African-Americans have stronger media representation than ever
before, from print to broadcast. David Ward looks at who's reporting
what and where in all things African-American.
Although not expanding as quickly as the Latino press, African-American
media outlets are on a definite upswing, and as usual, money plays a big
part. In the Black notes that this minority generates $400
billion in combined household income. "You've got this huge growth in
magazines, and that's because African-Americans are emerging as an
economic force," explains Lon Walls, president and CEO of Washington,
DC-based Walls Communications.
A quick look at your local newsstand shows the increased presence of
African-American outlets. Long-standing publications such as Jet, Ebony,
and Essence have been joined by Savoy, Upscale, Heart & Soul, and
On the business-magazine side, The Network Journal, long-standing
category leader Black Enterprise, and others all target professionals
and small-business owners.
That doesn't include the huge expansion of hip-hop music, clothing, and
even language into the mainstream culture, since magazines such as Vibe,
XX Large, Blunt, and The Source target a broad general-interest
audience, even if much of the content focuses on African-American
entertainment figures and issues.
All these developments are good news for the growing ranks of
African-American journalists, since opportunities abound in both the
mainstream and the black media.
Among the most respected in the mainstream press are Bob Herbert of The
New York Times, CBS Early Show anchor Bryant Gumbel, CNNSI's Sonja
Steptoe, and Today show weatherman and reporter Al Roker. In the
African-American press, they include Black Enterprise senior editor
Monique Brown, BET anchors Ed Gordon and Cheryl Martin, Savoy
editor-in-chief Roy Johnson, and In the Black editor Nancy Clark.
The long-time standard bearers of African-American news, however, are
the community print outlets, such as New York's Amsterdam News, the
Washington, DC-based The Afro-American, the Atlanta Tribune, and the Los
The press as advocates
Mark Caffee, managing director of Hill & Knowlton's diversity practice,
says that small-circulation outlets primarily serve an advocacy role,
focusing on local news and issues that wouldn't necessarily get the same
depth of coverage in the local mainstream press. H&K has worked with
state and government agencies on a number of social marketing campaigns
targeting community papers with information on low- or no-cost health
insurance, anti-tobacco programs, and AIDS prevention. While noting
these outlets are receptive to PR pitches, Caffee adds, "These
publications have few resources and very little staff, so you've got to
provide a lot of the information and background for them." Caffee also
says that national campaigns targeting African-American outlets still
have to be executed on a market-by-market basis.
These community newspapers can have a strong impact on the mainstream
press, however. A recent column in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder
alleging racial insensitivity resulted in the resignation of one of the
radio announcers for the Minnesota Vikings football team. "They have
stories that take about two or three weeks before they're picked up by
the mainstream press," says Walls. "The Washington Post has increased
its coverage of the African-American community, and monitors what's in
these black papers. A lot of good reporters from The Afro-American are
now reporters for the Post," Walls adds.
Limited internet presence
Mike Paul, president of Mike Paul Associates, believes one thing
hampering many of these older papers is the lack of an internet
presence. "There are a lot of black newspapers, including the Amsterdam
News, that aren't online yet, and the technology is holding them back,"
he says. "Sometimes you have to make an investment in technology so you
can get further ad growth."
That may be changing. Earlier this year, the National Newspaper
Publishers Association (NNPA), backed by grants from UPS, AT&T, and
others, began an initiative to have all 200 of its African-American
newspaper members online by 2003. The group also runs the NNPA newswire
servicing black community newspapers and the BlackPressUSA.com news
Walls points out, too, that these newspapers are beginning to tweak
their editorial mix to appeal to a broader age group. Washington DC, for
example, has six different African-American weekly newspapers, Walls
says, adding, "They have geared some of their content for the younger
audience, with more stories about lifestyle and entertainment."
On the broadcast front, BET is by far the largest African-American owned
and oriented network. While including a healthy dose of entertainment
news, the cable network has several general news-oriented shows,
including BET News, Lead Story, Journeys in Black, Inside Studio 2, and
BET communications specialist Sonja Springfield says BET's acquisition
by Viacom has increased its news resources, adding "With BET News in
particular, we're going to work together with CBS and use some of their
resources, but we still have editorial control of everything in our
programming." The joint efforts will include shifting of production of
some programs, including BET News and BET Tonight with Ed Gordon to New
African-American news has also moved aggressively online, and not just
through BET.com, a joint operation between BET Holdings, Microsoft, News
Corp, USA Networks, and Liberty Digital that launched last year. There
is also the business entrepreneur-focused BlackPlanet.com, as well as
While there is still some suspicion of overt attempts to pander to the
African-American community, Kim Hunter, CEO of Lagrant Communications,
says traditional corporate America can make PR inroads into the black
press, citing her campaign on behalf of Hilton Hotels. Fueled by a study
that found the hotel chain as one of the best places for
African-Americans to work, Hunter was able to successfully pitch the
story to trade outlets such as Black Meetings & Tourism and community
newspapers like The Afro-American, Los Angeles Sentinel, Atlanta
Tribune, and Turning Point magazine.
WHERE TO GO
Newspapers: Amsterdam News; Atlanta Tribune; Los Angeles Sentinel; The
Afro-American (Washington, DC); Chicago Defender; Baltimore Times;
Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder Magazines: Jet; Ebony; Savoy; Essence;
Upscale; Black Enterprise; In the Black; Honey; Heart & Soul
Trade publications: Black Meetings & Tourism
TV & Radio: BET; urban-oriented radio outlets like KKBT (The Beat) in
Internet: Blackpressusa.com; Blackplanet.com; BET.com; NetNoir.com.