Long before the Civil War, a group of free African-American men founded a publication called Freedom’s Journal. It was to be the first newspaper published in the United States by African-American journalists, starting in 1827. The objective of the newspaper, which was published in New York City, was to fight against the degradation of Black people and to call for an end to slavery.
The publishers of Freedom’s Journal conveyed a special perspective of the news of the day. When mainstream publications were actively condemning abolitionists who called for the end of slavery, the Journal’s writers took such views to task. They played an important role in helping to frame the public discourse on the topics of slavery and the role of people of African descent in America.
John Quincy Adams was president of the United States in the days of Freedom’s Journal. But the need for vibrant African-American media is just as pronounced in the age of Obama.
The fact of the matter is that coverage of African-American life is at best an afterthought for mainstream media. For some of the prominent newspapers in the country, coverage of events in London, Berlin or Tel Aviv is far more of a staple than reports of important developments in Bed-Stuy, Chicago’s South Side or South Central Los Angeles.
Black media have led the way in the coverage of the Trayvon Martin shooting and its aftermath. They have led the way in chronicling the scourge of stop-and-frisk police practices in New York City. The Black press has been an important source of information in the effort by Republican-controlled legislatures around the country to disenfranchise African-American voters.
They are the news outlets that continue to revisit Hadiya Pendleton’s tragic killing and the gun violence of which she was a victim — long after the national media have left for the next big story. They are the ones that help bring to prominence the tales of the so-called school-to-prison pipeline, in which young students, the overwhelming number of them Black, are reprimanded and even arrested by police for minor infractions.
Even on the less weighty issues of the day, Black-oriented media have demonstrated they are on the forefront. Let’s face it, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal or, for that matter, NBC or ABC are not going to provide news of the entertainment world that features up-and-coming Black artists. Black media, such as the Chicago Defender and New York's Amsterdam News and electronic outletss such as The Grio and BET.com are an invaluable means by which to get the pulse on the music and culture of communities that are often ignored and marginalized.
Just as Freedom’s Journal had its financial and other troubles – it closed within two years, publishing its last issue in 1829 — so, too, do the Black media organizations of 2013. The answer is for the public to be more supportive of these outlets and for the Black media organizations to find novel ways to present their coverage in more engaging and professional methods.
After all, a robust American media landscape takes all forms of players and should appeal to every realm of the country’s news and entertainment appetite, particular in this fast-paced information world. It only helps to tell a more balanced story of American life.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: Freedom's Journal)