Awaiting Another Top Editor, Essence Faces Identity Questions

Source: Tanzina Vega / The New York Times

Essence Communications, which has been without an editor in chief for its flagship publication since February, is said to be in the final stages of choosing a new leader for the magazine, the fifth such appointment in 13 years.

The new editor will be part of a healthy franchise that includes the Essence Festival, the brand’s annual entertainment event, but running the magazine — once seen as a lifestyle and beauty beacon for African-American women — may prove challenging.

While the festival has repeatedly drawn hundreds of thousands of people and attracted A-list performers like Beyoncé, Essence, the magazine, has faced increasing competition from Web sites aimed at African-Americans. The magazine, which is 43 years old, has been buffeted by the frequent leadership changes, including the completion of its purchase by Time 2005. That acquisition may now be contributing to one of Essence’s latest challenges: a growing sense among some readers, bloggers and media analysts that the magazine has lost its editorial direction.

“They’ve lost some of the specific focus, who their audience is and what they want to say to them,” said Noliwe M. Rooks, an associate professor of Africana studies at Cornell University and author of “Ladies’ Pages: African American Women’s Magazines and the Culture That Made Them.” “They keep doing more of the same as opposed to actually innovating.”

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