A recent exchange of comments on the National Association of Black Journalists listserv about the quality of The Black Press provoked me to offer this response, which I now share here.
One Black editor wrote: “…clips from those who worked in black newspapers were often but not always of lower quality. I understand that many of those papers didn’t have the resources but many stories were simply poorly written, full of holes, one-sided or littered with typos…”
In the opinion of another NABJ member: “…The production problems (of) most black-owned newspapers endured. They did not own their presses, so they often leased time from others. This often led to hasty work as clocks ticked [and bills rang up]. Tragic errors and haphazard design followed….” Ahem.
My edited response: “I really must take umbrage at the idea that a well edited, error free Black newspaper is some sort of anomaly, or some dinosaur to be studied only in some museum after it’s long dead.
“Again, I point you to The Washington Informer. Look at it online, for crying out loud. Every week, on time and virtually typo-free, on a “leased press.” And it is not the only one. I also write for The Final Call. I have edited it. I edited its predecessor, Muhammad Speaks IN THE 1970s! Look at The Final Call online. I would not be able to stand among the Men who sell that newspaper every day, door-to-door and on street corners and look them in their eyes if someone in this group or anyone else could pick up ANY copy of that paper and pick it apart finding typos and errors of fact. One of the FC’s reporters and the editor-in-chief were both fired several years ago when a story in the paper was found to be factually unsubstantiated. So, no! It’s not like that, and you of all people should know better.
“We scrupulously proofread our product at Muhammad Speaks and the same is true today of the Final Call. We would not let a product go to the street with The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s name on it with errors in it. Now, The Final Call almost takes that tradition for granted, ever since its debut in 1979. It’s not rocket science. That’s just what professional journalists do, regardless of our platforms. Such excellence is common across the Black Press spectrum. At Muhammad Speaks we owned our own press and for five years we put a quality product on the street, every single week, on time!
“Several times I have been a judge of the annual National Newspaper Publishers Assocciation–The BlackPress of America–Excellence Awards (I was also twice a judge of the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards) and routinely have seen high quality entries in each of the NNPA’s 17 categories.
“Raymond Boone, editor of The Richmond Free Press was a Pulitzer judge (and is now possibly even a Pulitzer Board member), whose paper is one of the finest weeklies in the entire Commonwealth of Virginia.
“You insult the work of the high quality Black newspapers in dozens of cities when you suggest that the only militant, remarkably well edited Black paper is now 16 years dead. Look, for example at the NNPA prize winners going back over the years, excellence abounds!
“So please, don’t sell The Black Press short! The ice is just as cold in Black-owned and edited newspapers as it is in White, corporate-owned papers. Period. Ice is ice. Water freezes at 32 degrees on the Southside, just like it does on the Northside. And for any professor at an HBCU to even entertain any other notion is delusional. Do you think recruiters consider students coming out of anywhere in the DMV–Howard in D.C., Morgan State in Md., or Hampton in the Commonwealth of Virginia–equal to those from Georgetown, Univ of Md, or Old Dominion? Don’t make me laugh. They think of our schools just like they (we) think about the “Negro press” until someone shows them otherwise.
“As I suggested in my initial response on this subject, for a group of Black journalists such as NABJ to routinely harbor the self-hating notion that the Black newspaper industry is inferior goes back to the days of the founding of this organization, and this kind of snobbery is why there are not more NABJ members from among the legions of writers in The Black Press.”