‘Defender’ Publishes On Day Off To Cover ‘Ebony’ Founder’s Death

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

Back in June, the Chicago Defender stopped publishing on Tuesdays, saying the financially weak edition was a drag on its efforts to produce special issues commemorating the 100th anniversary of the black-oriented daily.

But when Executive Editor Roland S. Martin got word at 3 p.m. Monday of the death of John H. Johnson, the Chicagoan who founded Ebony and Jet magazines, he immediately called Lawrence Crawford, a director of Defender publisher Real Times Inc.

“He said, ‘Do what you got to do,'” Martin said in an interview Thursday. “So I started getting people together, and then I called him back and said, ‘You do know I mean publishing a paper [on Tuesday]’?'”

The Defender not only published last Tuesday, but it will be back on the stands next Tuesday to provide coverage of the Monday funeral of Johnson, who died at age 87.

For this Tuesday’s issue, Martin called in five contributors, including Target Market News President Ken Smikle, to augment the small Defender staff. The 16-page Tuesday paper — with the headline ?A Titan Dies? on its front page — was dedicated entirely to articles about Johnson.

“This is one of those stories that we needed to own,” Martin said. “This man built black media.”

In his own column for the special edition, Martin compared Johnson to some of the founding families of America’s newspapers. “If the McCormacks are credited with building Chicago, the Chandlers with spawning Los Angeles and the Binghams with championing Kentucky,” he wrote, “then there is no doubt Johnson deserves the credit for his role in the building and shaping of Black America, and as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. said, ‘connect Africa with African-Americans.'”

The issue was a rare Tuesday sell-out, Martin said. “The response was absolutely phenomenal,” he said. “We had folks coming into the office for copies.”

On Friday Aug. 26, the Defender will publish a commemorative edition that will essentially be a reprint of the Tuesday edition with additional material.

The coverage, or lack of coverage, of Johnson’s death among mainstream media has sparked some anger among black journalists. Thursday, Richard Prince devoted his entire “Journal-isms” column on the Maynard Institute Web site, to a discussion of the issue.

Martin was also outspoken about the issue in a column Wednesday, noting that Illinois’ senior U.S. senator, Dick Durbin, had not issued a statement on Johnson’s death and that President Bush had commented on the death of ABC anchorman Peter Jennings, but not Johnson’s.

“I’m not trying to disparage Peter Jennings — I love him to death,” Martin said. “But if you compare John H. Johnson and Peter Jennings in terms of their impact on this country and on this world, it’s not even a debate.”

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