Historic Black Newspapers Are Struggling as Readers Turn to the Web

Staunch civil rights advocates and trusted chroniclers of African-American life, such as the Chicago Defender, face mounting financial trouble.

Posted: 10/26/2011 05:45 PM EDT
Filed Under Economy

Another historic Black-owned newspaper has let some of its own go.

 

The executive editor, news editor and other staffers of the Chicago Defender were laid off this week as one of the nation’s oldest Black-owned newspaper tries to stay afloat.

 

The newspaper is months behind on its rent and, in response, was forced to lay off three of its staff. Of those given pink slips were the only two editors left of the diminished staff of 18 and an accounts receivables staffer. Additionally, the paper’s only photographer was moved from full- to part-time.

 

“We’re facing the same struggles as everyone else,” publisher and president Michael House told the Chicago Sun-Times.

 

The 106-year-old weekly isn’t the only African-American newspaper trying to stay afloat. The New York Amsterdam News  suffered a drop in circulation of 44 percent in just one year, from 2009 to 2010.

 

Although Black newspapers are being forced to lay off their staff or cut down their publications, the cuts are being felt at print outlets nationwide. In 2011 alone, over 3,500 layoffs and buyouts have occurred at U.S. newspapers, according to Paper Cuts, an industry website that has been tracking newspaper layoffs since 2007. 

 

Where are readers going? To the surprise of no one, the answer is online, says the Pew Research Center.

 

More than a third of African-Americans reported that they get most of their news on the Internet, a Pew study found, making digital news the second-most-turned-to source, after television.

 

Additionally, Blacks are more socially active online than other ethnic groups. Twenty-two percent of Blacks created or worked on their own online journal or blog, in comparison to 14 percent of whites and 13 percent of Latinos.

 

African-Americans have been turning to online news sites such as BET.com and theRoot.com — founded in 2008 by Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.

 

Still, the Chicago Defender and other papers continue to soldier on.

 

“We have no intentions of closing,” House said. “In terms of layoffs, it’s strictly based on some realignment of duties and trying to do things that will help us meet our monthly obligations.”

 

He is upholding a rich journalistic tradition. For years, especially during the civil rights era, Black newspapers were the sole voice of Black citizens.

 

“We didn't exist in the other papers. We were neither born, we didn't get married, we didn't die, we didn't fight in any wars, we never participated in anything of a scientific achievement,” said the 1918-born journalist Vernon Jarrett in the PBS documentary The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords. “We were truly invisible unless we committed a crime. And in the Black press, the Negro press, we did get married. They showed us our babies when born. They showed us graduating. They showed our Ph.D.s.”

 

Losing those papers would leave a void that may never be completely filled.  

 

 

To contact or share story ideas with Danielle Wright, follow and tweet her at @DaniWrightTV.

 

 

 

 

 

(Photo: Matthew Staver/Landov)

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