RIP: King Magazine

by

aaking_09_jun_tahiry_lores

So the thing is, KING magazine was always more than just a place where I wrote stuff.

Ten years ago, I had lunch with Datwon Thomas, a fellow editor. We had a friendly rivalry since I was at The Source and he’d recently left XXL to work for hookt.com. And every once in a while, we’d break bread to catch up and talk shop. Datwon told me about his plans to start a magazine, from scratch. A magazine for Black men. Something that would be irreverent, smart and witty.

He showed me the mock-ups.

“Oh,” I said, “and lots of tits and ass, too.”

Datwon laughed out loud.

“Well, yeah. That too.”

Datwon told me he was pitching the concept to Harris Publications, which published XXL.

I wished him well. But honestly, I didn’t think he had a chance.

Why on earth would Harris launch a magazine pitched by a fellow twenty-something writer with just a few more years of experience than I had?

It felt like the equivalent of me pitching a black women’s magazine directly to Clarence Smith and Susan Taylor.

I remember walking back to The Source after lunch and thinking to myself, that boy’s got some big dreams. But it ain’t gonna happen.

Shows how much I know.

The next time I spoke to Datwon, the preview issue of KING was making the rounds.

Dude was twenty-something years old. Came up with an idea for a magazine at a time when everyone was running away from print and flying to the Internets. He pitched it. They funded it. And KING was born.

I don’t care what your feelings are about the magazine. I don’t care about your they-objectify-women opinions. I really don’t.

Made my peace with KING a long time ago. Hell, I made my peace with men a long time ago.

In brief: they are visual creatures. We women are touchy-feely and emotional, (cue Wendy Williams’ soft and pink music). Men are different. On the planet of Mars, where they live, we are often reduced to boobs and butts. They will still love us when we’re old and gray and fat. (I think). But they’ll be thinking about her:

People, she's forty-two. 42. FORTY-TWO!!

People, she's forty-two. 42. FORTY-TWO!!

Anyway, KING magazine took off. I watched from the sidelines and copped every last issue. (Currently housed on my front porch, waiting for a permanent home somewhere).

I didn’t always like every issue. Sometimes I thought the covers were too risque:

yikes! hot picture. but is it over the top?

aww man. I have to leave my underwear on? Dang.

Or not risque enough:

jeesh. go hard or go home.

But if I take my clothes off, I'll have to put my lollipop down. No deal.

No matter, I always checked for the magazine. The editor-in-chief was someone I knew when I didn’t know anyone. And he was doing the damn thing.

Through Datwon, I met Jermaine Hall. They were working together at Hookt.com And Jermaine became my go-to writer when I needed to assign a story quickly.

When I left The Source, Jermaine took my spot, (and took care of The Biggie Belt).  And when Jermaine left The Source, he went to KING, eventually becoming editor-in-chief of the magazine when Datwon was named editorial director. Datwon is now editor-in-chief of XXL.

(Whew. Got all that?)

So my connection to KING has remained strong since its inception. And even though I’ve often wished I had a brown paper bag to slip it in when I bought it, I was usually proud of what they were putting out over there.

I did some good work under Jermaine’s direction and made some great memories. Five years ago, I hung out on the steps of a Harlem brownstone with Mekhi Phifer and talked fashion for a story in their Tag section. (I had just quit smoking. Mekhi rolled his eyes and passed me one of his Newports. I smoked it. Haven’t smoked one since. Told you that would be my last one Mekhi!)  I wrote a crazy story about a certain celeb that shall remain nameless that was so scorching and scandalous, we ended up not being able to run it. (Sigh.) My favorite story was The Baby Daddy Handbook, a collection of celebrity interviews, random factoids and trivia surrounding the life of the modern-day baby daddy. There were horror stories, (two words: Kirk Kerkorian), tips on taxes and navigating the family court system.

Proud of that story. (Though I’m still pissed at the typo in the title. Grrrr!)

The email I got last week that KING magazine was folding knocked me on my ass. I didn’t believe it. I went to Twitter, of all places. My boy Anslem had written something like: so I guess the sky really is falling. And I knew the rumors had to be true. I couldn’t bring myself to call Jermaine. If it was true, the last thing he needed was me blowing up his cell phone like the rest of the world.

The news threw me off in a way that made it impossible for me to address it here. Or anywhere. And not because I wrote for the magazine. But because I saw its birth. And even when I didn’t always agree with their mission statement, I always cheered on the staff, a collection of bright and intelligent men and women.

