N.Y. Times Corp. Launches Paper for Black Readers
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.
Tomorrow, a new newspaper debuts in Gainesville, Florida. The Gainesville Guardian is being launched at a time when many newspapers around the country are losing circulation. This one is aimed at African-American readers, but not everybody is happy about that. NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports.
KAREN GRIGSBY BATES reporting:
To paraphrase the old riddle `What's black and white and not being read all over?' If you guessed newspapers, you'd be correct. Traditional print news is being squeezed by cable TV, talk radio and the Internet. So when The New York Times Corporation announced it was starting a newspaper aimed at black readers in Gainesville, Florida, that should be good news, right? George Curry, editor in chief at the National Newspaper Publishers Association, which represents the black press, doesn't think so. He and his colleagues are worried that black-owned newspapers, which have long struggled to stay afloat, will face new financial challenges when white-owned black papers cut into badly needed ad revenues.
Mr. GEORGE CURRY (National Newspaper Publishers Association): What you're doing is basically putting at risk newspapers that have been around since the 1800s and have had a mission. This is not just a profit motive with them to give us coverage, frankly, because the major media has not provided that same coverage. And we have the same problem today, whether it's The New York Times or the Sunday morning talk shows.
BATES: Toby Usnik is a PR representative for The New York Times Corporation, which owns 16 regional newspapers across the country, including the Gainesville Sun. Usnik, who is also the Sun spokesman, explains why The Times Corp.-owned Gainesville Guardian is being launched.
Mr. TOBY USNIK (PR Representative, The New York Times Corporation): When you talk to folks in the community, which our publishers and editors have done, in fact, the community has welcomed this product because they feel that there's not something right now meeting their needs. So there's been incredible enthusiasm from the business leaders and the citizens in East Gainesville.
BATES: Keith Woods is the head of faculty at the Poynter Institute, the St. Petersburg-based think tank and training school for journalists. He says The Gainesville Guardian is not being launched solely as a public service.
Mr. KEITH WOODS (Poynter Institute): It is obviously a business decision, and it's a business decision in a time when news organizations around the country are recognizing that they have to get out there and find broader audiences, not only to expand circulation, but more importantly, to deliver more people to advertisers who will buy the product.
BATES: But, says Woods, the area's present can't be divorced from its past. Gainesville in northern Florida has had a racially troubled history. Several Ku Klux Klan members were widely believed to have led a 1923 massacre in nearby Rosewood. The black town was attacked and destroyed when a white woman alleged rape by a black man. In a now-infamous editorial, The Gainesville Daily Sun vowed that, quote, "Law or no law, courts or no courts, as long as criminal assaults on innocent women continue, lynch law will prevail and blood will be shed," unquote. Historically, black newspapers led the crusade against lynching, even as much of the white mainstream press tolerated it. So, says Keith Woods, local black publishers can be forgiven for looking askance at Gainesville's new white-owned black paper.
Mr. WOODS: You're talking about a part of the country right now where newspapers were running stories in the '20s and '30s inciting violence against black people. So when a black newspaper in a town like Gainesville sees an organization like the Sun, by way of The New York Times, coming in and trying to bite off a piece of that audience, they have to see it through that context.
BATES: There's also the question of editorial independence. The Guardian's five-person staff will be housed in the Gainesville Sun's building, says Times Corp.'s Toby Usnik, but won't have Sun interference.
Mr. USNIK: It'll be the editor's decision as to how to put the paper together each day.
BATES: Keith Woods isn't so worried about black editorial independence as he is about editorial laziness by any white press that might eventually own a black paper.
Mr. WOODS: I guess my greater concern is that when the big story happens and John Johnson dies, for example, that a newspaper will allow the black arm of the paper to make hay of that and then not give it the same kind of press it should have in the mainstream paper.
BATES: The Gainesville Guardian's first issue will hit newsstands tomorrow, and publishers in both the mainstream and the ethnic press will be watching to see how it does. The National Newspaper Publishers Association's George Curry is hoping that the thud of The Guardian on front porches isn't the sound of the last nail being hammered into the black press' coffin.
Mr. CURRY: The larger problem, though, I fear, is you're going to see this duplicated around the country because the demographics are so rapidly changing. And so as whites become the minority for the first time in this country, you're going to see more and more mainstream companies going after black businesses.
BATES: If that happens, you'll be able to read all about it in some paper. The question is, though, which one? Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News, Los Angeles.
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