Friday, August 25, 2006

From Chicago's Black-Owned Media

Another highlight of this conference for me was hearing from some of the strongest voices from black-owned media in this town.

Roland Martin is a frequent guest on CNN and FOX News Channel. The white commentators like to feature him because he will give the "black perspective" on things.

But this 37-year-old, who I had the unexpected pleasure of escorting to his panel (as he was looking for the location), has recently taken the helm of one of the nation's oldest Black newspapers, The Chicago Defender.

I'll have to give all the history of the Defender later.

Not only is Martin running The Defender, he's doing talk radio on WVON, formerly known as "Voice of the Negro" (now "Voice of the Nation") every weekday morning.

Martin joined his boss, Melody Spann-Cooper, who is president and general manager along with Hermee Hartman, who owns several other media outlets to talk about "The Relevance of Black-owned Media."

Columbia College Journalism Professor Curtis Lawrence moderated this blockbuster panel that hit on so many business issues relating to black-owned media in the largest marketplace of the nation's third largest media market.

"What you get from black media is an authentic voice," said Hartman.

Martin, who worked at two major daily newspapers, the Austin American-Statesman and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram before joining the Black Press as a reporter at The Houston Defender, gave some key insight to young journalists, who've recently faced the dilemma of whether to work in mainstream media or take a pay cut and report for the Black press.

"What is the value of the additional amount of money?" Martin asked. "I'd rather have the flexibility and freedom."

This panel was particularly interesting to me because I started my professional career in both a Black-owned radio station and as a stringer for a Black weekly newspaper.

Of course I didn't stay there, but I've always believed there is a unique place for people like Martin and his colleagues on this panel who are "keeping up the fight" to ensure that those authentic voices are heard.

Does that mean my voice (as one who worked in mainstream media) is less authentic?

That's a question to ponder following this forum.

For my purposes, the role of the Black-owned media in community journalism is not to be overlooked. I expect to be talking a lot about what's happening at WVON and The Chicago Defender in the coming weeks and months.


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