When Nonye Ejiofor decided to start The New American Times a short while ago, she wasn’t concerned about the death of newspapers, how much ad revenue was available or the cost of paper and ink.
The Nigerian native transplanted in Nashville, Tenn., had access to political leaders and information, what she didn’t have was a way to channel that information to those who needed it–the African immigrant community she belonged to.
So her weekly publication began with a mission and reflects the beginnings of Black-owned newspapers in New York in 1827. The motto of Freedom’s Journal, “We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us,” and the need to advocate, agitate and inform are still true in the 21st Century.
Though in many ways information flows more freely than ever with the advent of the Internet, the reach and breadth of corporate-owned media is staggering. Corporations control print, radio, TV, Internet publications and social media, promoting and sharing content across platforms.
When Samuel Cornish and John B. Russwurm published Freedom’s Journal from 1827 to 1829, the issues and the sides of the issue were pretty stark. There was a need to abolish slavery and demand respect for Black people.
Today the issue is mental slavery and the seductive chains of materialism, the ready use of stereotypes and the constant effort to distract with tales of celebrity woe and the latest nonsense. This is the age when fortunes are made and people are famous for simply being famous or pursuing fame.
So while the opportunity to inform is present, the ability and the plots to deceive are also present. There is the ability of Black-oriented, not Black-owned, media outlets, content providers and distributors to offer coverage that is of interest to Black people but may not promote their interests. History has shown us the golden rule in America is unchanged: He who has the gold makes the rules. And the First Amendment caveat remains: A free press belongs to the one who can afford it.
In the end, ownership means control and a lack of control means serving at the pleasure of a corporation that may not like analysis, comments, questions or views that veer away from acceptable expression or analysis. This is the day when right wing organizations and causes or gay rights organizations or causes can take offense, call for the head of a Black journalist and the head is quickly served on a platter–whether the professional decapitation was warranted or unwarranted. The same does not hold true for White journalists who offend Black sensibilities, which usually means without overwhelming effort no discipline is meted out and no wrong is even admitted.
Recalcitrant and unrepentant racism has made a comeback in America and its determined and unapologetic practitioners are in no mood to shrink from efforts to protect White privilege.
In this environment and reality, a strong and fearless Black Press is necessary. We cannot be shackled to the ad revenue of White corporations or the whims of White philanthropy. We cannot be tied to political allegiances and symbolic victories that do not bring substantive change.
The recent National Newspaper Publishers Association conference included sessions on digital media and social training, succession planning, partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, networking, unveiling of the retooled BlackPressUSA.com website and other informative sessions and activity for members of the coalition of Black-owned papers.
But the most important things needed by the Black Press are courage and integrity. Both are lacking in mainstream media which has majored in political minors, punditry and drama, fearful of calling out a country’s ill-conceived and costly wars and unable to focus on the serious issues that Americans need to know about.
Proper use of Twitter and Facebook, engaging video content or conversations with audiences won’t matter if Black outlets are too timid and under-resourced to uncover and tell the truth.
Under former chairman Danny Bakewell, publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel, NNPA saw its luster and its finances restored through a united front and bold demands placed on businesses and political organizations. Chairman Bakewell’s message was simple: Black folks spend money for your products and you have a responsibility to put money back into the community that you take money from.
He wasn’t above the promise to put the faces and names of those who refused to deal fairly and respectfully with NNPA on the covers and news pages of the 200 weekly Black papers across the country. When presented with a NNPA Legacy of Excellence award June 22, he exhorted fellow publishers to agitate, the same charge delivered by Black newspaperman and abolitionist Frederick Douglass in the 19th century.
The mission of the Black Press–sharing information, providing perspective and telling the untold stories of our people–remains vital. Don’t leave it to others to back those who should have your back. If you get what you pay for and you give nothing, you should know what to expect in return.