Breonna Taylor replaces Oprah on the cover of O magazine

Appeals for prosecution against the officers involved in the police shooting of Breonna Taylor have grown with the support of several prominent figures, including Oprah Winfrey.

This week, Winfrey paid for 26 billboards across Kentucky, one for each year of Taylor’s life. And one illustration by Breonna Taylor through Alexis Franklin graced the cover of O, Oprah magazine’s September issue, marking the first time in the magazine’s 20-year history that it did not feature Winfrey on the cover.

Kentucky Attorney General met Taylor’s family to express condolences this week, five months after Taylor was fatally shot by Louisville police officers in her apartment during a flawed search. Prosecutors have not charged any of the officers involved.

Oprah has said that if she could, she would march in the streets with Black Lives Matter protesters and that this action is her form of protest. The COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the murders of Taylor and George Floyd have prompted magazine staff to act, says Arianna Davisdigital director at Oprah Magazine.

“That moment felt so urgent,” she says. “We can’t let these names continue to be just hashtags on social media or be dying news cycles.”

A Breonna Taylor billboard in Kentucky. (Maxwell Mitchell)

The staff discussed how to continue this conversation using the magazine’s platform. The team’s visual research editor suggested putting Taylor on the cover — an idea the editor and Winfrey loved, Davis says.

The September issue also includes content such as a letter written by Winfrey about her conversations with Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, and a feature on white women facing white privilege for the first time. This moment of racial reckoning seemed like the right time for the magazine to start facilitating those conversations, she said.

Although the magazine did not receive comment from any Kentucky officials, locals and people on social media expressed their appreciation for the added pressure, she said.

The day after the billboards went up, the state attorney general tweeted about Taylor and the investigation for the first time in weeks, she said. Then, a week later, the attorney general met with Taylor’s family. Davis says she doesn’t think it’s a coincidence.

“I can’t say that we are directly responsible for this, of course,” she says, “but I hope we were able to put a little more pressure on a situation that should have caught his attention a long time ago. ”

Oprah Magazine will stop printing monthly after this year. The decision to do a drastically different cover wasn’t about the magazine ending its print run, Davis says, but rather about Winfrey and the staff wanting to make a strong statement.

The feel will be different for the magazine in 2021, perhaps through special issues that feature more topical stories, she says. Oprahmag.com launched in 2018 and the team focused on building its digital presence through the website and social media.

“I think there’s definitely more room for us to continue to grow in this direction, both in digital and also in print, whatever that means,” she says.

A call for justice is at the heart of that decision, but it’s also a strategy to reach and connect with an audience that didn’t grow up on Oprah, Davis says.

When she left Refinery29 to join the Oprah Magazine team as site director in 2018, she says some of her colleagues said they didn’t know much about Winfrey. This shocked Davis, who grew up watching “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

Although the new generation may not be as familiar with Winfrey, young people identify with her sensitivity and the values ​​of self-care and “living your best life,” Davis says. This gives the magazine a chance to connect with young readers through social media.

“We were able to really, I think, get that Breonna Taylor coverage, make sure people knew what we were doing. But it also led us to put up billboards in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky,” she says. “And so I think digital just allowed us to expand the Oprah brand in a lot of ways.”


Christina Kim produced this story and edited it for broadcast with Tinku Ray. Allison Hagan adapted it for the web.

Amanda P. Whitten