By: Mark Fitzgerald
When is a paper a black paper? That’s the issue roiling the nation’s black-owned newspapers as a New York Times Co.-owned daily in Florida prepares to launch a weekly later this month in a heavily African-American neighborhood.
Black publishers have watched mainstream dailies start up Spanish-language newspapers ? and they are worried that the Times Co. paper could be the template for newspapers aimed at their audience. “We are very concerned about this, and we’re going to watch and see what direction this takes ? and we’re going to alert our communities across the United States,” says John B. Smith Sr., the new president of the largest association of black newspapers, the National Newspaper Publishers Association/Black Press of America in Washington, D.C.
The editor heading up the Aug. 25 launch of free-distribution Gainesville (Fla.) Guardian was most recently managing editor for the historic black paper, the Atlanta Daily World. The Guardian will distribute its 10,000 press run in the two heavily black ZIP codes of east Gainesville. And the publisher of the Florida Star in Jacksonville, which advertises itself as “Northeast Florida’s largest and oldest African-American newspaper,” has protested personally to the publisher of the new weekly’s parent, the 48,564-circulation Gainesville Sun.
But Sun Publisher James E. Doughton insists the Guardian will not be a “black” paper. “It’s mostly just a weekly newspaper for east Gainesville,” he says. The Guardian will be no different from the general-interest community weeklies that other Times Co. dailies have launched successfully in the nearby Lakeland and Ocala markets, he adds. “It was based, frankly, on the success of those products that we began to look at what we could do in Gainesville,” Doughton says. The paper was looking for areas that were “perhaps underserved,” he adds, and east Gainesville was the neighborhood where the daily had the least penetration.
The Sun executives say there’s been no local controversy about the new paper. “We’ve gotten nothing but total support” from both potential readers and advertisers, Doughton says.
NNPA President Smith, publisher of The Atlanta Inquirer, responds that African Americans will resent mainstream dailies targeting them with new publications, when their dailies ignore them and do not fight for their interests. “The black community does not feel like someone from the other side can address the issues that face us,” he says.
“Sure, their pockets are deeper than ours,” Smith adds, “But no matter how many times they come out with a publication, saying it’s going to be for black people, they cannot claim one fact ? that they’re black-owned and operated.”