When America’s first Black newspaper was published on March 16, 1827, Black people were still enslaved. Nearly two centuries later, the issues of Black America – though not as severe as human bondage – are still urgent and continue to undermine America’s promise of freedom and justice for all.
In this regard, Denise Rolark Barnes, the new chair of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, says the federation of more than 200 Black-owned newspapers will continue to – not only thrive – but grow as it begins its 75th year. With most newspapers in an economic struggle industry wide and Black newspapers enthralled in a historic battle against advertising discrimination, Barnes says NNPA’s new leadership team will encourage a keen focus on issues that continually plague Black communities, while initiating strategies to expand.
“Housing, the large foreclosure rate, the issue of the lack of police-community relations, the unwarranted deaths of young Black men at the hands of police, the big issue of Black on Black crime – We need to take responsible positions on all of these issues because this is what our community looks for, but this is also what I think our advertisers will be looking for. They want us to take a stand on these issues,” says Barnes in an interview with the Trice Edney News Wire.
“I’d just say look out because we’re going to flex our muscles. And we’re looking forward to doing our jobs on a broader scale and speaking stronger. And I know the publishers are prime for it.”
Barnes, publisher of the Washington Informer Newspaper for more than 20 years, was given the leadership charge by her fellow publishers in a June 19 election held during the NNPA Annual Convention in Detroit. As publisher, she follows in the footsteps of her father, the late Calvin Rolark, who was widely known as a business and community leader as well as publisher of the Informer, which he founded more than 50 years ago.
The executive committee elected alongside her also includes publishers who are well-entrenched leaders in various communities: First Vice Chair Karen Carter Richards, Houston Forward Times; Second Vice Chair Francis Page, Jr., Houston Style Magazine; Treasurer Janis Ware, Atlanta Voice and Secretary Shannon Williams, Indianapolis Recorder.
“Many of us are second generation publishers. We’re fairly young and are committed to the legacy that was left by those who started in this industry. We understand what our responsibilities are and we’re looking forward to continuing to make a difference through the stories, the photographs, and the editorials that you’ll find in Black-owned newspapers,” said Barnes.
She ticked off several initiatives foremost on her mind that the association must explore in coming months and years in order to expand and strengthen its membership. Among them are:
• Develop new ways to help corporations understand the value of Black newspapers.
• Increase, solidify and grow online presence in order to engage readers who may not readily pick up newspapers.
• Create genres through which readers can exchange opinions and thoughts surrounding the issues and articles in Black newspapers.
• Broaden the NNPA membership base
• Support newspapers that are evolving into multi-media companies.
• Support the staff of the national office, also based in Washington, D.C.
Barnes’ term as chair is two years, after which she could run for a second two-year term. The executive committee heads a 22-member board of directors, including representatives of five regions. The board establishes policy and directives for the Washington, D.C. headquarters, which is led by NNPA President/CEO Benjamin Chavis.
Chavis’ stature as a former member of the recently pardoned historic Wilmington 10 as well as his civil rights leadership as former NAACP executive director, has raised the visibility of the organization to a new level over the past several years. Barnes, who replaces former chair Cloves Campbell of the Arizona Informant, says she will build on the new growth forged by Campbell during his four-year tenure.
The fact that the NNPA national office and chair are now both located in the nation’s capital is an additional advantage from a standpoint of infrastructure, she said.
Amidst the home of the federal government, the U. S. Congress, she says she will work the relationships garnered by her and her father over 50 years for the maximum benefits for NNPA.
“We serve as the voice for the Black community; we speak truth to power, we influence legislation and I think when folks see that we’re still an integral part of our community because of the positions that we take on behalf of our community, it will show that we have the kind of value that’s worth investing in,” Barnes says. “Some may not always appreciate the positions that we may take. But, it’s not about liking what we do. It’s being respected for what we do.”
She concluded, “We give you stories about communities that are working hard to support their families, to build communities, to contribute to this nation and to the world and I don’t ever see a day – to be honest with you – where the Black press will not play that critical role in this country and across the world.”