Black press hit hard by COVID-19 but we will not shut down!

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By: N.L. Preston

HOUSTON – It is commonly said that journalists work on passion; working around the clock as the truth tellers bringing you the daily updates during the floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, battlefields of war and, as with today, health crises. And oftentimes, these dedicated journalists are putting themselves in the elements and on the front lines for little or no money – and more often these days, for free. Why? Because the economic downfall due to the coronavirus has had an even greater impact on the already diminishing print news industry. And when it comes to minority publications, things are even more brutal.

“The black press is needed more now than ever to educate the black community, which has been totally miseducated since integration,” said African-American News&Issues publisher Roy Douglas Malonson. “We will continue to stick to our mission, to address the current and historical needs affecting our community.”

An estimated 1,800 newspapers closed between 2004 and 2018 after the number of people buying print editions dropped, and now during the pandemic, it appears most small publications – especially minority-based ones – will be phased out altogether.

“An extinction-level event will probably hit the smaller ones really hard, as well as the ones that are part of the huge chains,” said Penny Abernathy, the Knight chair in journalism and digital media economics at the University of North Carolina.

In 2018, Abernathy released a study citing that 1,300 US communities have completely lost news coverage, thus creating “news deserts” – where local information and scrutiny of elected officials is non-existent.

That is not our business model.

Without fear or favor, AANI vows to keep circulating our printed newspapers, servicing the needs of our most vulnerable community members – those who do not have access to the internet and digital media. We will not only continue to bring the coverage needed to aide in the fight against the pandemic, we will still call on and call out our city, state and congressional leaders, etc. when necessary.

“We are bold and unapologetic in our news coverage. Because of our growth and distribution when we first started, Sylvester Turner was all over us to get exposure, now that he is mayor, he is leaning toward the other papers he feels has more glamour,” Malonson said. “While I respect how is he is leading this great city of ours during the COVID-19 crisis, I have taken issue with some of the community initiatives he’s launched. Despite it all, this paper will keep its fingers on the pulse of the community and tell readers what they need to know.”

Several Houston media outlets, specifically those servicing the Black community like the Houston Defender and Forward Times, have launched campaigns asking for either public donations and/or deciding to use only the online versions of their publications, offering no print editions due to the loss of advertisement dollars.

Other Black-owned community newspapers, including the Washington Informer, Atlanta Voice, Texas Metro News, Seattle Medium, and Virginia’s New Journal & Guide are also fighting to stay afloat during these trying times.

We have decided to bite the bullet, relying on Faith and our unwavering dedication to serve. Many of our readers are not typical internet users and still rely on the traditional newspapers in order to get their information. Today, with all the COVID-19 daily updates and adjustments, we feel our responsibility is to make sure those who are out of the “digital” loop, still remain in the loop of valuable information affecting the community for overall health and safety.

It is a tough decision as we, too, are feeling the financial strain, along with other print publications around the country.

According to information released in The Guardian, Gannett, the largest local newspaper owner in the US, has lost 94% of its value since August 2019, much of that loss coming since mid-February. The company said it would furlough staff across most of its newsrooms for one week each month, in what one newspaper union described as a 25% pay cut.

In Louisiana, one of the states suffering the most from the coronavirus, the Times-Picayune and the Advocate furloughed 10% of its 400 staff, and switched the rest to four-day work weeks. The Plain Dealer, a daily newspaper in Cleveland, Ohio, laid off 22 newsroom staff – including its health reporter.

And in Seattle, the weekly Stranger magazine said it was suspending publication, and temporarily laid off 18 employees. The Tampa Bay Times, Florida’s largest newspaper, has switched to a twice-weekly print edition after it lost $1m in advertising due to coronavirus.

Even Playboy Magazine recently announced its spring edition would be its last print magazine, saying the “disruption of the coronavirus pandemic to content production and the supply chain” accelerated growing concerns about sustaining a print product.

We at AANI have decided to temporarily reduce staff and lower the number of pages in each print edition, choosing to focus on what we feel are the most significant “news you can use” headlines. Keeping our print publication in circulation not only benefits our community, it strengthens our commitments to our large and small advertisers who rely on the community for business. Extended coverage can be found on our digital platform, AframNews.com.

“Together, we can face anything. We will not shut down,” Malonson said.