In 1827, Samuel Cornish and James Russwurm launched Freedom’s Journal, the first African-American newspaper with the slogan “We wish to plead our own cause.”
One hundred and seventy two years later, it is just as important to have ownership of the media which serve African-Americans. President Obama acknowledged that this week by meeting with representatives of black media to relate that “the number one issue for African-Americans is improving education.” That topic probably is not on the front pages of other media.
During the week of August 18-22 during National Black Business Month, we are encouraging consumers to provide a stimulus to African-American owned media: radio stations on Tuesday; cable networks on Wednesday, filmmakers on Thursday, music producers on Friday and newspapers and magazines on Saturday. All media are suffering in the current economic downturn. African-American media are even more impacted because of the higher unemployment in their market and because prime advertisers like automobile manufacturers have cut back dramatically.
Consumers can make a real difference in the case of cable channels. The Africa Channel, a Beverly Hills-based network, is broadening the image of the African continent by broadcasting English-language programming produced by African networks. In many ways, it has a broader diversity of programming than many American channels, including drama, sports, concerts and news.
TVOne has also emerged as an alternative for cable viewers by producing some of its own shows and leveraging the brand power of its affiliated radio personalities in the Radio One stable. In both cases, their place on cable systems is determined by the number of cable viewers who request them. Asking your cable system to site either or both of these channels is a definite activity for National Black Business Month.
The venerable Ebony/Jet empire of Johnson Publishing Company has been reported by NPR to face financial challenges during the recession as a result of the advertising slump. This is another situation where consumers can make a difference by subscribing to magazines that every black household should have.
Locally, black newspapers have leaned more heavily on advertising in recent years, which leaves them vulnerable to advertising slumps. Subscription drives in conjunction with civic groups or churches can make sure those voices remain strong.
In every case, we should avoid feeling that we can do without African-American owned media, most especially with an African-American president.
At least some networks are encouraging folks to show up at presidential rallies with loaded guns; police organizations are giving standing ovations to the officer who arrested Dr. Henry Louis Gates and states are still passing anti-affirmative action initiatives. The so-called post-racial society lasted perhaps a month.
Black media, just like us at eAccess Corp., have to maximize the use of technology to extend our reach and improve our product. We need new revenue models to lessen the reliance on outside advertisers.
However, if Russwurm and Cornish were around today, they would still say “We wish to plead our own cause.”