Editors stress role of black press, need to improve

Abha Bhattarai

The future of black publications only will improve as they maximize content and accuracy and find a niche within the black community, according to the associate editor of Real Times.

“I think our challenge is to find the news in our communities that is even news to us,” said Angelo Henderson, also a Pulitzer Prize-winning feature writer.

“We’re looking at uplifting stories, not just trendy news for the sake of news,” he added. “That’s the difference — there’s a passion. If (black publications) are not able to report a solution, chances are there won’t be one.”

Henderson and Roland Martin, the executive editor of the Chicago Defender, discussed the future of the black press Monday at 4 p.m. in a joint speech given at the McCormick Tribune Center Forum.

Part of Medill’s Crain Lecture Series, “The Black Press: A Future?” commemorated the upcoming 100th anniversary of The Chicago Defender, the first and only daily black news publication in the United States.

“The reality of the black press is that it has let people down,” Martin said. “The products have been looked on as being inferior, the writing has been terrible, the ethics have not been what they should be.”

Martin stressed the need to address a wider variety of issues to draw readers, advertisers and investors. He said The Chicago Defender is adding four new sections, including sections about homes and books, in the next three weeks.

“We are constantly surveying what is in the marketplace to see what is missing,” he said.

“You could have a 10-second mind, but eventually, you will have a family,” Martin said. “Eventually, there will be kids. Eventually, there will be a mortgage. If we are the preemptive source of news for African-Americans in Chicago, then we need to (address all of those issues).”

Medill senior Carrie Brown, one of about 70 audience members, said it was refreshing to hear editors tackle persistent issues relating to the black press.

“I was happy to see specific agendas and specific strategies on how to improve,” Brown said. “I was expecting more of a discussion about the place the black press has in the community, but I was very excited that (Henderson and Martin) had specific ideas on how to improve (that position).”

Henderson and Martin said that the black press will benefit as the journalism industry allows reporters to be more like contractors who write for more than one publication at a time.

“We can give you a black version of the same story,” Henderson said, “but part of (our job) is to transform communities through the information and to make people think differently about systems they see every day.”

Reach Abha Bhattarai at [email protected].