CommunityStacy M. Brown

Washington Informer Publisher Optimistic About Future After 55 Years

In an open letter to Washington Informer readers, the newspaper’s publisher Denise Rolark Barnes said the publication’s intention isn’t to swamp them with clutter but to keep them and all D.C. residents informed.

For 55 years, the Informer has kept the nation’s capital – mainly it’s African American communities – informed.

It’s a mission accomplished, evidenced by recognition awarded the weekly newspaper and the contributions Barnes and her family have made for more than a half a century.

“When my dad [Dr. Calvin Rolark Sr.] started the Informer in 1964, he wanted to publish a newspaper with stories for and about black people and to record our history from a local and positive perspective,” Barnes stated. “I worked side-by-side with him and observed his involvement and activism in the community. He wanted a newspaper that mirrored the issues he and others fought for.”

A Howard University School of Communications and Howard School of Law graduate, Barnes epitomizes black success and black girl magic.

When she took over as publisher after the untimely death of her father 25 years ago, Barnes made sure to implement a strategy that would uphold the values Dr. Rolark instilled – the newspaper had to remain community-oriented, and it had to continue to be the voice for the voiceless in the African American community.

Her community involvement included being president of AARP-DC, as well as additional volunteer service at the United Black Fund, Inc., the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., and several other community non-profit organizations.

Through The Washington Informer Charities, Barnes sponsors an annual Washington Informer City-Wide Spelling Bee, and she sits on the board of Events DC.

With the paper turning 55 years old, Barnes said she has to continue to move forward with the times. That includes recognizing that more people are getting their news online.

“Thanks to a grant Washington Informer Charities received from the D.C. Humanities Council, every issue of The Washington Informer in our archives will soon be digitized and made accessible to the public,” Barnes said.

“You will be able to go to our website and search back issues of The Informer to find articles and photographs that help tell the story about the African American contributions to the District of Columbia — and to the region — as told by The Washington Informer. We are thrilled to make this treasure trove available to the public finally,” she said.

While Barnes didn’t plan an elaborate celebration to mark the 55th anniversary of the Informer, she said she’s using this time to better position the newspaper to serve the community.

In her open letter to readers, Barnes said she and The Washington Informer decided to focus time, energy, and resources this year on making the publication a better newspaper serving the entire city and the region.

“We’re currently working on some wonderful initiatives that I hope you will pay attention to,” she shared. “Five years ago, we launched WI Bridge, a monthly cultural news-magazine targeting millennials in the DMV,” Barnes said.

“I’m proud and delighted to say The Bridge is published by my son, Lafayette Barnes, IV, along with a team of young and talented creatives and social media influencers who are excited about taking the Bridge to new heights. Don’t miss out on what they have planned in print, online and events,” Barnes said.

Another son, Desmond, is responsible for distributing the newspaper’s regular e-blasts.

“Children often follow the footsteps of their parents, and this is a family business,” Barnes said. “The Black Press is an old institution, so it’s crucial to find ways to make it attractive to the next generation.

“I didn’t mind doing things the way my father did them because that’s how I learned. However, Lafayette understands the difference between print and digital and what’s needed to keep both mediums relevant. He and his brother collaborate with a group of millennials that are experiencing tremendous success with WI Bridge.”

While Barnes said she loves bringing readers the print edition of The Informer each week, she noted that she must keep things real.

“We, too, are experiencing the impact of the fast-moving digital age, and we recognize many more readers prefer to get their news online,” Barnes stated. “So, for those who do, we are incredibly excited to announce our participation in a newspaper digital transformation initiative aimed at attracting considerably more resources that will allow us to expand and broaden our digital reach.

“That includes our website at www.washingtoninformer.com, our e-newsletters, and all of our social media pages. Like all media today, we, too, must explore new revenue-generating opportunities, and do so with our readers at the heart of this transformation.

“We want to offer a menu of services to local businesses or organizations seeking to reach a wider audience to promote their services and events,” she said.

When asked whether she’s optimistic about the future of The Informer, Barnes quickly responded with a resounding “yes.”

“We are excited about our 55th year. As in past years, we invite the public to participate in our annual events, including the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Walk and Parade in January, the annual Washington Informer Spelling Bee and Prince George’s Spelling Bee in the spring, and our 10th Annual African American Heritage Tour, to name a few,” Barnes said.

“We’re excited about this 55th year and looking forward to the many possibilities the future holds for readers of The Washington Informer.”

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Stacy M. Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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