Is the Black Press Still Powerful?

Despite its storied history of fighting slavery and then segregation, its influence may be waning, an expert on black media warns.

Scott Pelley of CBS News interviews President Obama. The black press says it is being disrespected by not being granted such an interview.
Scott Pelley of CBS News interviews President Obama. The black press says it is being disrespected by not being granted such an interview. CBS News


Author Says Papers Have Not Kept Up With Today’s Readers

The black press was not part of the “State of the News Media 2014” report issued this week by the Pew Research Center — the center says it is saving that for later — but a new book by an expert on that slice of media points to the “serious nature” of its problems.

“One devastating piece of circumstantial evidence of the waning influence of the Black press is the response I have received from journalism students in my virtually all Black Howard University classes over the past decade,” Clint C. Wilson II writes in “Whither the Black Press?: Glorious Past, Uncertain Future.” “When asked whether they have either read — or have knowledge of — a Black newspaper in their home communities only about 20 per cent say they have. Among those who are aware of the papers, almost none say they read them with any regularity. Let me emphasize, these are journalism students. . . .”

The black press has a storied history of fighting first slavery, then segregation. More recently, its trade organization, the National Newspaper Publishers Association, has complained that its newspapers do not get the respect they deserve. It equates the black press with the black community.

Although annual Black spending is projected to rise from its current $1 trillion to $1.3 trillion by 2017, advertisers allot only 3 percent of their $2.2 billion yearly budget to media aimed at Black audiences, a new Nielsen report has found,” an NNPA news release said in September.

George E. Curry, editor of the NNPA News Service, complained last week that President Obama was disrespecting the black media, too.

“There is a disrespect for the black press that we have not seen in recent years. For example, we have requested — every year — an interview with the president. He can ignore 200 black newspapers and 19 million viewers, but he can give one to every stupid white comedian there is on TV, the black ones and the white ones, and has time for all types of buffoonery but they will not respect the black press enough to give us an interview,” Curry said on TVOne’s “NewsOneNow With Roland Martin.”

Wilson, graduate professor emeritus in the Howard University School of Communications, where he teaches courses in communications, culture and media studies, sees it differently. He says in his book: “In the wake of the election of the first Black President of the United States it is possible the Black press won the war for social equality it waged for more than 185 years.” (Wilson’s father, Clint C. Wilson Sr., was a longtime editorial cartoonist for the Los Angeles Sentinel, a black weekly.)

“During my interviews with general audience newspaper and broadcast journalists, however, I have emphasized the positives,” Wilson says in the book’s preface.

“1. The National Newspaper Publishers Association (the Black press trade association) has maintained a membership of more than 200 newspapers across the United States for nearly two decades.

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