and Michael Z. Muhammad

Blacks launch boycott against paper for unfair coverage

Community activist Bucky Birts burned a copy of the Daily News as protesters closed down North Broad Street during a press conference and rally.

PHILADELPHIA (–The Black community here is rising up in protest over the continued negative portrayal of Blacks in the media, calling for editorial management changes or the total dissolution of the Philadelphia Daily News. The newspaper is the target of a growing boycott, rallies and demonstrations in the streets. 

Organizers are demanding the end of what they call “tabloid terrorism” against the Black community; and they are working toward the establishment of a replacement daily newspaper run by the Black press.


“If daily newspapers, television and radio were doing their jobs, there wouldn’t be these problems,” said George E. Curry, editor in chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service, “but the reality is they’re not doing their jobs.  They have never done their jobs and I suspect will never do their jobs.

“They don’t show us (Black community) in totality.  They show us either entertaining, playing sports or being accused of a crime.  They only show a small segment of our community,” he said.

The displeasure with the White-owned media’s portrayal of the Black community culminated last summer when the Aug. 22 cover of the Daily News showed mug shots of 17 Black, Latino and Asian murder suspects under a headline that read, “Fugitives Among Us.” The Black community fumed and the Coalition for Fair News Coverage (CFNC) was born.

According to coalition co-founder Shamsud-Din Ali, imam of the Philadelphia Masjid, the cover “gave the false impression that murder, which we of course object to, is only committed by people of color.” Organizers began to poll the Black community about their sentiments, he said.

“We’ve seen this behavior from the Daily News for over 20 years and we’re tired of it,” explained coalition co-founder and spokesman Bruce Crawley.  “We demanded the resignation of the editor, Zachary Stalberg, and managing editor Ellen Foley (who were) responsible for the cover.  We got a letter back from Publisher Robert Hall saying they wouldn’t fire these people, so on September 9, we started a boycott of the Philadelphia Daily News.”

The Black community was not the only one upset by the story. The paper printed letters from other readers expressing their irritation with the story. “I am White, and I was totally offended because I know how some White people think. This just adds to the racism and prejudice,” wrote one reader.

Since then, with more than 100 community, business, civic, grassroots and religious organizations backing them, organizers have demonstrated in front of the Daily News.  In addition, they are running an ad campaign in the Black press promoting the six Black newspapers serving the city.

“People began to ask us, ‘if we don’t read the Daily News, what should we read?’ We told them to consider the Black press,” said Mr. Crawley. 

The six papers–the Philadelphia Tribune, the Philadelphia New Observer, the Philadelphia Sunday Sun, the Black Suburban Journal, Scoop and the Neighborhood Leader–have a combined readership of 1.2 million people.

The organizers are running an ad in each of the papers, advertising the names and phone numbers of each of the Black newspapers. The ad reads, “More than 1.2 million readers every week get the truth about our community from the Black Press.” This unified effort is unprecedented and has the publishers looking at other ways they can collaborate in the future.

With the launching of the ad campaign growing, the coalition continued to try and negotiate with the Daily News. But instead of trying to work with the coalition to resolve their issues, organizers said the Daily News once again offended the Black community with a disrespectful Nov. 5 obituary of Edwina Baker, a beloved political activist.

As a result, the boycott against the paper reached a flaming pitch during a press conference and rally held on Nov. 19 where the paper was literally burned and Broad Street in North Philadelphia was shut down during the noon hour.  The activists have called for the establishment of a Black daily newspaper.

Gathering under a mural of the late Pennsylvania State Senator Roxanne Jones at Broad and Clearfield, the close-knit band of community organizations expressed their anger. Press conference participants included Marilyn Jewett, spokesperson for State Representative W. Curtis Thomas; Donald “Ducky” Birts, Philadelphia Branch NAACP; Sacaree Rhoades, African Daughters of Fine Lineage; and Rev. William King, Calvary United Church of Christ.

Mr. Crawley told The Final Call that his organization is no longer dealing with representatives of the paper. Instead, a letter has been sent to Tony Ridder of the Knight-Ridder, Inc., which owns the Daily News and the Philadelphia Inquirer, expressing the disapproval of Blacks toward the paper. He also said there are 42 ministers that have demanded the paper’s removal from the public schools. If not, they’ll march on the school district, he said.

Boycott organizers feel the momentum of the boycott is growing, but still are concerned that the word is spreading slowly in the streets of Philadelphia to the very people who need to hear it. Coalition member Rodney Muhammad, the Delaware Valley Regional Minister for Minister Louis Farrakhan and minister of Philadelphia’s Muhammad Mosque #12, told The Final Call he is concerned that the boycott has not taken on the kind of fire in the Black community that it needs. He has suggested to the coalition that on the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. something be done citywide to dramatize and educate the public on the action against the newspaper.

“The Daily News really does not serve us in a way that helps to unite the city. We think it is more of a divisive tool. It keeps parties hostile one towards another. We feel the Daily News would be better served in the city of Philadelphia if it’s put to rest,” Min. Muhammad said.

Black daily needed

“If the African American community in Philadelphia is not getting the kind of news they want from two daily newspapers, there is a void to be filled by having a Black daily newspaper,” said Mr. Curry. “It’s not about delivering breaking news, which dailies no longer do.  By the time people read the newspaper, they’ve already heard about it on the radio, television or Internet.  Black newspapers bring a perspective to the news that readers won’t find anywhere else.”

Suburban Journal Publisher Robert Booker told The Final Call that plans are being formulated for the establishment of a Black daily newspaper as a serious alternative to the Daily News.

“I think a daily is a feasible idea and that it could be done,” he said. “The five publishers of the existing Black newspapers sat down recently and decided to work together on a number of projects. We agreed to work on those things that we can work together on and put aside our differences and have that as a basis of building a stronger Black newspaper community.”

Herb Boyd, award winning journalist and national editor of the online publication The Black World Today, said distribution would be the key with a new Black daily.

“We can put a product together but how do you get it out?” he asked. “The cost of paper, ink and distribution alone is enough to send you to publishing on the Internet. It would make sense to do an Internet version. It’s much less expensive.”

He added, “It would take uncommon unity to do this. If they’re unified, the continuity of the product becomes important. They need to do this on their own and not go begging to someone else for resources to help them.”