. A purchase may require satisfying liens placed on the building by a creditor, the person said.

Linda Johnson Rice, chairman and chief executive officer of Johnson Publishing, declined a request for an interview, said Wendy Parks, a spokeswoman. Johnson Rice “has never talked to Magic Johnson with respect to his interest in buying” the company, Parks said yesterday.

Johnson Publishing was founded in 1942 by John H. Johnson, Linda Johnson Rice’s father. Ebony, the monthly magazine of features, the newsweekly Jet and the defunct Negro Digest chronicled African-American life when mainstream media paid little attention.

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Civil-Rights Era

Photographer Moneta Sleet Jr. was working for Ebony when he shot the Pulitzer Prize-winning image of Coretta Scott King and her young daughter at Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral in 1968. Jet stirred controversy in 1964, when it ran photos of 14-year- old Emmett Till in his coffin, beaten beyond recognition in a racially-motivated attack.

Ebony’s resonance was underscored when President-elect Barack Obama granted the magazine his first print interview following the 2008 campaign.

John H. Johnson died in 2005. His wife, Eunice Johnson, who ran the Ebony Fashion Fair Business, died last month. The traveling fashion show’s spring edition was canceled, the Tampa Tribune reported last month.

Magic Johnson led the Lakers to five National Basketball Association championships in the 1980s and is a co-owner of the team. He won the league’s Most Valuable Player award three times and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.

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