By Othor Cain,
This month The Mississippi Link turns 26! By any standard, that’s a major accomplishment. I wanted to use the word ‘milestone,’ but that’s regulated to numbers like 25, 30, 50 etc. None-the-less we are thrilled to publish this paper every week even at times when it seems like an impossible task.
Our mission is different.
For years, newsrooms across America have had a problem with a lack of diversity and inclusion. People of color are underrepresented among news organizations, which do not reflect the makeup of the general population and have made little progress in the past decade.
In 1979, the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) pledged that, by the year 2000, the percentage of racial and ethnic minorities in newsrooms would match that of the population at large. Noting that this was “the right thing to do” and in the “industry’s economic self-interest,” ASNE stressed the particular importance of lifting people of color into management.
Newspapers have failed spectacularly at achieving that goal.
According to the Census Bureau, racial and ethnic minorities make up about 40 percent of the US population, yet journalists of color comprised of only 12 percent of newspaper editorial staff in 2000, and by 2017 that figure had edged up only slightly, to a little less than 17 percent, according to the ASNE Newsroom Employment Diversity Survey.
An even harder truth is that only 13 percent of leadership in newsrooms across the country are people of color.
In the City of Jackson, a majority-minority city, where according to the website datausa.io, its population is 170 thousand people, of that, 81.4 percent are black/African American. Yet, the diversity in newsroom leadership pales in comparison. Of the four TV stations in the metro, only one (WJTV) has a person of color (Asian-male) leading its newsroom as news director and only one (Fox40) has a person of color (black-female) serving in the role of general manager.
WAPT has a black male operating in the role of assistant news director and both WAPT and WJTV have black assignment editors/managers. WLBT/Fox40 share two black executive producers (one male and one female) and an African American serves as manager of operations for the NBC/FOX affiliates.
The numbers are better with on air talent at each of the stations with WLBT leading the way. WLBT has at the helm of its evening newscasts (5/6/10) two black news anchors which is a rare find across the country. WAPT has a black male news anchor at 5 p.m. and at 6 and 10 p.m. an Asian female anchors. WJTV has a black male anchor at 5/6/10. Fox 40 has a black female anchor for its evening newscasts. All four stations have several minority reporters and black anchors in the earlier newscasts.
At press time, Sam Hall, with the state’s only statewide newspaper, The Clarion Ledger, had not responded to our email request, seeking diversity information.
It’s been more than 190 years since the creation of the Black Press and it is as relevant as ever.
In the absence of an inclusive environment, the quality of journalism suffers. Certain stories are simply not reported, or are told without the nuance or perspective the circumstances require. The Black Press has filled that void for generations. And with the advent of digital platforms, a baton has been passed to black millennial writers and journalists to continue presenting narratives, with underrepresented points of views, that would otherwise go missing – and do not necessarily reflect the white men who dominate the industry.
When the mainstream media covers a particular issue, the Black Press may cover it with a completely different angle – if not a different issue altogether. For example, the local black press rejected the mainstream media narrative that Republican Governor Phil Bryant simply invited President Donald Trump to Mississippi to attend the opening of The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, just as a kind gesture, reporting instead on the boycott of Trump’s visit and covering related museum events hosted by local elected officials.
From its inception, the Black Press has been a change agent by shining a light on the plight of blacks and giving them the power to write and report on their own narratives.
It is no wonder when Trump, who just this week, used the word ’lynching’ out of context and as a result, fired up a base of people all too familiar with the horror stories of that word. For it was just in the 1890s, when journalist Ida B. Wells led a campaign against lynching at considerable personal risk. Born a slave, in 1862 in Holly Springs, Mississippi, she wrote about the injustices of racial segregation in the south. A mob stormed the office of her newspaper, destroying all of her equipment. Fortunately, Wells had been traveling to New York City at the time. She was warned that she would be killed if she ever returned to Memphis.
Over the years the list of contributors to the black press who have lent their talents as publishers, editors, journalists, columnists and cartoonists has included the greatest names in American history. Among them are Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Ida B. Wells Barnett, Langston Hughes, Romare Bearden, James Weldon Johnson, Mary McLeod Bethune and Daisy Bates.
It is my hope that the Black Press would get back to its core mission and continue serving a population of underserved people of color and be always mindful of the core mission of the original founders of the Black Press, “Too long have others spoken for us … We wish to plead our own cause.”
Thank you for trusting us for 26 years…here’s to 26 more!