Newspapers Remain a Vital News Source for People of Color

by Marcella Gadson on September 10, 2013

African American JournalistsEthnic media outlets have played a crucial role in delivering relevant content to ethnic consumers.  As journalist Richard Prince has put it, “ethnic outlets are more relevant, particularly to people who look for that trust factor in their media…”

However, according to the latest edition of the Federal Communications Commission’s report, “The Information Needs of Communities: The Changing Media Landscape in the Broadband Age,” the nation’s newspapers – and particularly daily newspapers – are struggling to survive, maintain profits, and secure advertising revenue  as they compete with digital news sources.

The financial struggles experienced by many newspapers have a direct and significant effect on the number of the nation’s working journalists.  For example, according to the Society of American News Editors, daily newspaper newsrooms employed 40,600 journalists in 2012, down from 56,200 in 2000 – a 28 percent drop in a 12-year period.

Newspapers Provide Valuable, Local Coverage

The downward trend has also impacted the type of coverage newspapers provide.  For example, information from the FCC’s Information Needs Report demonstrates that there has been a considerable drop in local news and public affairs newspaper coverage because of the financial strain newspapers have experienced.

The report states that “many editors consider their local beat reporters indispensable: those who cover schools and city councils, police and courts, suburban developments and urban neighborhoods, local elections and statehouses, for instance, are thought to provide information that is crucial to the functioning of the community – and even democracy itself.”

In spite of this sentiment, the report points out that by “the spring of 2009 more than 50 newspapers and news companies nationwide [ceased] covering their statehouses entirely since 2003.”  In addition, even though “states spent more than $1.2 trillion in fiscal year 2008, compared with $977 billion in 2003… the number of statehouse reporters dropped by one-third” from 2003 to 2009.

Black Newspapers: A Treasured Resource for Black News Consumers

According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, African-American newspapers are struggling to survive as well. The survey indicated that “advertising revenue is a problem for every African-American newspaper examined.  While most of the black press does not report advertising revenue, virtually all the editors interviewed expressed concerns.  Decreased revenue has resulted at many outlets in staff cuts and reduced publication schedules.”

Yet, African-American-owned newspapers have historically delivered local news, along with civic and political-oriented programming, and empowered African Americans, who according to Pew, are the second largest group of readers of daily newspapers.

As the documentary film “The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords” has pointed out, African-American newspapers have exposed social justice inequities and delivered information about local public affairs of interest to African Americans for over 100 years; they have also provided business opportunities for African-American entrepreneurs and the readership they serve.

The late journalist Phyl Garland eloquently summarized the plight of the African-American community in the film: “Without this network of communication, it has been far more difficult for African-American people to comprehend fully what is happening to them, to be able to have a debate on issues among themselves, and also to develop and to choose their own leaders.”

  • Marcella Gadson is the Editor in Chief of the Broadband and Social Justice Blog and Director of Communications at the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC).

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