Words By Jai Makokha
There is a thing–then there’s the Black version of that thing. Just watch any person dance, then watch a Black person do the same dance. There is a difference.
The media landscape is no different. There is media, entertainment, and news, then there is a distinctly different iteration that is Black media, Black entertainment, and Black news. Some producers, networks, executives attempt to tap into that thing and produce something for our eyeballs, but Black media producers have been attempting to penetrate our minds and our collective psyche for years.
In 2021, a group of US Senators, including Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Sens. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced the Local Journalism Sustainability Act. The bill is focused on “[reviving] and [sustaining] local trusted media.” But when breaking news for generations has come from Black media, local or otherwise, the question remains how do Black people fit into this effort. Our publisher, Patrick Washington, offers some context.
What Is the NNPA? That is, what are they officially, and, more importantly, what does it seem they are from your perspective?
The NNPA, or National Newspaper Publishers Association, is the trade organization for the Black Press. It works in a parent company kind of way for local Black press publishers. The NNPA provides a legacy line to companies like The Weekly linking us to the other Black Press outlets around the country and the world, providing editorial content relevant to our community, and positioning us to leverage our network for our combined success.
What is the relevance of Black publishers today, both intended and actual?
The relevance of the Black Press today is the same as it was 200 years ago at its inception. The Black Press provides a voice to the voiceless, a record for those unrecorded, a pillar on which our community can stand. The Black Press has always acted as an advocate for the Black community and continues to do so. Even with the ever present adversity of a racist system of control, the Black Press has shown us that bravery in the face of fear is a standard for us. The promise of the first amendment is upheld with the Black Press, and understanding the roles of Black people in America is outlined with a distinct definition by the Black Press. Organization of civil rights was held in churches and Black Press newsrooms. Most if not all of the now historic and iconic imagery of our people came from the Black Press. Now we find ourselves having to reposition ourselves within the wider media landscape to achieve the same goals as the past.
How does Black print media fit into today’s media landscape?
Print is an interesting industry these days. On one hand, there is an ever-shrinking print industry that is constantly being looked at in mainstream media, and of course journalism as an inevitable effect of the digitization of media; however, the Black Press has always been working under the threat of destruction, so what’s new, right? But now in the age of social media, and sensational clickbait posts, and partisan media, the Black Press is now even more responsible for being the voice of the Black community in my opinion. With a few keystrokes and a catchy headline almost anyone can claim to be a journalist or media outlet, and we’ve seen that phenomenon take root with the rise of social media and the cultural shifts it has brought with it, and because of the media landscape if they become popular they “are” the media at that point. But accountability, reliability, keeping with the traditions of the journalism standards is something that the Black Press is and always will do. That part of the foundation is why the Black Press is relevant now and will continue to be relevant in the future. Trust is not a thing to be taken likely, and Black people have and should trust their own press.
It’s both an honor and a privilege to continue that tradition and a welcomed challenge for those who think they compete in the same league.
What is needed from Black publishers, specifically?
What’s needed now from Black publishers is forward-thinking and innovation; Keeping the traditions of the past intact while evolving to meet the needs of the new media landscape. As always we need to meet our audience and community where they are and not be afraid of rapid change and shifting of the society we live in. Of course more digital presence, but also a changing of the approach to coverage. It’s a shift that happens in media from newspapers to radio to tv to movies to internet to social media it’s always changing and part of our job is to adapt. With adaptation come evolution and most importantly survival and continuing of the species… it’s what needs to be done, so It will be was happens.
Given these remarks, how does Dallas Weekly fit into your broader view of Black media? Is your organization keeping up with your expectations of Black publishers? If so, how? If not, why?
Dallas Weekly is the blueprint. What we are doing is spreading our product line all over the digital map and recording what works and what doesn’t. With that we want to create a living record of best practices in an ever shifting media world. It’s difficult to tell whether or not the changes work in the moment, but time will tell for us. We’ve seen certain choices work out well, and others not so much, but that’s where we want to be. I believe we are keeping up with the publics expectations. We are currently everywhere a Black reader could be. We still print our book which we constantly are asking the public for feedback, for our website we do the same. We are social media present and have launched a mobile app. We create audio and video products which we also share through newsletters. We even have created NFT covers to exist in the crypto space. All of it I believe will yield positive results in the long term, and long term planning is how we will walk into the future.
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What is your vision for your business, both the stated vision and your personal vision?
The vision for the business is to be THE leading source of information and connection for the Black community of DFW. I want the Weekly to be the first things someone suggest when anyone asks “what’s happening in Dallas”. My personal vision is that Dallas Weekly will be the leading media source for Black content globally. Lofty maybe, but with web reach social media, and an interconnected media world, I don’t think this is to far out of the realm of possibility. I can see streaming tv, VOD movies, cultural events live streamed across the world as easily as I can see the the sun rising in the morning tomorrow. It not a question of if, it’s a question of how long until the hard work pays off. And it will pay off.