By Tiffany C. Ginyard, AFRO Managing Editor, email@example.com
This week, the AFRO concludes its special Black History Month coverage “Honoring the Black Press: Past and Future.”
In week one, we recognized the legacy of the Black Press over the course of two centuries and the social and political context in which it was born, highlighting places on the timeline where it’s voice have heard the loudest and with the greatest impact.
In week two, we looked at highlights in American history when the Black Press was there to capture the scene, unpack the story, and deliver the truth. We were reminded of the warrior spirit of the Black journalist. We remembered our professional responsibility as well as our obligations to our community.
In week three, we honored our BBWs (Beautiful Black Women) for their relentless commitment to justice and equality through storytelling.
A guiding principle of all journalism is to tell the story without becoming the story. For the Black Press it goes even deeper. While Black journalists retain the required measure of objectivity, we can never divorce ourselves from the reality of our existence on this planet. So, Black journalists must be the truth that we tell.
In this final week, we celebrate how far we’ve come, acknowledge where we are, and make note of what it will take to forge forward.
“From hot type, to cold type, to digital, the AFRO has been at the forefront of the ever-changing media landscape for 126 years,” says Frances “Toni” Draper, publisher and CEO of the AFRO-American Newspapers. “Today, we offer a wide variety of platforms to get the word out, including a robust array of social media products. However, our basic mission of championing our people, our causes, our hope, dreams and aspirations remains strong–likely stronger than it ever was. Black lives have always mattered and continue to matter to us.”
To conclude this series, we talk to Black male journalists, stewards of America’s truth, about how they perceive their individual role in the collective work of the Black Press, the state of the Black Press today, and the future of its reach among its own community.
Dorothy Boulware, former AFRO managing editor contributed to this article.
Anthony Wilson, lead instructor, NABJ Multimedia Short Course, NC A&T University, and
Anchor/Reporter for ABC11 in Greensboro, N.C.
Anthony Wilson (Courtesy Photo)
“As a native Baltimorean who remembers the twice a week publication of the Afro, I’m happy to provide some quotes you might consider useful.
“Going back to the days when Wiley Daniels was the only brother Baltimore viewers could watch anchoring daily, the men and women who sit in those chairs have understood the expectations of news consumers who look like us. We’re role models, of course, but we’re also representing the community’s concerns in editorial meetings while sharing information about openings in our newsrooms.
“Objective reporting is the goal for journalists who are not editorial staff, but many who support Black owned outlets expect them to take sides on issues that concern the African-American community(for example, the constantly evolving Smolett developments).
“That said, to paraphrase a metaphorical observation about relative cause and effect, if the newspaper industry has a cold, the Black press is battling pneumonia. Ad dollars are shrinking, which affects the salaries journalists can expect from media, and some of them choose to go where the money seems to be. But the tide could be turning now, as so called mainstream media trim staffs with layoffs and early retirement offers and experienced Black journalists consider their options.
“At best, the Black press absolutely continues the mission established back in 1827 by ‘Freedom’s Journal.’ The challenges today are money and access to the potential audience. Those who prefer print media as a primary source for news are aging just as many papers are shrinking, physically and editorially. Some of the businesses that traditionally advertise in print media are hurting, too, and that affects the amounts they spend with the Black press. And we’re now a couple of generations in with an audience that expects access to news and information online, for free.
Social media are definitely where today’s Black audience gathers today. We are, and we look for, much more than ratchet video clips and gossip…although the interest in the lifestyles of so called stars remains a consistent driver of online activity and engagement.
We who continue to support our legacy media hope publishers and editorial staff can find the right mix, one that can make the Black press in general and the AFRO in particular a multigenerational, multimedia must read. We can get very real with each other while occupying a mutually agreed comfort zone: a church, a club, a gym, a hair salon or a barber shop. The former Johnson Publishing brands are struggling with that challenge now, especially after the current owners of Ebony were late with payments to freelance writers. Other members of the Black press have a unique opportunity now to bridge that gap, and continue the necessary work as griots and moderators of the ongoing conversations within the Black community.
Ron Harris, former managing editor of the Howard University News Service and former managing editor of the Afro-American Newspapers.
Ron Harris (Courtesy Photo)
“As an African-American journalist, someone who comes from a community that has dealt with injustice and inequity for its entire existence on this continent, I am extremely attuned to and drawn to changing that reality for African-Americans, other historically oppressed populations and other Americans as well. Consequently, I have spent my career reporting and writing stories that expose inequities in American society, health care, education, law enforcement, jobs, culture and politics, as well as seeking solutions those problems.
“With a handful of of notable exceptions — a few large newspapers and cable news networks — most media, including the Black press, are in decline and struggling to survive in the face of a new economic paradigm created by technological advances that have shifted how Americans get their information. However, if the Black press, which to some degree has been in economic decline for decades, aggressively applies innovation to new technology, this can be a time of invigoration. In many ways, social media and the web level the playing field for the Black press, allowing it to be more timely as well as provide readers and viewers a broader pallet of information and to focus our attention in a way mainstream media does not.
As for now, Black news outlets have not scratched the surface of the possibilities of social media to engage the African-American community. The key is to broaden its audience. Right now, its audience skews too old. It has to create a newsroom driven by young journalists under the tutelage of more experienced professionals that will be much more creative and innovative. The ideas and the innovation will come from youth and those willing to embrace new idea and new formats. While not abandoning the valuable lessons of the past, they will divine a new way of delivering the information our community so desperately need.”
Dwayne Wickham, dean of Morgan State University’s Global School of Journalism and Communications
DeWayne Wickham (Courtesy Photo)
“The mission of the American Black Press hasn’t changed much in its 192-year existence. It continues to be that of an advocate for racial equality, racial justice and the uplifting of the black race.
”The current social and digital media platforms, like the penny press was when Freedom’s Journal was first published in 1827, are delivery systems by which news and information are transmitted to people. Throughout history, purveyors of news and information had to master these delivery systems to reach an audience. And I expect the Afro American Newspapers will continue to do this.
“The greater challenge to the Afro American, and other black newspapers, is to maintain the ability to research and report news and information of importance to black folks in a timely fashion. They cannot be an empty vessel and survive for very long. While the challenge of hiring and retaining skilled journalists is not unique to the black-owned newspapers and their digital offshoots, it is a more critical concern for them because of their special mission. So, black newspapers must aggressively pursue black journalists to staff their newsrooms. And they have to continue to do the things that made them an indispensable part of black life in America for more than a century. They must faithfully tell the stories about black folks that most other news organizations underplay, or ignore. They must do more reporting, and less repeating of news.
“And most important, they must continue to speak truth to power.”