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Former White House social secretary Desirée Rogers named Johnson Publishing CEO

By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 11, 2010; C02

Desirée Rogers, the former White House social secretary, has been named chief executive officer of Johnson Publishing, the company announced Tuesday.

Rogers, 51, will oversee the day-to-day operations of the Chicago-based firm, which publishes Ebony and Jet magazines. Linda Johnson Rice, the daughter of company founder John H. Johnson -- who died in 2005 -- will continue as chairman.

As CEO, Rogers will focus on "aligning core business strategies for all brands," according to a company statement. That's a rather opaque way of saying that she will have to figure out how to take the legacy of Johnson Publishing, founded in 1945, and transform it into something viable in today's competitive media environment, in which a host of publications and Web sites have muscled in on territory it once owned.

"I believe that there will always be room for print publications, particularly those that are associated with specific audiences," Rogers said by e-mail. "I believe that these brands have an opportunity to expand their emotional ties beyond print into digital, entertainment, other media in a significant way.

" . . . I also think that it is a good time to have fresh eyes on the print business."

For generations, Johnson Publishing was the premiere media corporation focused on news and culture for and about African Americans. Its traveling style spectacle, "Ebony Fashion Fair," helped raise more than $50 million in scholarships for black students. And it launched the career of iconic model Pat Cleveland. Jet magazine famously published images of the disfigured corpse of Emmett Till, whose death helped fuel the civil rights movement.

Johnson remains the largest African American-owned publishing house, but like much of the established media, it has struggled to hold on to both readers and revenue. Under creative director Harriette Cole, who also served briefly as editor in chief, Ebony underwent an enormous redesign that brought a more modern look to the lifestyle magazine. Its profile rose thanks to coverage of Barack Obama's historic presidency and interviews with performers such as Prince and Michael Jackson -- one of the last before his death.

Despite the editorial changes, advertising plummeted. Cole left the company this summer. In June, Ebony hired a new editor in chief, and Rogers -- a longtime friend of Rice's -- came on board as a consultant.

Rogers left the White House in March. Her tenure there had been a rocky one. Although she helped launch the White House's successful Music Series, that was nearly overshadowed by her own press coverage in publications such as Vogue and WSJ magazine. The final blow came when a publicity-seeking Virginia couple turned up, uninvited, at the Obamas' first state dinner.

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