The harsh realities of black life needs coverage from bold black journalists who report from a place of ownership.
A familiar conversation arose in the boardroom of The Philadelphia Daily News during the November meeting of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists: how to get more black media makers into newsrooms across the city.
We weren’t there to talk about that particular topic; it just seemed to morph out of our conversation on “The Black Male Image Through Media.”
But regardless of how we arrived at that issue, it’s a valid discussion when you understand that in 2014 people of color make up only 13.34 percent of newsroom employees in the U.S. Though that’s a 1 percent improvement from 2012, it’s still below the record high, which came in 2006 with 13.73.
When I couple those statistics – even at the record high people of color didn’t make up a quarter of American news makers – with the fact that there are zero black-owned television stations in the U.S., I ask myself: why aren’t black journalists looking to build and scale content production centers, rather than lobby the establishment for newsroom diversity and prime real estate for stories about the black community.
And considering most working journalists admit they will only buck the system so hard because they need to keep their checks coming in, ownership seems like the only solution left to creating an authentic news outlet that sounds like the black community’s rage and rejoicing.
A common push back to that idea, however, is money: how do you acquire funds to startup and how can you sustain it? Another push back is how do you get black people to support other black people?
I have some of those answers, though not all of them. But what’s really important, in my opinion, is that the idea of black-owned, digital-first news organizations in the 21st century is not impossible to build and scale, and I’d point to my company, Techbook Online, as an example.
The only black-owned, digital-first news organization in Philadelphia, Techbook Online, founded in 2009, everyday publishes original, socially relevant stories of impact, issue, inspiration and innovation, reaching up to 100 million people a month across channels and platforms. Last month the company expanded to Houston, thus establishing Techbook Online as the largest and most active publisher associated with Comcast’s Project Open Voice, a national initiative to strengthen local content. Our video content is available in 2.1 million homes in the Philadelphia area via Xfinity On Demand and readership for our wholly-owned media brands, like TABS!™, is experiencing tremendous organic growth.
And though we do a lot of things differently at Techbook Online, there’s one common thread that unites us with every other news organization in Philadelphia (and in the world): we tell stories.
Storytelling in the 21st century has become a low-cost, low barrier, high reward operation that the white community in large numbers is embracing and scaling. At least two news organizations with all-white staff have launched in Philadelphia in the last 15 months: The Declaration and Billy Penn.
Should these two new ventures come under fire for their lack of diversity? Some would argue yes. I would say no, as I believe they did the right thing for the people they seek to represent. More importantly, they were unhappy with the state of media in their city and they did something about it.
Now some will say it was easier for them because of white privilege and maybe that’s true. But even if black journalists have to work 10 times harder with 10 times less, what’s really important is that it’s not impossible to do, which means black journalists should be doing it in order to cover the systemic issues of, or solutions to the problems that plague the black community.
As Dr. Cornel West stated when lambasting black journalists for wanting access and being timid in their coverage of the big issues, it’s about sacrifice and be willing to follow through on your moral convictions, no matter what it costs you – even if its a job at a mainstream outlet.
We must remember and lift up people like Reverend Taylor Nightingale of Memphis, who started anti-segregationist newspapers called the Free Speech and Headlight, which Ida B. Wells would later become co-owner and publisher of. We must remember and lift up Samuel Cornish and John Brown Russwurm who started the first African-American periodical called Freedom’s Journal. We must remember and lift up Fredrick Douglas, who started the North Star.
All of these bold men and women started publications because the harsh realities of black life were much darker and eviler than any white institution would make public – and the same is true today, as nothing’s changed but the date.
That same energy… that same prophetic fire as Cornel West puts it, is missing from black journalism today and it shouldn’t be, considering the obstacles that we, as black people, face daily in America.
We must remember and lift up the great black pioneers, not because it’s February, but to remind us that nothing is impossible and that together we can win.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™