I saw a Tweet not too long ago about the Baltimore Afro American newspaper celebrating its 120th anniversary and I immediately started thinking about Black newspapers and their place in this constantly changing landscape of news media.
As a former full-time journalist, I lament the day that newspapers became secondary to the internet (a change that was bound to happen), not only because it meant there was going to be some serious readjustment in terms of content, but the lengths of foolishness that newspaper management would eventually go through for page hits and to compete with TV and radio was going to be insane.
While newspaper corporations like Gannett, McClatchy and my most recent employer GateHouse Media can make these adjustments on the fly and not notice much of a drop in leadership, I’m always concerned for the few Black-owned and Black-serving media outlets left because they don’t, in most cases, have the resources.
And as the disparity in news coverage of African-American communities and neighborhoods continues to become ever more frustrating, Black news outlets still have a place in the communities they serve. But can they be creative and innovative enough to keep up with the times?
I honestly don’t have the answer to that question right now, but I still believe Black news media can thrive in the 21st century. There are enough issues and stories in our neighborhoods and cities that need knowledgeable and fair coverage and Black news outlets would be in prime position to do that.
Of course there is the money matter as most newspapers can’t even give away physical copies these days because of the internet and the Baby Boomer population becoming more tech savvy as the days go by. So the obvious solution is to closely watch what bigger corporations are doing in terms of video, podcasts and so on and try to put their own spin or style to it.
But will it be enough? Will it connect in communities where internet and modern technological access seems to be lagging behind other races? Will local businesses want to advertise with Black news outlets when the likelihood of picking up new customers from these areas is hopeful at best?
Of course time will tell, but as I think of the Afro American, the Philadelphia Tribune, Chicago Defender and other Black newspapers, their survival in this crazy game depends on upgrading and updating themselves to fit the times.