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New media, timeless mission

Howard Manly | 5/29/2008, 10:25 a.m.

It’s a good thing William Monroe Trotter didn’t have a blog.


Smart, passionate and controversial, the editor of The Boston Guardian was an outspoken advocate for equal political and social rights.

He did own a newspaper, though, and he filled the Guardian's pages with everything from his absolute distrust of Booker T. Washington to his disgust of the most popular — and racist — movie of his time, D.W. Griffith's  “The Birth of a Nation.”

“We want laws enforced against the rich as well as the poor; against the capitalist as well as the laborer; against white as well as Black,” Trotter once wrote. "We want a decent education for our children ... They have a right to know, to think, to aspire.”

Things are a lot different now than they were when Trotter and co-founder George Forbes published the Guardian's first edition on Nov. 9, 1901. But the mission of today’s black-owned newspapers remains the same — “ ... to voice intelligently the needs and aspirations of the colored American.”

That voice is sadly missing from most discussions on the media in this day and age, which has seen the advent of digital technologies that are changing the way we talk to one another. The talk itself is changing, too.

There’s lots of talk about the black church, and its integral role in forging the new soul of America.

There’s lots of talk about national and state politics, as Barack Obama and Deval Patrick have captured and captivated the minds and votes of all sorts of Americans.

There’s even talk about Fortune 500 companies, and their efforts to diversify their executive offices and corporate boardrooms.

Unfortunately, the black press has remained on the sidelines of those discussions. The reasons are obvious: With scant advertising revenues, the majority of black-owned newspapers are barely able to cover their own neighborhoods, much less a national presidential campaign or the shifting sands in corporate America. Resources to augment black papers' online editions are scarce in these tough economic times, where newsroom layoffs are common and the forecast looks increasingly grim, even for mainstream media operations.

But as the saying goes, very few people ask the church if they are making any money.

If not the Banner, then who?

If not a blog, then what?

The Banner is rising to the challenge.

Our new Web site will enable us to reach more readers, not only throughout Massachusetts, but across the nation and around the world. It will build on our 43-year track record of providing comprehensive coverage of communities of color throughout the Commonwealth.

The reason we've been successful these past four decades is also fairly obvious: What happens in Boston is happening in most other major cities across the world.

Issues like quality education, affordable housing and public safety are priorities just about everywhere. And don’t get me started on gas prices and the lack of employment in communities of color. Health disparities are a national embarrassment, and national apathy has replaced civic discussion.

So, yes, we will be blogging on everything: from jaywalking and public littering to the biotech industry and the arts.  

But blogging just for the sake of blogging is not part of our mission. We still want old-school reporting and writing. We still want stories that tell our readers something they didn’t know — even in this era of media oversaturation.

Since 1965, we've been doing that every week. Now, we will be able to do that every day.

And we will do what William Monroe Trotter had in mind more than 100 years ago for underserved communities of color, who he argued had “the right to know, to think, to aspire.”

Howard Manly is the executive editor of The Bay State Banner. Want to let him know what you think? E-mail him at hmanly@bannerpub.com or sound off in the comments.