THE CHICAGO DEFENDER NEWSPAPER SET TO GO ALL-DIGITAL.
By: Richard Prince--"Journal-isms"
The storied Chicago Defender is ending print operations and will go all-digital, Hiram E. Jackson, CEO of parent Real Times Media, announced July 5.
Jackson told Journal-isms by telephone that the move will not affect the New Pittsburgh Courier and the Michigan Chronicle, his company’s other newspaper properties, but signals a shift in business models that puts a digital publication in the center of a range of products, such as community events.
Under this model, the digital product alone would not be responsible for carrying the company financially, as other digital-only products might be.
“We feel like we’re a leader in the black press” and will point the way for others to follow, Jackson said.
The National Newspaper Publishers Association, the trade association of black-press publishers, voted out its chairman in an election in which one issue was the failure of many such newspapers to keep up with the times.
The print Defender has a circulation of 16,000, Jackson said, but more than 200,000 follow its Facebook page and for five years it has put out a digital daily.
Jackson would not disclose how many editorial employees the Defender has, but said the cost savings could be redeployed into news operations. Moreover, the Defender has 115 years of archives that might be monetized.
The print edition turned a slight profit last year, he said. However, distribution was a problem, as Chicago’s black population is not as contiguous as it is in its Detroit and Pittsburgh markets.
The Defender’s legendary past included leading the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North.
“Giving voice to the voiceless, The Chicago Defender condemned Jim Crow, catalyzed the Great Migration, and focused the electoral power of black America,” according to the dust jacket of Ethan Michaeli’s 633-page tome, “The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America,” published in 2016.
“Robert S. Abbott founded The Defender in 1905, smuggled hundreds of thousands of copies into the most isolated communities in the segregated south, and was dubbed a ‘Modern Moses,’ becoming one of the first black millionaires in the process. His successor wielded the newspaper’s clout to elect mayors and presidents, including Harry S.Truman and John F. Kennedy, who would have lost in 1960 if not for The Defender’s support.
“Along the way, its pages were filled with columns by legends like Ida B. Wells, Langston Hughes, and Martin Luther King Jr.”
The letter July 5 to advertisers began, “Some 114 years ago and using a meager 25-cent investment, Robert S. Abbott birthed what he foretold would be ‘the world’s greatest weekly’ — the Chicago Defender newspaper. Back then, that was a bold statement. Over the years, we’ve continued to think boldly. In fact, making bold moves is in our DNA. That’s why we wanted you to be among the first to hear our exciting news. . . .”
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