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Declaring War on the Black Press
By: George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief
Originally posted 6/30/2005

CHICAGO -- When the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) held its 65th annual convention here last week, there was one topic that overshadowed the usual maneuverings to elect a new president and the perennial concern about the failure of major corporations that rely on Black consumers to advertise in Black newspapers. The burning issue this year -- and I do mean burning -- was the disclosure that the New York Times plans to start an African-American newspaper in Gainesville, Fla..

Black publishers freely concede that anyone has the right to start a newspaper. That is not the issue. What is so galling is that White-owned media companies that have done such an embarrassingly poor job of accurately portraying people of color on their pages and broadcast outlets are now seeking to supplant the only legitimate Black media voices that have performed that task admirably for more than a century. It is arrogant and ridiculous to think that newspapers that primarily portray African-Americans as criminals, athletes and entertainers will suddenly be able or willing to present African-Americans in their full complexity.

Equally culpable are companies that refuse to advertise in Black-owned media but are willing to place ads with White-owned publications, broadcasts and Internet outlets targeting African-Americans. They should be publicly exposed and boycotted. In fact, every Black newspaper should identify them each week so that African-Americans will be able to support only corporations that respect and support them.

The New York Times' decision to compete with Black newspapers is all about money. Daily newspapers have been losing circulation for more than a decade, more classified ads are shifting to online portals and conglomerates that purchase media 'properties' are pressuring them to become more profitable. The Project for Excellence in Journalism at Columbia University reports that only 22 corporations control 70 percent of daily newspaper circulation. As a consequence of mergers and declining circulation, what often gets passed on to readers as news is pabulum.

There is also the issue of changing demographics. In 50 years, Whites are projected to become a minority in this country for the first time. Over that same period, the U.S. population is expected to grow by 50 percent, with 90 percent of that growth being among people of color. So for economic reasons -- this has nothing to do with altruism -- the New York Times, NBC, Times Warner and other media giants are eager to add Black and Latino publications and stations to their portfolio. We've already seen this with Time, Inc.'s decision to purchase Essence magazine, Viacom's purchase of Black Entertainment Television (BET), American Online's (AOL) ownership of and, and a decision by NBC, a subsidiary of General Electric Co., to purchase Telemundo, a U.S. Spanish-speaking cable network, in 2001 for $2.7 billion.

One of the most important characteristics of the Black Press is that it is a trusted source for news and perspectives. Readers turn to the Black Press to get an alternative to White-owned media that routinely parrot the Establishment view and don't offer, let alone understand, alternative perspectives.

In 1978, the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) established a goal for the year 2000 of having newsroom employment be ''equivalent to the percentage of minority persons in the national population.'' Although African-Americans represent 12.5 percent of the population, Blacks are only 5.4 percent of the nation's newsrooms, according to a survey by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Instead of achieving those goals, ASNE's solution was to push the target date back to 2025.

Rather than trying to supplant Black and Latino publications, White-owned media companies should show that they can improve their unbalanced coverage and increase African-American presence at all levels within their organizations. According to a recent Knight Foundation study, people of color make up 30.9 percent of the New York Times' circulation area. However, they comprise only 16.7 percent of the Times' newsroom.

The paper's first responsibility should be to have its newsroom mirror the diversity of the community it is pledged to serve. If that happens, perhaps we will see more well-rounded portrayals of people of color. In the meantime, buying or creating Black newspapers does not absolve White-owned media companies of that responsibility.

In 1827, Samuel Cornish and John B. Russwurm, founders of Freedom's Journal, the nation's first Black newspaper, proclaimed: ''We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us.''

Black people don't need the New York Times or any other White-owned media company to speak for us. We do that quite well ourselves.

George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service and He appears on National Public Radio (NPR) three times a week as part of ''News and Notes with Ed Gordon.'' In addition, his radio commentary is syndicated each week by Capitol Radio News Service (301/588-1993). To contact Curry or to book him for a speaking engagement, go to his Web site,

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