Ebony Chief Visits Lehman
By Lennin Reyes
A woman with a colorful skirt and brown hair brings life to the dimly lit Studio Theatre at Lehman College. She is Ebony Magazine’s editor-in-chief, Amy DuBois-Barnett, who has come to share some of the lessons she has learned in the field of journalism.
DuBois-Barnett explains that she took a circuitous route to get to her current post. After majoring in French and political science in college, Dubois-Barnett did a two-year stint as a financial analyst on Wall Street. “This was a stop-gap job in order to get me to law school,” she says. While she was unhappy at this Wall Street job, a life-changing event occurred — the passing of her mother. This moment changed the way DuBois-Barnett thought about her work. “I realized that this was my life, no one was going to save me,” she says.
After this epiphany, DuBois-Barnett quit her job on Wall Street and earned a degree in fashion advertising. She went to Lord and Taylor, where she became an assistant buyer. “While I liked fashion, doing fashion around the clock gave me a different perspective on the field,” she says.
She spent some time in Ireland studying literature, before returning to the United States to attend Columbia University. Upon graduation, she wrote for several sites in the midst of the dot.com boom of the mid-1990s. DuBois-Barnett also worked for a small fashion company, where she would learn two major life lessons. “The first came from my editor. He told me to write my articles to relate to regular people,” she said. “The second was to work my job, and the jobs of others, to perfection. I did my job with a smile and asked, ‘what else can I do?’” Eventually, her tenacious work ethic led to her becoming the managing editor of the site.
At an award show, DuBois-Barnett met Monique Greenwood of Essence Magazine, who later asked her to work in the magazine’s fashion/beauty department. She was eventually promoted to run the lifestyle department.
By 1999, DuBois-Barnett’s course took another turn for the better thanks to a meeting with Vanguarde CEO Keith Clinkscales. “As soon as I saw him in the hallway, I had to shake his hand,” she said. DuBois-Barnett wondered if she didn’t have the courage to do so. “I could’ve easily not done something.” This impromptu connection led to an editor-in-chief post at Honey Magazine. “You can’t be afraid to knock new doors down in order to continue pursuing your dream,” she said.
She next moved on to Teen People Magazine, where she was the first female black editor-in-chief, and then to Harper’s Bazaar, where she worked with Glenda Bailey. DuBois-Barnett speaks of Bailey’s high expectations. “She did not want good stories on her magazine, she wanted perfection,” she says. “Until I met Bailey, I thought my expectations were the highest.”
DuBois-Barnett then received a letter from Johnson Publishing, who wanted her to work as Ebony Magazine’s editor-in-chief. She said she would accept on one condition — that she be allowed to remake the magazine. “I wanted to revamp Ebony in order to cater to the younger demographic, while keeping it relevant in the process,” she says. DuBois-Barnett did this by changing the long-time logo of Ebony, creating a wellness section to compete with rival O Magazine and revamping the website to create a softer feel for the new generation. “I also added pictures of Ebony Magazine in years past. Many of the younger readers enjoy them as much as their older counterparts.”