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.

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.”

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.