Nice doubleheader on the revival of local news in Greater Boston from my friends at GBH News. Jeremy Siegel reports on three startups in the suburbs — the Burlington Buzz, the Framingham Source and the Marblehead Beacon — as well as Boston Black News, a radio outlet. (Jeremy interviewed me as well.)
Tori Bedford has a piece on the ownership transition at The Bay State Banner, which has been covering the Black community since 1965 and whose new executives have some ambitious expansion plans.
Today brings some incredibly good news for independent community journalism in the Boston area. Melvin Miller, the legendary founder, publisher and editor of The Bay State Banner, has decided to sell the paper. Miller, 88, has been a stalwart in covering the Black community since he launched the paper 57 years ago. But as he says, he’s not getting any younger — and not only is the Banner remaining independent and Black-owned, but there are plans to expand as well.
The Banner will be acquired by a group headed by Ron Mitchell, an editor and video journalist at WBZ-TV, and Andre Stark, a filmmaker whose credits include GBH-TV and its national programs “Frontline” and “Nova.” Yawu Miller, Mel Miller’s nephew, will stay on as senior editor, and Ken Cooper, who recently retired from a top position at GBH News, will serve as an editorial consultant overseeing the addition of three regional editions north of Massachusetts, in Connecticut and in Rhode Island. Colin Redd, who’s worked as business development manager at Blavity, a website popular with younger African Americans, will oversee a digital expansion.
Mel Miller was quoted as saying:
I’ve been looking for some time for someone to step up and take over the job. I think the Banner is needed more than ever. Both Ron and Andre are from old Roxbury families with deep ties to the community. They know the people, know the streets, know the issues we face. I have every confidence they will carry on the great work we’ve done for close to 60 years.
The Bay State Banner is a Boston institution. Miller has been performing a great service to the community since 1965 — and he’s performing another one now by leaving it in what sounds like very good hands.
The Emancipator, long in the making, has gotten past the soft-launch stage and made its formal debut this week. Aimed at covering the Black experience from an antiracist point of view, the site is vibrant and colorful. It looks great on mobile, and features videos (including one by Black activist and filmmaker Bree Newsome Bass, above) and comics alongside serious essays and reported pieces.
The Emancipator is a joint venture of The Boston Globe’s opinion operation and the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University. Northeastern journalism students are involved as well. There’s no paywall.
The point of the project is to provide national coverage of the country’s reckoning with systemic racism. Starting with the police murder of George Floyd and the police killing of Breonna Taylor in 2020, race has moved to the center of the national conversation in a way that it had not since the 1960s. Tragically, the moment we’re in right now feels more like the backlash than it does forward progress. The introduction puts it this way:
Just as 19th-century antislavery publications reframed and amplified the quest for abolition, The Emancipator centers critical voices, debates, and evidence-based opinion to reframe the national conversation on racial equity and hasten a more racially just society.
We put journalists, scholars, and community members into conversation, showcasing missing and underamplified voices — past and present — and demonstrating how they reveal the way forward.
The founders are former Globe editorial page editor Bina Venkataramin and BU’s Ibram X. Kendi, the author of “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,” winner of the National Book Award. The co-editors are Deborah D. Douglas and Amber Payne. Among the more recognizable bylines is that of Globe columnist Kimberly Atkins Stohr, and the star-studded advisory board includes the ubiquitous Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of the 1619 Project.
One interesting style note: News organizations have been reaching different conclusions during the past several years over whether they should uppercase “Black.” The Emancipator is going with uppercase “Black” and “White,” which, for what it’s worth, is what The Washington Post is doing as well. The Globe, The New York Times and The Associated Press have all opted for uppercase “Black” and lowercase “white.”
A year ago, when The Emancipator was announced, there were some hard feelings at The Bay State Banner, which has been covering the Black community in Greater Boston since 1965. (Northeastern students also contribute to the Banner through The Scope, our digital social-justice publication.) I don’t really see a conflict, though. The Banner continues to do a great job of covering local issues, while The Emancipator is national in scope and opinion-based. There’s room for both — and for more. Banner founder Melvin Miller, I should note, will receive a long-overdue Yankee Quill Award this Friday.
The Emancipator is an important project and a welcome new voice. I’ve signed up for “Unbound,” the site’s newsletter, and I’m interested to see how the project develops.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.