As a child growing up in Tuskegee, Alabama, in the 1950s, my only connections with the national Black community was the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper and Jet magazine. I could hardly wait for them to be delivered every week. That’s why no one has ever had to convince me of the importance of the Black Press.
When hearing Black pontificators from the broadcast press so cavalierly predict the demise of Black newspapers, I get extremely agitated. If they are right, then we, as a people, are in much more trouble than even I thought, because Black-owned TV One and OWN and Black-oriented BET are not up to the job.
I came to this conclusion after watching them religiously during the home-boundness brought on by the COVID-19 virus. I enjoy programs such as “Living Single,” “Martin” and a couple of Tyler Perry films, but they present not one second of news coverage or one second of discussion focusing on issues such as COVID-19 and the lynching of George Floyd. In fact, the only program on the three that one can say has any cultural relevance is “Unsung” on TV One.
The late Dr. Lionel C. Barrow Jr., a friend and onetime dean of Howard University’s School of Communications, defined the role of the early Black Press in a 1977 handbook that celebrated the sesquicentennial of the Black Press. He stated that it has four major functions — “to perform as a watchdog function for the Black community that the white press was either are unable or unwilling to perform, to answer the attacks published in the white press, to present a viewpoint that differed even from that of liberal whites and to be a carrier and preserver of Black culture.”
I am not saying that Black newspapers are all that they can and should be in carrying out the functions cited by Dr. Barrow, but at least many of them make an effort to do so.
TV One, OWN and BET do none of the first three functions and very little of the fourth. That’s why we, as a people, are in deep you-know-what if the predictors of the demise of Black newspapers are on target. It’s up to us to prove them wrong.