The 114 year old Chicago Defender, one of America’s most influential African American newspapers, will cease print publication July 10 and the next day it will go all-digital in another example of the trend among publishers to go exclusively online as print editions fade away because of declining readership and ad revenues.
Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire correspondent, described the Defender as one of most important newspapers in the history of the black press in a story he wrote about the change. The paper is a longtime champion of civil rights and it has continually challenged segregation in the South. It editorialized for anti-lynching legislation and for integrated professional sports. But, one of its greatest causes was its support of the “great migration” of blacks from the South northward, especially to Chicago, in the early twentieth century for better paying jobs. The movement had its controversies, including race riots in Chicago in 1919. In addition, the southern whites objected to the movement since they were losing workers.
When southern newspapers, in one of the attempts to stop the migration, suggested that blacks were freezing to death in northern winters, the Defender retaliated that is was better to freeze to death in the North while free, than die in the South in slavery.
Langston Hughes, one of the most important writers and thinkers of the Harlem Renaissance, was a Defender columnist and the Defender also published the early works of the Pulitzer prize winning poet, Gwendolyn Brooks.
In 1923, the Defender introduced its Bud Billiken page, the first American newspaper section just for children. Several years later it held its first Bud Billiken day parade, now a Chicago institution, as a vehicle to showcase children. One year, as a Chicago Tribune city room reporter, I covered the parade, a fun and spirited affair.
Robert Channick, a Tribune business reporter, wrote in a story about the Defender’s changeover to all-digital that the paper began as a weekly in 1905 and in 1926 began publishing daily and then reverted back to a weekly in 2008. Its current weekly circulation is 16,000 while its website readers total around 460,000 monthly.
Hiram Jackson, CEO of Real Times Media, the Defender’s parent company, was quoted by Channick as saying the paper now will double down on its digital platform with the hope this concentration will quickly increase the number of digital readers.
So, it goes!