In just over a decade, the Black Press will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the first African-American-owned newspaper, Freedman’s Journal, first published in New York in 1827.
And while this country has undergone significant changes since the co-publishers of that groundbreaking publication decided that the time had come to tell our own story in our own words, African-Americans, from the White House to the outhouse, realize that the battle for full equality rages on.
And to address the future of the Black Press and how it will continue its role as an advocate, voice of reason and information source for the Black community, a panel representing the next generation of publishers, editors and writers recently shared the mic during the 2016 annual convention of the National Newspaper Publishers Association [NNPA] in Houston.
The insightful discussion, moderated by Chida R. Darby, publisher of the San Diego Voice and Viewpoint, took place on Friday, June 24 at the Omni Houston Hotel and clearly illustrated that the Black Press will remain in good hands when the elders and current owners pass the baton to the next generation.
Panelists included four children of current publishers each of whom works in various positions, one writer who also serves as the editor of a millennial-themed monthly supplement and one publisher who has already taken on the reigns from her father – their ages ranged from 24 to 41 years old.
“Defining my leadership style, articulating my ideas and getting others to sign on – all while balancing my personal life – have been my challenges. But I have a strong supporting cast many of whom tell stories with a new form of language,” said Batala-Ra McFarlane, publisher, Insight News. “And the best thing – I have my dream job and get to work with my parents too.”
“The Black Press exists as a niche kind of publication. Blacks want to see positive stories about themselves, their community and they want to see photos too,” she said. “Some of us aren’t too concerned about our titles – we just know that we have to be prepared to take over when our parents are ready to rest, retire or focus on other things,” McFarlane added, noting that as the mother of a young son she’s had to balance her schedule with care and efficiency.
Wali Dean Pitt works for his father at the Winston Salem Chronicle as the digital manager, using his computer acumen to improve the publication’s website and social media coverage.
“I’ve only been in the business for about a year – I had to get out of my way, get away and do my thing. I really appreciate having that chance. Now I’m learning the art and the dance that goes along with being a leader in the journalism business. It’s hard to describe how special it feels to inherit something from a man who served in Vietnam, did two stints behind bars and has made a name for himself in the business world. It’s rare and it’s an honor – my time is coming,” Pitt said.
The oldest son of Washington Informer publisher Denise Rolark Barnes, Lafayette, said he’s realizing the challenge that comes with following in the footsteps of his mother and grandfather before her.
“I’ve had a fragmented learning experience at the paper and I’m still looking to define my role,” he said. “I’ve discovered that a lot of my friends need the Informer because it provides them with a voice and my mom’s given me free range to explore my own ideas. We serve two audiences of differing ages and interests and my goal is to build the bridge that connects us.”
Sam Collins, editor of the Informer’s monthly supplement, “WI Bridge,” said utilizing social media has resulted in significant benefits in his dual roles as editor and writer.
“You’re just one message away to getting a response to your questions when you use Twitter or Facebook,” he said. “Our generation uses social media in almost every aspect of our lives. And it gets us closer to our readers, particularly millennials.”
The youngest member of the panel, Chelsea Lenora White, works as the business manager for the Houston Forward Times, currently owned by her mother.
“After college, I went to corporate America. But I soon realized that I couldn’t turn my back on my mother, the paper and my legacy,” said White, 24. “I am a proud advocate and product of the Black Press and I want my peers to know who we are. The Black Press remains important because we control the narrative. It’s been an eye-opening experience to realize the kind of power that we possess. Our paper’s been led by my grandfather, my grandmother and now my mom. It’s in our blood.”
Dallas Weekly’s Patrick Washington, son of the publisher, joked that he’s held 10 job titles so far, adding that upon his return to the paper in 2008, he first had to learn humility.
“I wanted to go to L.A. and become a major filmmaker, I was going to buy the paper from my dad. That didn’t happen. When my dad invited me to work with him, I had to learn where I fit. It kind of felt like charity at first – like a hand-me-down. But then I got to know the staff and really gained a newfound appreciation for the work that goes into producing a successful newspaper. One day I guess I’ll ask my dad for a job description since I just learned that now I’m the president. I want to make our paper even better and use new methods to accomplish that goal.”