Black Daily ‘Defender’ Cutting Frequency in Short-Term

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

The Chicago Defender, one of just two black-oriented dailies in the nation, told its readers Monday that it is reducing its frequency from five issues a week to four for the “short term.”

“It’s only temporary, no longer than about a month,” Tom Picou, chairman of the Defender’s corporate owner Real Times LLC, told E&P in an interview Monday.

Beginning this week, the Tuesday edition is being eliminated, leaving the paper with a Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and weekend edition that publishes on Friday.

In the unsigned note to readers, the paper said it is reducing frequency as a way to “use existing editorial resources” to produce 10 special editions to celebrate its 100th anniversary year, which got underway May 5, and to support two monthly supplements it launched last April.

Picou, though, had a simpler explanation of the move. “The Tuesday paper loses money, it’s as simple as that,” he said. “You know, we either have to beef it up or restructure it to make a profit. This was strictly a business decision.”

All the other editions are profitable, Picou said.

The note is vague about when the paper will return to five-day frequency, and seems to suggest that it will last for the entirety of the centennial year, which ends May 5, 2006. “It is our hope and desire that once our centennial year passes, we will be able to restore production of the Chicago Defender to five days a week,” the note said.

Picou, though, insisted that the four-day paper will not last anywhere near that long. “I?m portraying it as very short-term thing,” he said. Advertising salespersons were informed of the decision last Friday, and agreed with it, he added.

Picou also contended the cutback does not indicate the often-troubled Defender is a failing enterprise.

“We’ve turned this paper around,” he said, referring to the group of investors who bought the paper in January, 2003, from the estate of longtime publisher John Sengstacke. “When we walked in here, there was a $3 million debt. It’s been a struggle for the past two years … because the company had been deteriorating for 25 years. You know, it took USA Today five years to get to break even. We did that in a little over two years.”

Picou said the paper, which is now on probation with the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), hoped to have an audit completed by the third quarter of this year. He said the circulation was about 15,000 weekdays and 19,000 on weekends, which would indicate a gain of about 1,000 copies daily and 2,000 copies on weekends over the newspaper’s last ABC statement.

The change in frequency, Picou said, will also not affect the monthly magazines launched last April: The Temple, which is devoted to health issues among African Americans, and All That, which calls itself “the voice of Chicago’s urban culture” and is aimed at African Americans aged 18 to 34.

However, Picou said the names of both magazines would be changed because of trademark issues. He said new names had not yet been decided for the supplements.

He also said the paper was changing its circulation system to get more newsracks on the streets and to reach more readers in downtown Chicago. On advertising, the paper is pushing to get more Mom&Pop retailers, and will be beefing up its classified section, Picou said.

Phone calls seeking comment from Real Times President and CEO Clarence Nixon and Executive Editor Roland S. Martin were not returned immediately Monday.

Founded as a weekly on May 5, 1905 by the black journalism pioneer Robert Sengstacke Abbott, the Defender is credited with setting off the great migration of African Americans out of the rural South to the industrial cities of the North. His nephew John Sengstacke converted it to a daily in 1956. The only other black-oriented daily is the New York Daily Challenge in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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