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Black media ownership in a drought

by PRIDE Newsdesk

James Clingman

James Clingman

In war, one of the first things the enemy does is destroy his adversary’s ability to communicate within its ranks. Chaos likely ensues if a fighting force cannot communicate internally.

Individual soldiers end up doing their own thing, left to their own devices. They make decisions based on their individual situations and in their individual interests. This allows the enemy to come in and pick them off one by one, using false information and propaganda (Tokyo Rose) instilling fear of being captured or killed, or by making the individual feel abandoned and left with no hope of victory.

If the ability to communicate is maintained within a fighting force, it strengthens the group and provides confidence, assurance, and cohesion. Considering our penchant for soundbites, 140-character chirps, and listening to great speeches, but not analyzing them and taking appropriate action, communication among Black folks has largely been reduced to little more than noise. And it’s getting worse.

Black newspapers used to be our main communication organ, but as the demand for electronic access to news has increased, newspapers have nearly become obsolete in some circles. Books were also a great source of communication because they contain so much knowledge written by scholars, historians, educators, and activists. But now we are so intellectually lazy that books have become passé and just something to brag about having on our bookshelves. Now we rely on Twitter and FaceBook for our news.

Newspapers, radio, Internet, and television are the four dominant means of communication today. Black people still own a few hundred newspapers, many of which are struggling from week to week because Black folks do not subscribe nor do Black businesses buy ads to any large degree.

Black ownership of radio stations has drastically decreased in the past 20 years. Aside from a couple of great Black owned Internet wire services, ‘Black oriented’ sites are not Black owned.

Two of the three longstanding Black magazines, Essence and Ebony, have been reduced to fashion and entertainment, leaving Black Enterprise to carry the load of informing Black folks on economic issues. (I don’t mean to overlook other Black periodicals. I know they are out there getting the word out as best they can.)

Now let’s look at television. According to an article on , written by Doug Halonen, “Racial minorities owned 41 of the U.S.’s 1,386 full-power commercial TV stations in 2013, up 32% from the 31 they owned in 2011— but only nine of those stations were owned by African Americans during 2013, down 18% from the 11 they owned two years previously,” according to a study of station ownership released by the FCC. Whites owned 1,070 full-power commercial TV stations in 2013, up 14% from the 935 they owned in 2011.

The FCC report also found that “Asians owned 19 full-power TV stations in 2013, up 73% from the 11 they owned in 2011. Hispanics or Latinos owned 42 full power TV stations in 2013, up eight percent from the 39 they owned in 2011.”

I guess I could end this article right here, but without application, knowledge and information are without effect. The obvious point here is the necessity for Black people to own more communications outlets in order to control and disseminate pertinent information to Black people. How? Establish syndicates that could purchase more outlets. Form an alliance of affluent and conscious Blacks to purchase communications outlets and produce programs to empower rather than dumb-down Black people. Increase support of Black-owned media and their advertisers by Black consumers. Leverage the support of Black readers, listeners, and viewers of Black media by insisting on more than just mind-numbing idiotic portrayals of Black folks. These simple tactics could strengthen our lines of communications.

Accessibility, accountability, and acceptability are essential elements to a strong and relevant media presence within Black society. Our current position in that game is untenable and tenuous at best. In light of the fact that we have the financial wherewithal, collectively and individually, to purchase and support media outlets, it is intriguing how we seem to have settled for much less than we need.

Most of us understand and even admit we are in a war, behind enemy lines, and fighting for respect and empowerment. That being the case, why are we content with having our lines of communication controlled by others? If we are reluctant to acquire more conscious media outlets, the least we can do is hold those who purport to be ‘Black media’ accountable by refusing to accept the trashy caricatures of Black people and the negative portrayals of Black life that bombard us every day.

Without control of communications an army is severely handicapped. We had better get rid of our negative channels of communications, shore up the positive ones, and create more of our own.

(James Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He can be reached through his website, .

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