Local News
5:41 pm
Thu July 31, 2014

At The Crossroads, Black Media And Community Journalism

For the first time in its 39 year history, the National Association of Black Journalists is holding its annual convention in Boston. Thousands of journalists of color converged at the Hynes Convention Center this week to network, talk business, and discuss the future of black media.

Thousands of journalists of color are converging on the Hynes Convention Center to network and talk business at a time when many questions surround journalism’s future.
Thousands of journalists of color are converging on the Hynes Convention Center to network and talk business at a time when many questions surround journalism’s future.
Credit WGBH News

Bob Butler is head of the National Association of Black Journalists. He walked through the Hynes Convention Center on Wednesday welcoming participants to the group’s annual convention. It comes as many black outlets are struggling in today’s media landscape, but Butler points out that some of the biggest national stories in recent years started with the black press.

"If It wasn’t for the black press we wouldn’t know about things like Trayvon Martin, like the Jena 6 in Louisiana. We wouldn’t know about those things because the mainstream media didn’t care about those stories until they got enough traction, which was started with the black press," he said.

Still, Butler admits the black media faces many challenges  -- some old, some new.

"It’s hard to get advertising revenue. That hasn’t changed. If we don’t have the advertising revenue, then it’s hard to hire the employees you need to do the work. Nowadays, people are going digital. If you don’t have the money, it’s hard to convert to a digital platform," he said.

That’s why Syracuse professor Rochelle Ford says black media is in crisis.

"The black media also needs to be able to communicate not just in print but online – and also online and on mobile because the African-American community, we’re one of the most mobile-savvy communities. Unfortunately, our media aren’t there," Ford said.

Many of these challenges were cited in the Pew Foundation’s annual State of the Media report in 2013. Among its findings -- while African-Americans turn to TV news at a greater rate than Americans overall, news still struggles to find a footing in black programming.

"The need is greater because so many of our communities are relying upon news sources that are slanted, that are misrepresented or aren’t even factually reported," Rochelle Ford said.

While the number of black media outlets is down, younger journalists, like the Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery, see a resurgence underway.

"If you look at TV One, it’s doing a lot of stuff right now and they’ve got their own Sunday show. They’re doing kind of news, so that’s been really big. And you also have a lot of resilient black newspapers in a lot of cities, a lot of towns in D.C., in Chicago, here in Boston," he said.

Lowery, who previously worked for The Boston Globe, said this area is a good example of the influence of community and ethnic news outlets like The Bay State Banner.

"You also have a lot of strong community papers, whether it be the Dorchester Reporter – or whether it be something like Blackstonian or the Banner. And so when one of the smaller, more community-based neighborhood-based outlets had a big story, had a big scoop, it would propel across the whole city," he said.

But more importantly, said CNN assignment editor and Roxbury native Greg Morrison, is the impact a story has closer to home.

"Telling the story about the young brother who came out of Roxbury and he could’ve been a gang banger and problem-maker and ended up going to Harvard. Tell those stories, celebrate those experiences because in the greater scheme of things, they may not matter to Greater Boston, but it matters to that family. It matters to that community," Morrison said.

And maybe that should matter to everyone.

WGBH News' Callie Crossley and The Root's Sheryl Huggins Salomon discussed the future of black media on Greater Boston: