At the end of January, I organized and moderated a panel at Temple University's School of Media and Communications called "Separate But Equal? The Role of the Black Media in the 21st Century." The title of the panel was deliberately provocative, because I wanted people to consider whether having media outlets that cater to specific ethnic groups was regressive and racist or a progressive sign of the times. The four panelists, representing the worlds of television, radio, newspaper, and digital media, never truly answered that question, but they did offer plenty of evidence that today's black press provides a valuable service to a community that continues to be underserved by the mainstream media.
As a journalist, as a black woman, and as a media observer, it occurs to me that some people might believe that the time has long since passed when a separate black media is necessary. We no longer live in a (legally) segregated society, so why would we need a segregated press? In my opinion, the answer is, we don't. We don't need a separate black media in the 21st century, but we deserve to have one. And therein lies the difference between past and present.
In 1827, when the first black-owned and operated newspaper was launched by a group of free black men in New York, it satisfied a very important need in the black community and in society at large. The mandate of Freedom's Journal was to counterbalance the character assassinations against black people printed in the mainstream press and to serve as a public voice against slavery. As time went on, the black press continued to be both activist and informant for a community that was routinely ignored and maligned by the mainstream media.
Today, the role of the black press isn't so easily defined, as the needs of the community have expanded and the mainstream media have become more inclusive. Still, I do believe there is room in the media landscape for any number of media enterprises catering to black people; if there can be magazines for craft beer brewers and urban chicken farmers, then there can be magazines for black people who live in Harlem or black women between the ages of 25-35 who enjoy fashion. And not for nothing, I pretty much feel the same way about other ethnic groups having their own media products as well. (Clearly, Condé Nast and Hearst must agree, as they both recently launched fashion magazines for Latinas.)
Source: Columbia Journalism Review | Lori Tharps