In 1905, Robert S. Abbott started a weekly newspaper in Chicago called the Chicago Defender. It was going to be written with content that interested African-Americans, which Abbott decided to just refer to as “the Race.” By 1915, the Defender had a circulation of 250,000 issues each day and was the most popular newspaper in Chicago. In 1917, the Defender took up its first cause when it encouraged African-Americans from the South to migrate to the North. The result was the migration of thousands of African-Americans who found better lives in northern states.
As time went by and the digital media became more popular, the need for the Defender seemed to wane. Its circulation dropped considerably and it was in danger of shutting down the presses for good. But the recent rise in racial tensions in the United States has brought the Chicago Defender back to life. According to the New York Times, the Defender now has a combined newsstand and digital circulation of around 71,000 readers. But instead of those numbers being per day, they are now per week. But still, publisher Cheryl Mainor insists that the Defender is profitable and growing.
The Impact Of Empowerment
If the African-American community feels that the mainstream media is not giving enough time to their sides of the stories that are coming out, then the Chicago Defender is held up as the voice for the African-American community. The Defender has seized on a growing frustration and has developed content that is designed to empower African-Americans and give them a voice. At a time when many African-Americans feel that their voices are getting lost in the conversation, the Defender has benefited from being that voice that so many need.
A Lesson Learned
If there is one thing that other newspaper publishers can learn from the slow rise back to credibility for the Chicago Defender, it is that they must always serve their target audience. The Defender knows its demographic and works hard to sustain credibility in the eyes of the people who trust the Defender to speak for them. The New York Times states that advertising found in African-American newspapers is more trusted by their readers than advertising in any other type of digital or print publication. The Defender has taught the rest of the publishing world that if you stay true to your audience, then your audience will stay loyal to you.
The Chicago Defender is still significantly understaffed at only 10 employees, which includes only one full-time reporter. But there are still a lot of plans on tap to offer more content that African Americans will see as valuable in the hopes that maybe someday, the Chicago Defender can reassure its role as one of the most significant daily publications in the country. There is a lot of competition out there for that crown, but the Defender is counting on the idea that people always come back to a pioneer when that pioneer stays true to its origins.