The Past, Present & Future of African-American News

Publishers from the New York Amsterdam News and The Charlotte Post discuss the past, present and future of African-American news media

Publishers from the New York Amsterdam News and The Charlotte Post discuss the past, present and future of African-American news media

African-American newspapers have chronicled the successes and struggles of the Black community for more than 100 years.

In the late 19th century, during the Jim Crow period when Blacks were suffering lynching, racial segregation, discrimination and disenfranchisement,  African-American newspapers were a source of information and inspiration.

The Charlotte (NC) Post was one of them.  Its first issue was published in 1878; its mission was to tell stories of success.

“The Post published the most positive perspective of African-Americans, which were often overlooked by so-called mainstream publications, and ignored crime and scandal articles,” says Gerald Johnson, publisher and CEO of The Charlotte Post Publishing Company, which publishes The Charlotte Post and The Triangle Tribune.

Some of The Charlotte Post’s most recent memorable issues include the buildup to the Million Man March, Barack Obama’s election, and the arrest and resignation of Charlotte mayor Patrick Cannon. Over the years, the Post has evolved, covering more general interest articles from a black perspective in addition to “race” articles such as civil rights or exclusively African-American specific subjects.

The publication is keen on playing to the strengths in the African-American community, especially in sports where daily newspapers and TV ignore accomplishments.

“We publish articles on historically black college athletes and events as well as high school athletes in Charlotte’s urban core,” he says.

Several decades after The Post was first published, in 1909, the same year the NAACP was established, the New York Amsterdam News was launched in Harlem to give a voice to the people there.

“Nobody was born, nobody died, nobody graduated from college, and nobody got married if it wasn’t printed in the Amsterdam News,” said Elinor Tatum, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Amsterdam News.

“All the milestones of our community were chronicled in newspapers like the Amsterdam News because no one else was doing that,” Tatum says.  Some of the most memorable issues of recent past include issues about Nelson Mandela, the election of President Obama and the inauguration issue.

Often, the Amsterdam News is the first to cover stories that affect the African-American community that mainstream media later picks up. This was the case with the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.

“We were out there early in terms of talking about it, tweeting about it,” Tatum said. “This whole idea of #blacklivesmatter is not something new. It is something that has been our calling since our inception.”

The Amsterdam News also has published columns by Malcolm X, W.E.B. DuBois, Roy Wilkins, and Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, among other notable figures.

Despite the important role the Post and Amsterdam News play in their respective communities, like mainstream print publications, both have struggled to maintain readers. The Post has a journalist overseeing the development of followers on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, but they are facing print audience erosion due to the internet and social media.

“We have extended the newspaper to electronic formats to meet the demand of the readers,” Johnson said. “We have not figured out how to build the revenue stream to desired levels through electronic media. We are developing other revenue streams such as events to help fill the void of potential revenue loss.”

Tatum points out that two major issues facing black publications today are a drop in circulation and advertisements.  She says they are addressing both issues head on and trying to figure out ways to get new audiences.  The challenge is convincing advertisers that the people who read the publication and look at the website are consumers who advertisers must court.

The Charlotte Post and New York Amsterdam News have made significant contributions to the black community for well over 100 years and continue to do so in 2015.  Both serve as examples of early African-American entrepreneurship, strength, and longevity.

PR Newswire’s African-American press list can connect you with more news about the African-American community. If you are a journalist or blogger who would like to be added, please contact [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @PRNAfricanAm.

Jessica Alas is Media Relations Director, Multicultural Markets and Hispanic PR Wire at PR Newswire. Follow her at @alasjessica.

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