Interview: Elinor Tatum

The New York Amsterdam News is a 98-year-old Harlem-based weekly newspaper that reaches the African-American community. Elinor Tatum inherited the jobs of editor-in-chief and publisher from her father after graduating from New York University's graduate program in journalism.

The New York Amsterdam News is a 98-year-old Harlem-based weekly newspaper that reaches the African-American community. Elinor Tatum inherited the jobs of editor-in-chief and publisher from her father after graduating from New York University's graduate program in journalism.

PRWeek: What is the importance of black newspapers to the African-American community?

Elinor Tatum: Since their inception, black newspapers have been the voice of the black community, where that community did not have a voice before.

The first black paper had an editorial that read, "We choose to plead our own cause. For too long have others spoken for us." And that is basically part of the credo of the black press.

Mainstream newspapers... don't represent the opinions, or necessarily the interests, of African Americans. It's necessary to have a black press not only to put out those interests, but also to show a side of African-American life that isn't normally seen in the dailies that are read by a wide range of people. We appear on those front pages [during] the times when there is some sort of trouble in the black community. They chronicle our troubles, but not our triumphs.

PRWeek: What are some of the most pressing issues in the black community today?

Tatum: We cover everything that a mainstream newspaper would cover from a black perspective.

For instance, when it came to the elections, our front page was a picture of [Congressman] Charlie Rangel and it said "Mr. Chairman." For the Democratic Party, there were triumphs across the country.  But in particular for the African-American community what it meant was, for the first time in history, there was going to be an African-American in a key leadership role within the Congress.

As for this recent shooting [of a 23-year-old unarmed African-American man by New York City police], of course that's going to be our front page.  As a weekly, we have to look at things a bit differently but it will definitely be our lead story.

PRWeek: In cultural terms, what are some of the things that most interest your readers?

Tatum: [We will cover] anything with any sort of connection to the African-American community. It could be that an African American is curator of a Van Gogh exhibit. A Van Gogh exhibit is something we would cover whether or not there was a black curator, if it were something that could help educate our community.

PRWeek: Tell us how your newspaper has evolved. Where do you see it going in the near future?

Tatum: Over the past 100 years, the newspaper has changed a lot. Where the major changes came was with integration. The black press really had problems during integration because advertisers no longer felt as though they had to advertise in the black press. They felt they could get to the African-American community through the mainstream. That has proven not to be the case...

We're on the Internet now, we have gotten more tech-savvy, and we're also reporting from abroad, which we did way back when, but then stopped for a very long time.

PRWeek: What does a good PR pitch sound like?  A not so good one?

Tatum: [Ad libs both sides of the conversation] "Yeah, we've got this new artist.  He's 24 years old, he's from Iowa, and he's doing some new music that we think you'll like." 

The answer to this is, "What does that have to do with the black community?"

"Umm, well he's got good music."

"Ok, are any of the producers on the tracks African-American? Does he have an African-American following? Does anyone outside of Iowa even know about him? Is there anything that you can give me that I can grab on to?"

And the phone goes dead.  They have no way to answer that question.  And that's the end of that one.

PRWeek: Do you have tips for a good pitch?

Tatum: The best pitch is the one where you know what the audience that you're pitching to wants.  Find a way to pitch in a way that's different or has some sort of a connection to the audience that the media institution that you're pitching can relate to.

If they were to say this was a white guy in Iowa who grew up in the black church, maybe that would've been interesting because his roots are in gospel.  But a white farmer from Iowa doesn't mean anything to me.

PRWeek: Many PRWeek stories have discussed companies trying to reach out to the African-American community through more targeted PR. Any suggestions for them?

 

Tatum: Definitely go through the black press, but not only through PR. While they will go to some media, just take out ads, and hope that someone will pick up on the story, they'll go to the black press with just PR and not spend any money with them. The fact is we can't survive that way. You need to come to the table with something to offer.

Name: Elinor Tatum

Title: Editor-in-chief and publisher

Outlet: New York Amsterdam News

Preferred contact method: elinor.tatum@amsterdamnews.com

Web site: www.amsterdamnews.com

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