Media empires like Johnson Publishing Company have struggled in a down economy and ever-changing media landscape./AP

African American Media Moguls: Delivering the Messages despite the Downturns

By Meta J. Mereday


As the media industry joins the ranks of others that are facing tremendous declines and losing advertising revenue, African Americans in the media have also faced extreme challenges. First, the underrepresentation of African Americans in the media on the covers and in the board rooms is significant. 

The inadequate coverage of African Americans due, in large part to the lack of depth in minority media ownership, has provided a unique opportunity in the nation’s current economic conditions.  The media industry is taking major hits as revenues are dropping, readership and viewership totals are down and the journalism and media industries are bumping along the same rocky roads as the automotive industry where thousands of jobs were lost in a matter of days.

This has resulted in a rippling effect that has generated business closures and hampered the economic growth and development.  The difference with the closure of a media property is the business that is lost as well as the voices, information and ideas that are carried to the people. 

The media provides more than a product or service, especially to African Americans.  African Americans in the media provide a much needed outlet to express the news and views of people of color who are so often given one-dimensional representations in mainstream media, or none at all.

“Running a media operation in today’s market is difficult, but not impossible and the opportunities are still there for African Americans who were not high in numbers from the start,” states L.P. Green, II, Founder, L.P. Green & Partners, a multi-platform media group that includes magazine publishing, online media and webcasting. “It requires understanding where the trends are and knowing how to apply sound business practices and creativity to capitalize on them. We stand on the shoulders of some great men and women who stayed the course in hard times.”

Research shows that radio and magazines have a strong following within the African American market.  Most inner cities have an “urban format” station that attracts a large listenership within the African American communities.  African Americans in media have preferences regarding the communications vehicles that best represent their interests.  

Magazines with the highest ratio of African American stories and images generate the highest percentage of African American readers and consumers of advertised products.  However, promoting a spot on the radio or printing an advertisement in an “urban-focused” publication is not enough to retain and sustain a long term following of African American support. 

Participating in events and hosting activities that are relevant to the lives and culture of African Americans reinforces the much needed “cultural connection” between the publication and the consumer that transcends all the others in the pack. While magazines are a well received media within the African American community, the large number of failures brings home the message that despite a glossy cover featuring an African American in order to address the needs for African Americans in the media, you will discover that “without substance, there is no future.”  

“You must still understand that African Americans in the media have to be shown in as many scenarios as any other ethnic group because they are just as diverse,” adds Green. “Publications that try to pigeon-hole this target market and to feature them with a singular focus and not as a people with many interests will fail.”  

Because people of all ethnicities, especially African Americans, are multi-faceted, there needs to be a multi-faceted, hands-on, issue specific approach reflecting African Americans in the media to reach this burgeoning market segment and to maintain their loyalty and longevity.  

Mereday is a contributing writer for Regal Black Men’s Magazine.

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