While the Black Press celebrates 190 years, it’s impossible to ignore the African-American-owned newspapers that have the unique distinction of being in business for more than a century.
Organizers of the National Newspaper Publishers Association summer conference held at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center at the National Harbor in Maryland, made sure to honor those legendary publications and their owners.
Jim Washington, the publisher of The Dallas Weekly, an NNPA member newspaper that’s been publishing for more than 60 years, moderated the panel discussion that paid homage to publications like The Los Angeles Wave, which was founded in 1912; the Indianapolis Recorder (1895); the New Pittsburgh Courier (1907); The New Journal and Guide (1900); and the Baltimore Afro-American (1892).
The Ford Motor Company sponsored the panel discussion.
“It only makes sense that we are here to connect with these publications,” said Erin Howlette, the senior account director for UniWorld Group; in that position, Howlette focuses on targeted initiatives for the Ford Motor Company.
“I think it’s amazing that they’ve been in business for 100-plus years,” said Howlette.
Howlette spoke right before the panelists offered their thoughts on family-owned businesses and the success they’ve experienced in the Black Press.
“We have several components of this convention; legacy, innovation and empowerment and this is called ‘legacy,’” Washington said as he introduced the panel.
Pluria Marshall Jr., the publisher of eight newspapers in greater Los Angeles including the Wave, said that despite the paper’s longevity, it remains a battle to get folks to take notice.
“It’s interesting that you run across people that we all know and they can say they never heard of you,” said Marshall, who is also president and CEO of Marshall Broadcasting Group, one of the largest African-American owned television companies. “Somehow folks outside don’t know us and they ask whether we’re on the web and we’ve been on the web for a couple of decades.
Marshall continued: “It’s a constant struggle and I try to give whoever I’m talking with some reference point.”
Shannon Williams, president of the Indianapolis Recorder, said that being the caretaker of a historic Black newspaper remains a privilege.
“It’s a tremendous sense of pride. I always tell my staff that we’re documenting history,” said Williams, who also formed the Recorder Media Group, an in-house firm that provides various marketing and communications efforts, photography and event-planning services as well as brand development techniques for businesses and organizations.
“When the paper first started, there were bomb threats and journalists were beaten and threatened all of the time,” Williams said. “[Today], we have to continue to carry that mantle and be the voices of our communities.”
The New Pittsburgh Courier has earned a number of honors including the historic and coveted John B. Russwurm Trophy and the A. Philip Randolph Messenger Award, said Rod Doss, the editor and publisher of the newspaper.
“When we talk about the legacy of the Pittsburgh Courier, its tremendous history is unique across the country,” said Doss, a native of the “Steel City” and graduate of Pittsburgh Technical Institute.
Doss continued: “We stand on the shoulders of [Black Press legends] John B. Russwurm and Robert Sengstacke Abbot and, in the heyday of the Black Press, we had a legacy that was unparalleled,” he said, before noting how the Black Press survived and thrived despite attacks against it even by African-American journalists, who fled the Black Press for integrated mainstream publications. “But, I’m telling you, that the heyday is still right now.”
Brenda Andrews, the publisher of Virginia’s New Journal and Guide, said papers like hers, the New Pittsburgh Courier, the Chicago Defender and the AFRO, joined to make history during the eras of Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement.
“These publications were the ones who provided news for all of our communities. We sent correspondents to Europe to cover [World War II] and during that time, our newspapers were given that respect. We went beyond the call of duty to make sure that Black people were educated,” said Andrews. “Our brave predecessors told the stories of lynchings and other things and we were the targets of sinister plots [coordinated] by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI and the U.S. Postal Service, who were investigating us with the purpose of shutting us down.”
Jake Oliver, the publisher of the Washington AFRO and the Baltimore Afro-American said that when he got started as a publisher, there was a lot he needed to understand about the business, particularly being a Black newspaper.
“I needed to understand what they were doing and I needed to gain a historical perspective,” said Oliver, who earned a juris doctor degree in 1972 from Columbia University Law School.
“I had to develop a better sense of how to connect to the community,” said Oliver. “The fact is, we are around the world pumping out Black news and other parts of the globe want to know how we’re dealing with the issues facing the Black community here in America.”