I went to Paris on a press trip years ago and one of my travel-mates was Sean Malcolm, a true sweetheart who worked as an editorial assistant at KING at the time. Bonsu Thompson, whom I’d known since he was a smart-aleck intern at XXL, had matured into an accomplished writer who wrote often for both XXL and KING.

A few years back, I spoke at Howard University and met a kid named John Kennedy. I met a hundred kids that day. But of course you don’t forget a kid named John Kennedy. Good kid. Bright eyed and smart. No surprise when he popped up as the editorial assistant at KING. Yet another reason to want to see them all do well.

Let’s keep it real.

You’re not going to find many magazines with more than a sprinkling of Black men on the masthead.

And you damn sure won’t find one in which the editor-in-chief’s picture each month showcases the best-dressed magazine editor in the country. (I’ll put Jermaine up against Jim Nelson any day of the week.).

Jim, you can't mess with me. Cheers.

Jim, you can't mess with me. Cheers.

And now. It’s a wrap.

I don’t know details. I haven’t spoken to anyone over there. And honestly, I don’t want to know. Don’t we know already? It’s a recession. Ads are coming in slow. Rate bases are being slashed. We’ve talked about this already. We all know what’s going down.

I just finished a story for KING that will be published in the last issue.

It’s a guide to coping with the recession.

RIP to KING. And much love and respect to Datwon Thomas, Jermaine Hall, Bonsu Thompson, Seannitta Parmer, Siobahn O’Connor, Matt Barone, Jozen Cummings, Adell Henderson, Thomas Golianopolous, Paul Scire, Laura Hatmaker and everyone else who put that magazine to bed, past and present.

Some people are cheering the end of KING.

I support their right to do so.

But I’m saddened to see the end of this magazine. It wasn’t always for me. It wasn’t supposed to be. And yes, I was conflicted by it.

But ultimately, it’s the end of (another) print magazine. It’s the end of a job for a lot of people I care for. I won’t weep for a lack of booty on the newsstands. But I will fiercely mourn the loss of another outlet for my work—and yours.

Datwon Thomas, founder. Jermaine Hall, editor-in-chief.

Datwon Thomas, founder. Jermaine Hall, editor-in-chief.

I interviewed Jermaine Hall several weeks ago. It’s still one of my top-rated stories. And one of my personal favorites. If you haven’t already, check it out.

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31 Responses to “RIP: King Magazine”

  1. Heather Says:

    FIRST!

    Well put Aliya.

    John Kennedy went to Howard with me and I was in a bidding with the editor of the campus paper for his music commentary. Which is how we met. I’ve been cheering him on from Vibe intern to proud King online editor. King was what it was. But like you pointed out, it gave a lot of talented Black writers work.

    These mag closures make me wonder about my future. I still consider myself a recent grad and the prospects of working for a niche publication relevant to Black culture appear slim. I wish the King staff well and hope for more bold innovators like Datwon so a sista can get some work! : )

  2. Luvvie Says:

    I’ll admit that when I heard “King” was folding, I did make a couple of jokes about what will happen with Trina & Meagan Good’s careers now that they don’t have a monthly magazine to be on. However, I didn’t think about it from the frame of another business (especially a Black-owned) going down the tube. On THAT notion, I’m not pleased. Now I feel bad :-S.

  3. la negrita Says:

    “These mag closures make me wonder about my future.” – Heather

    Exactly. Regardless of what anyone thinks of their content, magazines still employ people. It’s a lost job, and a lost outlet for an overlooked community (something I have to keep in mind when I don’t fret over the cancellation of a show like The Game. :-/) I mean, there have been some highly recognizable titles lately. I am still trying to get a foot in the door and I’m nervous as heck! I can only imagine how the vets feel. Today? KING. Tomorrow?

    Oy.

    *starts researching medical schools*

  4. Aliya S. King Says:

    @luvvie: well, not Black-owned. Stanley Harris, owner of Harris Publications, is as white as they come. I think Ebony/Jet may be the only national Black-owned publications. Anyone?

  5. la negrita Says:

    @Aliya,

    Is Black Enterprise Black-owned?

  6. Aliya S. King Says:

    @ la negrita: Yes, it is. Earl Graves and family.

  7. Michael Says:

    Great entry. A week ago I got an email from Matt Barone soliciting pitches and I thought to myself, “Finally. I’m going to toss some good pitches and at least one will finally be worth a bite.” Six hours later I found out via Twitter (John Kennedy’s actually) that King folded.

    Yikes. I always enjoyed the magazine and I’m sad to see another group of talented people lose their jobs.

    I think some of the criticism leveled against the publication is legitimate, but I’ve found that many of the people condemning King have never bothered to take the time to read it. :\

  8. jay1 Says:

    i really liked king, this is a shame. are they still gonna have king-mag.com?

  9. Timothy Says:

    wow, ashame… i hate to hear people lose out on work….I hope they all work it out in a positive way.

  10. Tanisha Says:

    I’m not shy about saying that I have been a King subscriber for years. Initially I subscribed because I wanted to know what types of things (aside from the obvious) black men were reading, wearing, and found funny. There were so many articles that I read that were so well written and very interesting as a writer myself. I’ve always been a masthead reader so knowing that writers I’d been following from Source and (or Sauce as EW likes to say) XXL made it even more appealing. I was sad to see it go, but I so admire Datwon for following his vision and see it grow into what became a place for black men to stimulate their visual selves and those other parts too. :) RIP King, you will be missed.

  11. Hanif Says:

    It’s time, it’s been time for the industry to start looking at the future of this thing of ours. The Newspaper industry is folding, the mag industry is folding, everybody and their mother can blog for free (no pun) so the web doesn’t seem to be the venue of choice, not if you looking to make money anyway. I say to my people, go take a photo journalism class, grab a Flip camera and be able to produce an audio-visual to anything you can type. The future is upon us. I’m sad to see King go.

    As a man I’m thanking the heavens they were able to squeeze that Tahiry issue out first. Way to go out with a bang.

  12. sadjourno Says:

    Aliya, like you (but to much less of a personal extent) I’m sad that our books are fading. I felt that about Emerge, Code, Vixen (I’m still waiting on my refund!)…it is scary that there are so few black-owned national pubs. There are four (that I’m sure of) since Essence was scooped my Time, Inc. — Black Enterprise, Upscale, Ebony/Jet and Sister to Sister. and BE is getting dangerously close to the line, though I don’t believe Mr. Graves Sr. will ever relinquish controlling interest in the company. The truth is, we have to dream big like Datwon. If we didn’t there would have been no Honey (I remember whe they were hawking the preview copy at FunkJazz Kafe in Atlanta before being scooped by Clinkscales and Co.). The magazines also have to evolve with the times. It took Ebony a very long-time, and, I hate to say it, but it wasn’t until Mr. Johnson passed that Linda Johnson Rice was able to implement some things that resulted in new energy (and new subscribers, me for one) being breathed into their book. It certainly should not have to take the death of a founder, or the continued demise of our books, to shock us into supporting one another. The fact that you even dropped money on King when you could have easily hit Datwon or Jermaine for comp copies speaks volumes. I have at some point either subscribed to or purchased from the newsstand every black magazine from American Legacy to Smooth. I’m cool on all the T&A, but I acknowledge the importance of the diversity of our voices in print. There are somethings I won’t support and I can’t say that I LOVE everything I read in these books, but I do encourage everyone to consider subscribing or copping our books on the newsstands. I troll the newsstands for new black books all the time. I listed the major wholly or majority owned black magazines above, but there are other black publications we should support as well, less they all disappear.

    Today’s Black Woman
    Uptown
    Essence
    Black Enterprise
    Upscale
    Black Men
    American Legacy
    Heart & Soul
    Sister to Sister
    American Legacy
    Ebony/Jet
    Network Journal
    Jolie
    The Green
    Smooth
    XXL
    Vibe
    J’Adore

    If I’m missing any, feel free to list them.

  13. la negrita Says:

    @sadjourno, funny that you mention Ebony. A professor of mine used to be an editor there and would always talk about how it needed to keep up with the times. He’d be like, “Really. Does anyone outside of the South care about Ms. Tougaloo??” LOL it was pretty funny. I wasn’t really an Ebony reader at the time so I didn’t have an opinion, but I agree that in general, magazines have to stay current. The tricky part is staying true to the mission while doing so.

  14. la negrita Says:

    Hey, does anyone read any international magazines targeted toward people of color? I was keeping an eye out on one for a while, but it’s hit or miss with my bookstore when it comes to the international titles. Plus, I’m not sure if they ran into production issues, because I hadn’t seen any updates to their site for a while. It’s called Colures (www.coluresmagazine.com) for anyone who’s interested (sorry fellas, it’s for us womenfolk). It would SO be my favorite magazine if it were here in the states!

