By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
The Rev. Mark Thompson’s illustrious and groundbreaking journalism career, which found its roots in the Black Press of America nearly 40 years ago, has come full circle as he assumes a pivotal leadership role with the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA).
From his early days as a journalist with the historic AFRO newspaper in Washington, D.C., under the mentorship of the legendary Frances L. Murphy II, to trailblazing moments as the first talk show host on XM Satellite Radio, Thompson has consistently championed the cause of African American-owned media. Now, in his role as the new NNPA Global Digital Transformation Director, he is poised to drive a new era of innovation, guiding member publishers through the intricate landscape of digital transformation and content distribution.
“After serious contemplation and after a review of the capabilities of more than 75 others who inquired about the job, not only did Mark’s resume and experience rise to the top in the digital space, but in his longevity of advocating the power and impact of the Black Press of America, this was not a difficult decision,” stated NNPA President and CEO Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr.
“In fact,” Dr. Chavis continued, “it was providential. We look forward to working as a team, and I’m very honored to invite Mark to join the NNPA’s national staff as a full-time Global Digital Transformation Director. In addition to Mark’s experience in America, he also has an international perspective, particularly in the African diaspora, where the content produced and distributed by the Black Press of America will also, with his assistance, have extended reach and impact for communities of color throughout the world as the NNPA continues to be the most respected, vital, and trusted voice of Black America.”
Currently a political, human rights, and breaking news podcast host, Thompson’s work in digital social media won his “Make It Plain” recognition among Best Civil Rights Podcasts, Best Human Rights Podcasts, Best Podcasts About Social Justice, and Best Broadcast Television Podcasts in 2021.
A 40-veteran on the frontlines of the ongoing struggle of African Americans and others, the 104th Annual NAACP Convention in Orlando in 2013 awarded Thompson “For 25 years of crusading journalism and outstanding leadership in furthering the work of civil and human rights.” He not only has been a part of every significant social justice movement and event over the past 40 years, but he has also been a radio broadcaster and journalist for over three decades and has spent over ten years as a national network television commentator.
“In this pivotal time as it pertains to the Black Press of America, we need new blood and new vision that would take us to higher heights which include making a huge footprint in the digital transformation of Black-owned media,” NNPA National Chairman and Westside Gazette Publisher Bobby Henry added. “Mark has a proven track record in his endeavors of achieving success in bringing Black-owned media to the forefront. We are positioned at the right time where a fresh undertaking would complement the 197 years of the rich history of the Black Press. Digital transformation is on the horizon for all media, and this is especially of benefit to Black-owned media. The Black Press is here to stay and to be complemented by our digital platforms will only enhance our presence.”
Among Thompson’s many academic and professional achievements, he graduated from the University of the District of Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in mass media journalism long before the advent of the internet and social media, a testament to his foresight in the ever-evolving journalism world. He said his mandate with NNPA extends beyond technical aspects, encompassing a strategic approach to content distribution that emphasizes revenue generation.
“As media evolves, we’ve all had to adjust. I learned the importance of digital and social media at least ten years ago and jumped right in when others were resistant,” Thompson asserted. “When ‘Make It Plain’ was on Sirius XM, I pioneered a lot of digital and social media. Some people didn’t like it; only some were ready to embrace going into social media. However, we’ve all found something critically important: reaching a larger audience because more information is consumed via social media, and it’s an ever-growing and ever-standing market to reach our audience. We must keep ourselves on the pulse of that and make our publications more and more accessible digitally and on social media. That is important to the future and survival of the African American print media.”
Thompson noted that he and Chavis began the “Meet the Black Press” segment on his “Make It Plain” show some years ago and said the importance of that component was again amplified at the time of his NNPA hire.
“Without realizing it, this moment for the NNPA is timelier than we may have thought,” Thompson insisted. “On the very weekend that ‘Meet the Press’ has given a platform to someone (GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York) who questioned the legitimacy of the past election and called insurrectionists hostages, shows how relative and timely it is to meet the Black Press not just as a segment, but to meet the Black Press as a way of life going forward.”
Hiring Thompson in this role underscores the NNPA’s commitment to fortifying the 250 African American-owned newspapers and media companies within its membership, Chavis exclaimed.
Chavis and Thompson proclaimed that the NNPA Digital Network is now positioned as the most prominent African American-owned digital network in America, with an ultimate goal of global dominance in becoming the most influential, engaging, and impactful digital news and content distribution network globally.
“Everyone knows about the downsizing and contraction of print newspapers,” Thompson said. “What the NNPA represents is what really boils down to is more than 200 bureaus, independent to some extent, but each local Black-owned newspaper has an important role in letting the world know what’s happening in local communities. The more we work together and promote that, the more it sets NNPA apart because very few major print media have organizations of that size and depth anymore.”
Already, in a testament to the NNPA’s commitment to innovation, strategic collaborations have been forged with key players such as the Google News Initiative (GNI), the US Black Chambers of Commerce, the National Association of Black-Owned Broadcasters, the NAACP, and the National Urban League. Chavis said those partnerships are designed to aggregate and disseminate digital content, solidifying the NNPA’s position as a frontrunner in the digital realm.
“With NNPA, journalism is still taking place, not sensationalism,” Thompson continued. “We’re seeing much of the mainstream [seeking] click-bait material. As the Black Press, we must continue to be the moral conscious and moral authority of objective journalism. That’s most important as we set the example to educate the next generation of journalists because we want Black students inspired.”
Chavis cautioned that, since 1827, when Freedom’s Journal was first published, there have been naysayers and turncoats that have tried unsuccessfully to silence the Black Press.
“I see clearly that 2024 will be another year of growth and expansion for the NNPA and the Black Press of America,” he said. “The acquisition of Mark Thompson as the Global Digital Transformation Director will greatly enhance not only what we do in 2024 in the digital and print space, but also as we approach the 200th anniversary of the Black Press of America in 2027, we are all grateful that Mark Thompson has agreed to join the NNPA for this vital and transformational objective.”