Black newspapers across the country collaborate via Word In Black

The trade magazine Editor & Publisher reports that 10 Black newspapers have created a network to provide news in communities of color across the country. The Effort, called Word In Black, is part of the Fund for Black Journalism, which was launched a year ago by the Local Media Association, according to E&P’s Evelyn Mateos.

Word In Black, she adds, “covers racial equity, K-12 education, police reform, healthcare disparities, social justice, politics, opinion, sports and LGBTQ.” Nick Charles, who’s heading up the project, tells Mateos:

[These] 10 different publishers sometimes have different mindsets, different politics, and they live in different parts of the country. So, people in Texas don’t have the same ideas about a lot of things that people in New York may have. But their affection and love for communities are what binds them. Collaboration is going on because people realize that to survive and to meet our mission as journalists, we have to band together.

The papers range from New York to Sacramento, but nothing locally. It would be great to see The Bay State Banner become part of this. It would also be interesting to see if The Emancipator, a nationally focused website sponsored by The Boston Globe and BU’s Center for Antiracist Research, could find a way to collaborate.

What’s in a name? The Bay State Banner’s founder weighs in on The Emancipator

The Boston Globe and the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research should have come up with a name other than The Emancipator for the digital publication they announced last month, according to the editor and publisher of The Bay State Banner.

Melvin Miller, who founded the Banner in 1965 to cover the Black community in Greater Boston, wrote recently that The Emancipator — which takes its name from a 19th-century abolitionist newspaper — conjures up images of white people seeking to free African Americans from oppression when in fact the real need is for whites to overcome their own racism. He wrote:

Even with its best intentions, the Emancipator was an organization of substantial white men to eliminate slavery. Its objective now, apparently, is to end white racism. That is a cultural impediment of white Americans. Nonetheless, the name “Emancipator” still implies that Blacks are the ones impaired by slavery or its aftereffects.

Miller added that the Globe’s role “does little to elevate the trust and confidence of Black citizens of Boston. Over the years the Boston Globe has not been overly friendly to the development of Black institutions in Boston.”

Globe opinion editor Bina Venkataraman, who’s heading up The Emancipator along with Ibram X. Kendi, director of BU’s antiracism center, referred my inquiry to Kendi, who did not return several emails seeking comment. But in a recent interview with Ben Smith of The New York Times, Venkataraman and Kendi said they decided on the name because they wanted to evoke the great abolitionist publications of the 19th century. Their first choice was The Liberator, the legendary newspaper founded by William Lloyd Garrison, but that name was already in use.

If anything, Miller’s commentary shows why The Emancipator is needed. Boston is a city that is still haunted by its racist past. And though the atmosphere has improved to the point at which the acting mayor is a Black woman, we still have a long way to go. The venture gives the Globe an opportunity to overcome the distrust that Miller refers to as well.

And as the Banner’s senior editor, Yawu Miller (also no fan of the name), said recently of The Emancipator in an email to “Beat the Press,” “There’s never enough coverage of race, justice and inequality.”

The Emancipator is currently seeking editors-in-chief to be based at the Globe and at BU, and is scheduled to make its debut later this year.

Could the Globe do more to fill the local news gap?

The Globe’s YourTown site for Needham circa 2010

Last Thursday we had a terrific panel discussion at Northeastern’s School of Journalism about the local news crisis in Greater Boston. Our panelists were state Rep. Lori Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, the lead sponsor of a state commission on local news that was recently created; retired Boston Globe editorial page editor Ellen Clegg; Yawu Miller, senior editor of The Bay State Banner; Bill Forry, managing editor of The Dorchester Reporter; and Julie McCay Turner, co-founder and managing editor of The Bedford Citizen, a nonprofit website that started as a volunteer project and that has gradually added paid journalism.

You can read Mihiro Shimano’s account at The Scope by clicking here. But I want to pick up on something that Ellen (my research partner on a book about local news) said about The Boston Globe’s role.

I was moderating and couldn’t take notes. But when I asked her about the Globe’s role in local news, she said the paper discovered about 20 years ago that it couldn’t make much of a dent at the hyperlocal level. Readers looked to their community weeklies and dailies for coverage of day-to-day life in their cities and towns. What the Globe could provide, she said, was regional coverage of issues that affected everyone — which is pretty much the mission statement for the paper in general.

