Angela Burt-Murray, editor at Essence magazine for the last five years, "has announced her plan to leave her post and relocate with her family to Atlanta," John Huey, editor-in-chief of Time Inc. told staff members on Friday.
"We are beginning our search for a new editor, but in the interim, Sheryl Tucker, former executive editor of Time Inc., has agreed to serve as acting editor-in-chief. Sheryl, along with Marcia Gillespie, former editor-in-chief of Essence, will assist in the search and selection of a new top editor," he said in a memo.
"When Angela became editor of Essence, she was charged with the task of taking the brand into a new era. She set about building an editorial team that was committed to the traditional mission of Essence and capable of evolving the brand in a quickly changing media world.
"Under her leadership, Essence’s Barack Obama cover became the best-seller in the magazine’s history and Essence hired its first Washington Correspondent and Africa Bureau Chief. Angela created Essence’s first-ever news and relationships sections, the Essence Book Club, published three books and launched the first Essence Hot Hair special issue. Her reinvention of the Essence Music Festival Seminar Series now draws over 200,000 attendees each year.
"Angela and her team can take pride in the work they have done together on the magazine — the recent redesign, new features, and important stories such as the recent pieces profiling Black women serving in the military in Afghanistan, a three-part education series and an investigation into child sex trafficking."
More recently Burt-Murray drew criticism for hiring a white fashion director, Ellianna Placas, but Burt-Murray stuck by her decision. The flap provided a hint that not all was going smoothly internally.
Essence has weathered the recession better than other African American-oriented magazines.
For 2010, according to the Publishers Information Bureau, "Black Enterprise, Ebony, Essence and Jet were down a collective 18 percent in ad pages through the first quarter — about double the industry average," as Jason Fell reported June 17 for Folio. "Time Inc.'s Essence, meanwhile, reported the smallest decline: -0.3 percent."
For the first six months of this year, Essence showed only a 2.4 percent decline in circulation, to 1,066,482, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation.
Before she took a recent buyout, Sheryl Hilliard Tucker was executive editor of Time Inc., working closely with Time Inc.'s editor-in-chief, helping to oversee the editorial content of some 125 magazines, according to her bio.
A veteran of the magazine business, Tucker was deputy editor of Health magazine, executive editor of Money, and editor-in-chief and vice president at Black Enterprise, among other positions. She has also edited several books.
Burt-Murray had been at Essence from 1998 to 2001 and was executive editor of Teen People when she was named Essence executive editor in 2005.
She arrived shortly before Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, and the magazine extended outreach to the victims and strove to return the Essence Music Festival back to New Orleans. It did so in 2007 after staging the event in 2006 in Houston. Then-Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, now mayor of New Orleans, said the festival draws about 200,000 visitors over four days and has a $130 million to $150 million impact.
Burt-Murray wrote to readers in the November 2005 issue, referring to longtime editor Susan Taylor:
"The first time I walked into Susan Taylor's office seven years ago, it was for a staff meeting. It was my first week on the job as a fashion-and-beauty writer, and I had no idea what to expect. When Susan arrived she immediately got down to business, guiding us through a list of housekeeping details related to the current issue. Then she began to talk about what she called 'the sacred mission of the magazine' — to serve Black women and Black people, and to give voice to our community. Her words made me feel that I was part of something bigger than myself, and I felt proud to be working for an organization that put our people first. . . .
"As I settle into my new position during this eventful time, I appreciate more than ever what Susan Taylor expressed so passionately in that staff meeting years ago: We are, each of us, here to serve, to give Black women and our community a way to move forward. We're here to tell the stories of ordinary sisters who have overcome extraordinary odds and, of course, to speak the truth to those who most need to hear it. As we embark on the next stage of this journey together, please let me know what's on your mind and how we can better serve you in the days ahead."