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John Smith Elected Chairman of the NNPA
By: Hazel Trice Edney
NNPA Washington Correspondent
Originally posted 6/30/2005

CHICAGO (NNPA) – The members of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, in its 65th year, have elected veteran Atlanta Inquirer publisher John B. Smith Sr. as their new chairman.

Smith, in the business for 45 years, takes the helm of a federation of 200 Black newspapers at a time when such publications are being challenged by both technology and White-owned media giants such as the New York Times, which plans to publish a “Black” paper in Gainsville, Fla.

Profit-driven White newspaper chains will not be welcomed by African-Americans, Smith says.

“Black people are more astute than the White media gives them credit for,” Smith says. “It’s been tried across the country and it’s going to fail.”
Those predictions have not deterred White-owned companies from trying.

In January, Essence Communications was bought by Time, Inc., the publishing division of Time Warner. Five years ago, Black Entertainment Television (BET) was bought by Viacom, one of the largest global media empires. Since then, BET has eliminated virtually all of its public affairs programs.

Smith is digging in for a fight.

“I will get the voices of ministers all over America to address this and to let their congregations know. As a result, I feel that once we let the community know, it’s left up to them to speak,” Smith says.

A Georgia native, Smith, who succeeds Houston Defender publisher Sonny Messiah Jiles, is a staple in the Black Press. He started as a marketing representative at the Atlanta Inquirer in 1960 and has been involved in NNPA since 1962. Known as a solid business man with principles and a down-home, salt-of-the earth personality, Smith, has earned the respect of his fellow publishers after serving the organization in several different capacities, including chairman of the Black Press Archives, membership chairman and first vice president under Jiles, who did not seek re-election.

“It has been a nice ride. It’s been fun. It’s had its highs and lows, curves, dips, you name it,” says Jiles as she congratulated Smith. “But when you’re serving people or anything you care about, it’s all a part of growing.”

Other newly-elected NNPA officers are First Vice President Cloves Campbell of the Arizona Informant; 2nd Vice President Christ Bennett of the Seattle Medium; Treasurer Lenora “Doll” Carter of the Houston Forward Times; Secretary Mollie Belt of the Dallas Examiner, and at-large board members Carol Zippert of the Greene County (Ala.) Democrat and Akwasi Evans of the Nokoa Newspaper.

Smith’s election came at the end of a week with much fanfare. Picou was among the celebrants at an honors program for NNPA founders, which kicked off the week at the Wabash Avenue YMCA, the site where Defender Publisher John Sengstacke held the first NNPA meeting in 1940. Then it was called the Negro Press Association.

Sengstacke had inherited the Defender a hundred years ago from his uncle, Robert S. Abbott, who founded it in 1905 and died on the same day as the NNPA founding. A plaque will be placed on the building to commemorate the founding of NNPA.

Howard University Black Press historian and NNPA board member Clint Wilson called it a mile stone for a group of Black newspapers to bond for so long.

''These 65 years are the longest that any group of publishers of the Black Press in the United States of America have been able to archive themselves to continue for the common good,'' he told the audience at the YMCA.

It has been the struggle for justice that caused the group to remain solid, said Chicago Crusader Publisher Dorothy Leavell. Early publishers had to meet at the Y because Blacks weren't allowed at the Downtown hotels, she recalled.

Black Press history must play a major role in its future, Smith says, recalling his early days at the Atlanta Inquirer.

“We would not accept any ads from any store no matter how much money they wanted to pay if they discriminated,” he said.

In its 65th year, Smith concedes NNPA must continue to update its image, which could result in increased circulation and advertising dollars.

He says NNPA has begun a consulting relationship with Carol Williams & Associates to develop a new image.
Smith has also been long active in civil rights and the community. He is a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, the Atlanta Conference of the NAACP, the Atlanta chapter of the National Association of Market Developers and he serves as a deacon at Union Baptist Church in Atlanta.

Smith says he believes strongly in coalitions and will partner with NNPA Foundation Chairman Brian Townsend to accomplish his vision during the two-year period.

“I look forward to him being a strong member of the Foundation team. As chair of the NNPA, he’s also a board member of the Foundation,” which oversees the NNPA News Service, says Townsend. “I appreciate the fact that he’s a team player and I think that he has a lot of thoughts on behalf of the Foundation, how we can team up with NNPA and jointly sponsor programs on behalf of the membership. I think it’s going to be a good two years.”

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