Bakewell Exhorts NNPA to Agitate for Change

Bakewell Exhorts NNPA to Agitate for Change

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 Washington, D.C. -- Conjuring the spirits of Samuel B. Cornish and John Russworm from 183 years ago, Danny Bakewell, National Newspaper Publishers Association chair and publisher of The Los Angeles Sentinel, threw down the gauntlet at the NNPA’s annual gathering.

“We have abdicated the true power of the black press,” Bakewell said, urging his peers to be more aggressive in putting the burning issues of African Americans on their front pages. Bakewell cited Cornish and Russworm when publishing America’s first African-American newspaper, Freedom’s Journal, in 1827: “‘We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us.’ It’s as valid today as it was then,” Bakewell said.

The NNPA, representing over 200 African-American-owned newspapers, celebrated its 70th year in Washington, D.C. While the organization’s numbers have held fairly constant in recent years, African-American-owned newspapers have not been immune from the advertising revenue decline that has negatively affected other news organizations during the country’s economic downturn. According to Pharoh Martin, national correspondent for NNPA News Service, members have survived by being innovative and, in some instances, sharing ad revenue through co-op advertising.

“Most publishers have a sense that the black press will adapt and thrive as they always have, even with the advent of the Web and mobile technology,” Martin said. “I'm personally worried that publishers aren't doing enough to embrace digital publishing models or attract younger readers.”

Bakewell, the keynote speaker at the “State of The Black Press” luncheon on March 19, was introduced as “fearless, courageous, in your face,” by The Washington Informer publisher Denise Rolark Barnes. Bakewell did not disappoint. He recounted a discussion with the staff of Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-NY, elected in 2008 as chair of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the leading House committee to conduct inquiries about federal programs and policies, a power wielded by former chair, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA, to great effect.

As the conversation between Bakewell and Towns’s staff turned to strategies about how to highlight a particular issue, they told him simply, “If you put this on the front page, that story will spread like wildfire,” Bakewell said.

The wildfire, in turn, would bring public pressure for Congressional investigations, giving cover for members of the Congressional Black Caucus, like Towns, to be more demanding in their advocacy for African-American interests. “Everybody wants to speak for black people,” Bakewell said, “but nobody wants to listen to black people speak.”

Bakewell excoriated both Congress and corporations for repeated failure in the size of appropriations and ad spending that could achieve parity for African Americans. For example, he said the St. Louis district of Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO) was not to receive money to promote African-American responses to the U.S. Census, an irony, Bakewell noted, because Clay, a CBC member, chairs the subcommittee that oversees the 2010 Census. Nor, said Bakewell, were Newark and Oakland initially included, cities with a well documented African-American presence. Only after pressure, Bakewell contended, was the allocation for $1.3 million in 16 markets raised to $2.5 million. However, an additional 39 markets were then added, which will likely dilute the impact of the spending increase. African Americans comprise 14 percent of the U.S. population, Bakewell pointed out, and “We’re not asking for anything but respect and reciprocity.”

Bakewell said that while corporations are “getting an ROI [return on investment], we’re getting a black eye!”

However, he lauded General Motors for finally understanding that advertising with NNPA members, which reaches “19.8 million black people every month,” according to Bakewell, was good business. “We’re not looking for a fight,” Bakewell said of his goals for the NNPA relationship with corporate America, “we’re looking for a partnership.”

National Urban League president Marc Morial reminded attendees that the collective buying power of African Americans would place them among world’s top 10 economies and that their political influence extended beyond CBC members. “We’re a community of 40 million people,” he said, residing in Congressional districts throughout America and, at the least, represented by senators as well. “We have to translate our passion into legislative victories.”

Touting the evolution of African-American leadership, that “no one person can speak for our community,” Morial thanked the NNPA for providing the NUL with a media platform. “You have carried the column of the president of the Urban League for over 40 years.”

The luncheon panel included economist Julianne Malveaux, president of Bennett College in South Carolina; James Winston, executive director of the National Association of Black-Owned Broadcasters; Harry Alford, president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce and NNPA Foundation board chair; Ron Daniels, president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and founder of the Haiti Support Project; and Rosalyn Brock, the new chair of the NAACP’s board of directors.

Brock spoke of the historic collaboration between the NAACP and the NNPA, and said that Ida B. Wells-Barnett, the crusading reporter who relentlessly campaigned against lynching, was a NAACP founder, as was W.E.B. DuBois. Brock said her first editorial board meeting as chair was with Bakewell’s paper. “Relationships are primary,” she said, “all else is derivative.”

“The future is calling,” Brock told the audience, “and we will answer. We’ll answer because you are telling our story.”