  15. NakedWithSocksOn.com Says:

    R.I.P. (Rest in Print)

  16. The Rap Up » King’s Last Queens: Tahiry and Keyshia Cole Says:

    […] a bottle of Corona to Rap Radar and Aliya S. King] farkItButton(“King%26%238217%3Bs+Last+Queens%3A+Tahiry+and+Keyshia+Cole”, […]

  17. Gangstarr Girl Says:

    Aw man. This piece almost made me tear up. I’ve had the pleasure of working with the wonderful men you spoke of in this piece–not at King, but at the Harris umbrella (I was at XXL). I’m a recent Harris layoffee. It’s crazy man, really crazy. I appreciate this piece. Like you, I always appreciated King and was proud of the staff who put in work there. Aside from the t & a, it really was a smart and sometimes informative magazine. This hurts. It really does. Hopefully, it can be resurrected on the web. It’s not the same as an actual magazine but King’s presence is needed. It was the only t & a mag geared toward African-American men that was classy. That sounds like an oxymoron but it’s true. I challenge anyone to compare and contrast the content (from the text to the photos) with other mags of the same vein and see who comes out on top. King really did reign supreme. RIP.

  18. tonisha Says:

    how sad…more people out of work. I know alot of the fellas will be unhappy …

  19. Brian G. Says:

    Aliya,

    Is this (Tahiry) the last issue?
    The one with Stacey Dash is still my favorite!!

    R. I. P. King

  20. Aliya S. King Says:

    Don’t ask me how I could forget UPSCALE, a magazine I write for damn near every month. I believe Upscale is fully owned by Bernard Bronner and his wife Sheila.

  21. paul cantor Says:

    RIP King

  22. Tremayne Taylor Says:

    RIP KING
    Hopefully the staff will be able to take their talents to other organizations and prosper… I moved to New York and started 106 and Park with BET.. Once that die out and the offices were taken over by Viacom.. I took my talent elsewhere..

  23. Anonymous Says:

    Cathy Hughes owns GIANT, as well as Blackplanet and 50+ radio stations around the country. Radio One is black owned.

  24. lchecks Says:

    RIP King! I learned a lot from my editor there (Thanks Thomas!) and always got so much response to the stories I wrote for them. Love it or hate it, people were paying attention.

  25. Aliya S. King Says:

    @anonymous: Yes, you’re right about Giant.

  26. Southern_Lady Says:

    Wow, I didn’t know Hughes owned GIANT. I was just saying to myself the other week that I need to subscribe to more publications like UPTOWN and Upscale (I can’t find a lot of these mags at the bookstore) to improve my writing skills. I didn’t stop to think about their livelihood. I’m sad to see KING go, too. I will admit I used to read a few issues. It was a good magazine. Men like what they like. Datwon found a demographic and made sure to please them.

  27. clove Says:

    Aliya, I don’t think anyone could’ve said or wrote that better. Almost brought me to tears at work… I’m a huge fan of KING and was just working on my first feature for them, shux. I agree that many of those who criticize the mag and those who commented on gawker are people who’ve never opened KING and really are just judging the book by its cover (and a lot of them are white people sorry to say, who already have their preconceptions)

    I do have hope that it’ll relaunch, maybe under a different company, once the economy improves and people start believing in magazines again. I still think there’s a lane. A friend of mine told me Details once folded and later relaunched and of course there’s examples of other mags that have also come back. so hopefully it’s not goodbye, just see you later.

  28. clove Says:

    *said or written. yikes

  29. Bridgette Says:

    Dope post.

  30. Antenna Mag X Smart Design « Slang Rap Democracy Says:

    […] is able to weather the storm. Antenna is part of Harris Publications, which recently shuttered King Magazine and whose Executive Publisher, Johnathan Rheingold, recently resigned; depending on who you ask. […]

  31. Claire Says:

    Great post. I’m sad to see it go.
    The demise of publications like this makes me fear for my future, like one of the first commenters said. Unlike her I’m not quite neophyte, but have fiercely taken to the web and am taking notes from top blogs who have been able to parlay their skills into other industries (publicity, consulting, etc).
    I ask myself every day: is it the recession or is it that magazines are really done? In 10 years we’ll know the answer, but for now I’m taking risks, and sharpening up my HTML and video editing skills.
    Claire
    Shout to Jozen!

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