As she also pointed out, the Globe now has a digital Rhode Island section, which is in keeping with the regional focus, and covers Newton through a partnership with Boston University. But could the paper do more?

Now that corporate-owned chains have decimated most of the once-strong community papers that circle Boston, I wonder if the Globe might be able to play more of a role. One idea would be to revive the YourTown websites that were unveiled during the last few years of New York Times Co. ownership. YourTown covered not just the Boston suburbs but neighborhoods within the city as well, which remains a crucial need. That was back in the days of the free web, and it proved impossible to sell ads for the sites. Now that everything is subscription-driven, though, would it be possible to try again?

There’s no substitute for independently owned community media, but a greater presence by the Globe — which itself is independently owned — might be the next best thing.

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The newly launched Boston Guardian sparks a controversy

Looks like David Jacobs, publisher of the now-defunct Boston Courant and the new Boston Guardian, may have stepped in it. The Bay State Banner, which serves the African-American community, is blasting the Guardian on its Facebook page for heedlessly recycling the name of a historically prominent black newspaper. Here’s what the Banner has to say:

The paper formerly known as Back Bay Courant has relaunched as a paper called Boston Guardian. Are they clueless about the legacy of that name..it is Boston’s first black newspaper founded by William Monroe Trotter. Is our history so unimportant that they would take this name to serve Back Bay residents?? Melvin Miller didn’t even use the name when he founded the Banner as the legacy of the Guardian. We have a front page of the Guardian framed on the wall of our office. This is beyond disrespectful.

Hat tip to Universal Hub. Above is our discussion about the Guardian on Beat the Press last Friday, in which we reviewed the Guardian‘s unusual origins: Jacobs shut down the Courant after he lost a court settlement and then launched the Guardian under new corporate ownership.

Update: The Bay State Banner has posted an editorial headlined “An affront to Boston’s Black History.”

Violence, art and the media’s responsibilities

Journalists from a number of Boston news organizations will gather this Thursday evening for a panel discussion about the media’s role and responsibilities in covering urban violence.

Part of the exhibit “Anonymous Boston,” which documents the lives of young murder victims and how the media covered their deaths, the discussion will be held at the Fourth Wall Project, near Kenmore Square, at 132 Brookline Ave. The panel is titled “If It Bleeds, It Leads: The Role of Media in Urban Violence.” I will have the honor of moderating.

The exhibit is the subject of this week’s cover story in the Boston Phoenix by Chris Faraone. As you will see, the families of murder victims say the loss of their children is often compounded by sensational, inaccurate media coverage and by hateful online comments.

The Boston Herald is singled out by several people as a particularly egregious offender. Morever, Joanna Marinova-Jones, the community activist who has overseen the exhibit, is in the midst of a libel suit against the Herald. Despite those facts (or maybe because of them), I’m hoping the Herald will accept our invitation for what is intended as a substantive, civil conversation.

Participants who have already confirmed include Boston Globe city editor Steve Smith, Bay State Banner executive editor Howard Manly, WGBH Radio (89.7 FM) senior investigative reporter Phillip Martin, El Planeta managing editor Marcela Garcia, pioneering African-American television reporter Sarah Ann Shaw and Faraone.

The event will take place from 6 to 8 p.m., and is free and open to the public.

The formerly independent Bay State Banner (II)

Boston Globe columnist Adrian Walker writes about Bay State Banner publisher Melvin Miller’s decision to accept a $200,000 government-administered loan, courtesy of Boston Mayor Tom Menino: “[I]ts independence is the only thing that makes the Banner worth saving, journalistically speaking. There is simply no getting around the fact that it will return to the stands as a less independent voice.”

The formerly independent Bay State Banner

In their wonderful little book on media ethics, “The Elements of Journalism,” Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel identify independence as such a touchstone that it comprises two of their nine points:

4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power.

Today the Bay State Banner ceases to be an independent newspaper. By accepting Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s offer of a $200,000 government-administered loan, publisher Melvin Miller has compromised his 44-year-old weekly, which covers Greater Boston’s African-American community.

