Press freedom lets minority voices be heard, UNC speakers say
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The First Amendment allowed minorities to develop
their own voices when ‘mainstream media’ ignored what they had to say, two
journalism historians say.
‘In this country we trace our journalistic history to the
English-speaking colonists, but the first printing press in America was
actually in Mexico City,’ The Freedom Forum’s Félix F. Gutiérrez said on MArch 30 at a discussion on the history of minority press, part of the First Amendment Days program at the University of North Carolina.
Spanish-speaking people, as well as Asians, Native Americans and African-Americans, developed their own newspapers often in times of crisis,
Gutiérrez said, because they felt their stories weren’t being told in
the mainstream news of the day.
For example, the Cherokee Phoenix was launched in 1828 in Georgia as a response to the proposed forced removal of Native Americans from the
area. ‘The newspaper started because they wanted to unite their own
people and get the news out to the white population,’ Gutiérrez said. ‘They felt they were not getting a fair shake in the general media, so because there was the First Amendment, they could start their own newspaper.’
African-Americans started their own papers for the same kinds of
reasons, UNC journalism professor Chuck Stone said. Such newspapers are
still thriving today.
There are 745 special-interest newspapers, including 185 African-American; 169 ethnic; 134 religious; 126 Hispanic; 89 Jewish; and 42
gay/lesbian papers. That shows that minorities still feel the need to
have a unique media presence, despite diversity gains in mainstream
media, the speakers said.
As an editor of black newspapers in Washington and Chicago, Stone
admitted that sometimes he overstepped the boundaries of generally
accepted newspaper practices. But ‘when people ignore you, you have to
do something to get their attention,’ he said.
‘The nation still has not come to grips with racial equality,’ Stone
said. But despite the country’s flaws in race relations, ‘the fact that
we (the minority press) exist is a tribute to democracy.’
While the minority press has flourished throughout the last century,
Gutiérrez and Stone acknowledged that the toughest challenge such
newspapers face isn’t censorship by government or community pressure — it’s staying in business.
‘The black press is still a business, and you have to go to the white
companies to get advertising,’ Stone said. ‘There is a failure of
advertisers to advertise proportionally in black newspapers.’
Money worries can cause publishers to pressure editors on coverage of
advertisers, Stone said. As editor of a black newspaper in Chicago,
Stone said he was fired when he refused to alter his coverage of the
mayor. After he was dismissed, he found out that the government signed a
huge advertising contract with the paper.
Minority newspapers are best served by having a broad advertising base, Gutiérrez noted, instead of relying or one or two heavy advertisers for revenue. ‘The problem is when a lot of money is coming from one source,’ he said.