Traditional media companies have struggled for years to adapt to a digital world, but the pressure on black-owned media has been even more acute. Many are smaller and lack the financial resources to compete in an increasingly consolidated media landscape. Advertisers have turned away from black-oriented media, owners say, under the belief that they can now reach minorities in other ways.
Ethel Payne, known as the First Lady of the Black Press, speaks with a soldier in Vietnam. Payne was a city reporter and later Washington correspondent for the black newspaper, the Chicago Defender, in the 1950s and ’60s. (By Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, HarperCollins)
Since well before the Civil War, publications and, more recently, radio and television stations owned and operated by African-Americans have provided an important counterweight to mass market media, simultaneously celebrating and shaping black culture — from politics and government to fashion and music.
Johnson Publishing was started in 1942 with a modest $500 loan, and eventually turned into a media empire big enough that in 1982, its founder, John H. Johnson, became the first black person to make Forbes magazine’s list of the 400 wealthiest Americans. When the radio station WVON ran a program in 2007 for Black History Month called the “28 Blacks Who Changed America,” Mr. Johnson, who died in 2005, was No. 7 on the list, behind luminaries like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Thurgood Marshall.
WVON Radio in Chicago is aimed at a black audience. Credit Lyndon French for The New York Times
“If we don’t own our press, we don’t have a platform to speak,” said Leonard Burnett Jr., whose company, the Uptown Ventures Group, owns Uptown Magazineuptlifestyle publication aimed at affluent African-Americans.
Several owners also pointed to another benefit: Their companies hired more minorities. Ms. Spann-Cooper of the Midway Broadcasting Corporation said 90 percent of her employees were African-American. “When we are African-American-owned, the work force looks like us,” she said.
But as financial resources dwindle, black-owned media companies are struggling to maintain their presence. Jet, for instance, became a web-only publication in 2014….
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For more information, see this exhibit By Us, For Us: The Crucial Role of the Black Press.
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A Very Short List of National Black Press Outlets
Ebony Magazine’s print cover, August 8, 2015. Ebony was founded by John H. Johnson and has published continuously since 1945. This monthly magazine reaches 11 million readers. Its digest-sized sister magazine, Jet, is also published (now online only) by Johnson Publishing Company.
Ebony (also in print)
Essence (also in print)
Black News Directory (A listing of dozens of some of the 200+ black publications published in the USA – from the American Legacy Magazine to Hip Hop Weekly.)
National Newspaper Publishers Association (and links to member papers of the NNPA black press in each state)
Black Perspectives Sections within White-Owned/Operated Media
Shadow and Act (on Cinema of the African Diaspora)
Huffington Post Black Voices
NY Times Black Culture and History section