When the Chronicle called on former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick to resign last year, local television stations covered the story live. When the Chronicle probed the questionable business practices of some black politicians, the city’s mainstream media took notice. And when the Chronicle endorsed Mayor Dave Bing, the newspaper’s support of Bing was widely reported by news outlets all over town.
“The Chronicle is not just a voice, but an effective voice for political and social empowerment for African-Americans,” Bankole Thompson, the Chronicle’s innovative senior editor, told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “The Chronicle is an alternative to mainstream media, and we play a role as a stakeholder in the city to help empower African-Americans.”
But in a world of fast-paced news and economic hardships, black newspapers are experiencing perhaps the most critical challenges in recent memory.
If black newspapers are to compete with the many high-tech news organizations offering news and analysis, Thompson said, black publications must offer sophisticated online versions of their newspapers, which is why the Chronicle has upgraded its website and recently unveiled its redesign.
“If we’re suppose to be the agent for social change, one of the biggest weapons has to be technology,” Thompson said. “We must have an online presence. We can’t be a strong competitor running businesses like mom and pop shops. We must be relevant, and we can’t survive if we don’t have an online presence.”
This week, for example, under an online headline that reads “First Black Lt. Gov?” Thompson writes, “’So in 2010, Democrats, already struggling with the lack of inspiring and can-do candidates in the coming election, now have to think through another demand that some say is overdue: Put an African American on the gubernatorial ticket.”
Thompson said the Chronicle has deep roots in a city once revered as a black mecca – where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in Detroit in 1963 during The Great March on Detroit and where black Muslims founded the Nation of Islam.
When the Chronicle was founded in 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was in office, Jim Crow and racial segregation was prevalent, and the economy was a mess. According to the Chronicle’s Web site, the newspaper gained prominence in the black community in the 1940s with talented journalists like Longworth Quinn.
In 2003, The Chronicle was purchased by Real Times, Inc., which also acquired the Pittsburgh Courier, Chicago Defender, Tri State Defender (Memphis, Tenn.) and the Michigan FrontPage.
Recognized as one of the largest weekly newspapers in Michigan, with a circulation of 31,872, The Michigan Chronicle has been recognized as the best black newspaper in the country by the National Newspaper Publishers Association five times, according to the paper’s web site.
The Chronicle is a member of The National Newspaper Publishers Association, also known as the Black Press of America. The NNPA is a 69-year-old federation of more than 200 black community newspapers from across the United States.
Thompson said the Chronicle – and other NNPA newspapers – must hold black politicians accountable and criticize black elected officials who do not have the best interests of black Americans at heart. He said the Chronicle obtained the first exclusive interview with Kilpatrick just before the embattled former mayor went to jail. And the Chronicle urged Kilpatrick to resign.
“We have to call out those who are not serving the African-American community,” Thompson said.
Moving into 2010, Thompson said the Chronicle will continue its aggressive reporting while offering readers thoughtful analysis and opinion. The first black weekly newspaper to get three sit-down interviews with Barack Obama during the presidential campaign, Thompson said the Chronicle also has the respect of Detroit’s mainstream media.
But, he added, “We should not take the lead from mainstream media. Let them take the lead from us.”