Black youth must carry the torch of the Black media

We often hear that print media is dying. Some may argue that this statement is hyperbolic, but numbers don’t lie. The decline in newspaper readership, and the number of newspapers that have closed their doors in the past decade, should alarm anyone who views a strong, thriving media as a necessity to keeping our democracy strong and viable.

For the Black community, a strong press is more important than ever. As we watch the civil rights that we have worked hundreds of years for being rolled back, and are constantly being bombarded with narratives and images that traumatize us, stereotype us, or dehumanize us, it is clear that now more than ever, we cannot allow the Black media to die.

It may seem the most obvious thing to say in the world, but in order for the Black press to survive, we have to find a way to engage our youth. If it one thing that we have learned from the Black Lives Matter Movement, it is that we are living in a time when our youth want their voices to be heard. Not only do Black lives matter, but so do Black voices, Black stories and Black narratives.

Two-time Olympian Tasha Danvers (far right) poses for a photo with students from 49th Street Elementary School in South Los Angeles. Danvers works with the school to help promote a healthy lifestyle for students, including teaching them about eating better and exercising through the Ready, Set, Gold! program. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman for News4usonline

Black representation in the media has been a topic of discussion for a while. Yes, fictional portrayals of Black characters, more often than not, rarely allow us to step outside of certain boxes – athlete, criminal, strong girl, angry young man, it is also important to focus on how our real-life stories are portrayed. Whether its print, audio, television, online, or social, Black journalism matters.

For years, papers like The Chicago Defender, The Pittsburg Carrier, Michigan Chronicle, and The Baltimore Afro-American, have been a powerful force for change, uplifting and advocating for a Black community that was largely ignored by the dominant society. However, as Black people became more integrated into society, and in the mainstream media, many people began to wonder if the Black Press was obsolete.

It’s not.

Research shows that Black journalists have not been able to integrate themselves into predominately white media institutions on any significant level.  In fact, a 2018 survey from the Pew Research Center found that only 7 percent of newsroom employees are Black and that Black journalists are less likely to find full-time jobs. Additionally, a 2019 survey from the American Society of News Editors, showed that people of color make up a mere 18.8 percent of newsroom managers at print, digital, and online-only publications.

Clearly, there is still a need for a Black press.

Alvin Ailey Arts in Education & Community Programs instructor Theara Ward goes through a routine for students at Davis Middle School in Compton in March. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

There are currently over 100 Black newspapers in the United States, but much like their white counterparts, our most iconic papers are either reducing their circulation or closing their doors altogether. These papers have not only been necessary training grounds for young, Black writers but they also instill a love for journalism in youth that can never be diminished.

I got my start in journalism at The Wave Community Newspapers when I was 19 years old. I was an intern, and incredibly excited to begin what I believe would be a long and exciting career as a journalist. Because of my age, I was given stories to cover that were youth-centric. As I covered one accomplished athlete, student and budding entrepreneur after another, I found myself wondering why I rarely saw stories about successful Black youth in the media. That’s when I got an idea – one day I would have my own newspaper, devoted to spotlighting all the positive things Black youth did.

It was a dream that never left me.

Even as I drifted in and out of journalism, trading my dreams of a Pulitzer Prize, for a doctorate and a career as a mentor and educator, I never could quite let go of this dream. I had a mentor at The Wave named Joe Nazel who always told me that I needed to stay in the fight and keep Black journalism alive.

I would hear his voice sometimes, chastising me whenever I put my writing on the backburner, or when some big story broke in the news and I found myself wondering how I would cover it, but I hadn’t really given up on journalism. That’s not something you can really quit. I was just biding my time. A few years ago, I finally made my dream a reality when the first issue of GeneratioNext went to print.

Geared towards Black youth, ages 12-17, GeneratioNext was created as a safe space for Black youth who wanted to tell their own stories and create their own narratives; where instead of being bombarded with one negative image after another, they could see themselves in a positive light. The young writers who contribute to the newsmagazine are complex, with varying backgrounds and life experiences that shape the way they deliver and connect with the content.

Artist Shepard Fairey created this mural of Dr. Maya Angelou. Photo Credit: Seth Spector. Local and international artists come together to paint murals to bring inspiring and positive messages to the student-body at Dr. Maya Angelou Community High School in South Los Angeles.

Creating a publication geared towards youth may seem counterintuitive in this day and age, but there is an old saying, “those who do not know their past are doomed to repeat it.” Today’s youth rarely have an understanding of what is happening in the present, let alone how their history effects their lives today. We can’t expect our youth to carry us into the future if they are not plugged into the stories that matter in their communities.

A Pew Research Center survey found that people age 18-34 are consistently less knowledgeable about current events than their elders. This shouldn’t be a surprise, considering our youth have been distracted by the daily stimulus of social media interaction, learning more about each other or their favorite celebrity than their community.

There is no denying that youth have very little use for traditional newspapers, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be journalists. Now is time that we should be reaching out to them, encouraging them to tell their stories.

One of the goals of GeneratioNext is to meet youth where they are at, consequently, since the way youth consume information has changed, GeneratioNext has relaunched online as a digital magazine.  Digital magazines allow media outlets to expand the way youth present and absorb news and gives them a platform where they can create and engage with news through new media outlets such as podcasts and vlogs.

As mainstream media continues to fail to offer content that appeals to the Black community, Black youth must heed the call to protect traditional media, as they create a new media landscape that is unapologetically Black.

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