The Chicago Defender: A newspaper to serve the African American Community

It is advertised as „America’s Best Black Newspaper“. Hence, our expectations were high when we visited the editiorial office of the Chicago Defender on monday morning, a weekly newspaper that serves the African American community in Chicago and its adjacent areas.

The office building of the Chicago Defender

executive editor Lou Ransom at the Chicago Defender

When we entered the hallway of the office building we were given a warm welcome by the president Michael A. House as well as the Defender’s Intellectual Property Manager Sandra Enimil and Lou Ransom, the paper’s executive editor. They gave us a tour through their new offices which moved from the downtown center back to the southside of Chicago where most of the African American community lives. The corridors were decorated with famous African American politicians, activists and businessmen mostly from the Chicago area, including famous names like Oprah Winfrey or Rev. Jesse Jackson, and many others such as Edith Sampson, the first African American to be appointed to the United Nations or the first Black American McDonalds franchise owner.

Sandra Enimil and Michael A. House discussing the work of the Chicago Defender with students

In the middle of the entrance hall, a huge award with the inscription “America’s Best Black Newspaper” was displayed. In 2008, the Defender was honored with the John B. Russwurm award as one of the most influential Black newspapers in the country. Mr. House proudly presented it to us and emphasized the Defender’s historical and today’s significance for African Americans all over the country.

America’s Best Black Newspaper, the “John B. Russwurm” Award

It certainly is also one of the oldest Black papers in the country. It was officially founded on May 5, 1905 by Robert S. Abbott, with the first copies being printed on his landlady’s kitchentable. It was his concern to show different aspects of the African American life, not only to cover the bad side, as in the mainstream papers at that time, Mrs. Enimil explained to us. Since then, the Defender has played a leading role in covering the most significant events to the Black community and its empowerment. For instance, The Great Migration at the beginning of the 20th century when thousands of African Americans from the south moved to the north in order to find a job and escape racial harassment or the story of Emmett Till, a 14 year old black boy from Chicago who visited his relatives in the south and was brutally beaten to death for whistling after a white women, an incident often described as the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement.

The cover story on the Emmett Till murder case

Still today, the Chicago Defender is a niche paper, focusing strictly on the African American community. By delivering only this demography, we can still do so well, Mr. House explains when we asked him about the declining newspaper market in the country. For 1,5 years now, the paper is published on a weekly basis with a readership of 120 000 up to 150 000 each week. They all agree that the biggest challenge is to reach their people, especially the younger generation. Lou Ransom again stressed the importance of moving back into the community: We are their voice, we have to listen to them. Now the people can come and talk to us.

The Defender also has an online version and is present on facebook. Expectations are high that they can maintain their paper. We’ ll keep our fingers crossed.

Stefanie Kölling

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