The African American and Black legacy press in the U.S. has a long and storied history, dating back to the abolitionist weekly, Freedom’s Journal, launched in 1827. Today nearly 160 publications, based in 29 states and Washington D.C., reach 20.1 million readers online. Papers like the Atlanta Daily World, the Baltimore African-American, the Los Angeles Sentinel, the Philadelphia Tribune, the Cleveland Call and Post, the New York Amsterdam News, the Norfolk Journal and Guide and the Jackson Advocate have “left indelible marks on Black America,” with their coverage of Black politics, art, civil rights and more, write Angela Ford, Kevin McFall and Bob Dabney of the Obsidian Collection in a report on the Black press just released by the Democracy Fund.
But those publications are facing challenges. Like most newspapers, Black publications have suffered a severe loss of advertising dollars. But the loss of cigarette print advertising has hit Black publications especially hard. Younger audiences have been drawn to digital-only sites such as Blavity, The Root and The Grio, and capital has been in short supply for traditional publishers to switch to digital or enhance their digital presence.
The report makes a number of recommendations. A new think tank focused on journalism for and in African-American communities could “identify interesting reporting techniques, technologies and business models, as well as editorial innovations,” with a particular lens on the African American experience. Further, the report suggests that syndicating national news could be helpful, and they cite the formation of a news bank or news wire called Black Press USA, available to members of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) for reuse. They urge support for training and learning for Black journalists. And they note the importance of digitizing the rich archives of Black publications, which would not only protect that heritage for future generations but also offer a potential revenue stream.
Read the full report here.