Miller tells the Boston Globe that he’ll still criticize Menino if he thinks it’s warranted. But that’s not the issue. Now, even if he blasts Menino, readers will have a right to wonder what calculations went into that — indeed, whether the Banner was being critical of the mayor just to prove that it could.

The Banner loan is neither unprecedented nor is it the end of the world. Several decades ago the late David Brickman, owner of the Malden Evening News, accepted government redevelopment money in order to build a new headquarters as part of an effort to rehabilitate Malden Square. The News continued to be a valuable local resource for many years to come. But there was a lot of criticism even at the time.

The general, inviolable rule is that government and journalism can’t mix because journalism is meant to be an independent check on government. That’s why recent suggestions to bail out the struggling newspaper business have largely been met with hoots of derision.

Miller may be right when he says accepting the loan is preferable to letting his paper go out of business. The Banner may continue as an important community outlet. I hope it does. But something was lost when Miller said “yes” to Menino.

More: John Carroll has similar thoughts.

The definition of a bad idea

Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s proposal to prop up the Bay State Banner with a $200,000 loan administered by the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Talk about a conflict of interest. No word on whether Banner publisher Melvin Miller is on board. Let’s hope not.

A banner day for the Banner?

The Bay State Banner may survive. According to the Boston Globe’s Meghan Irons, Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree (photo) says he has lined up a dozen investors to save the weekly newspaper, which serves Greater Boston’s African-American community. Ogletree says the Banner, founded 44 years ago by Melvin Miller, who’s still the publisher, could resume publication next week.

Meanwhile, the Phoenix’s Adam Reilly takes a closer look at the Banner and finds it to be “uneven.” But though Reilly pays lip service to the notion that the Banner is a community paper rather than the African-American equivalent of the Globe or the Boston Herald, I think he gets a little too hung up on the Banner’s shortcomings in comparison to major media outlets.

The real point of comparison ought to be with neighborhood papers like the Jamaica Plain Gazette, the South End News and the Dorchester Reporter, as well as ethnic papers like El Planeta, the Boston Irish Reporter and the Boston Haitian Reporter.

I don’t want to make it sound like I’m intimately familiar with what those papers publish every week; far from it. But I do know that neighborhood papers are where you go for church and school announcements, news about local businesses and the like, which you rarely see in either of the city’s dailies. Whenever I’ve picked up a Banner, that’s what has stood out.

Of course, a weekly newspaper isn’t the only way of covering a neighborhood or an ethnic community. New England Ethnic News, for instance, offers an online compendium of the city’s ethnic newspapers, including the Banner.

In addition, a couple of years ago, there was a serious proposal to launch a Web-based news service for Roxbury, with content to be provided by citizen journalists who’d be recruited for the task. Perhaps the smartest idea was to tie the Web site to a local-access cable program.

It never got off the ground, which was a shame. But if the Banner revival falls short — or even if it doesn’t — we’re likely to see some online experiments in reaching out to Boston’s neighborhoods.

Photo of Ogletree (cc) by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Bay State Banner in limbo

The Bay State Banner, which serves the region’s African-American community, has shut down while editor and publisher Melvin Miller seeks investors. The Phoenix’s Adam Reilly has the details, here and here. Universal Hub and the Boston Globe have covered the story as well.

Miller, a lawyer who founded the Banner in 1965, has kept it alive through sheer grit and determination. As you can see from his bio, he’s had a wide-ranging career, and has served on a number of non-profit boards, including Boston University’s. The current executive editor is Howard Manly, a veteran journalist who’s worked for the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald and WGBH-TV’s “Greater Boston.”

Miller’s closest brush with media moguldom, to coin a word, was as vice president and general counsel at what is now WHDH-TV (Channel 7), owned by a cross-section of community leaders headed by David Mugar from 1982 to 1993.

Mugar and company had hoped to emulate the success of WCVB-TV (Channel 5), which in the 1970s established itself as one of the best and most-admired local television stations in the country. But the Channel 7 group was never able to pull it off, and ended up selling to Miami-based Ed Ansin.

The Banner’s Web site is still alive. Boston needs a locally owned African-American media outlet. Let’s hope someone who can afford to wait out the advertising meltdown will step forward.