Northwestern Press

Monday, June 1, 2020


Wednesday, July 24, 2019 by The Press in Opinion

An appreciation of the ‘Chicago Defender;’ a community newspaper

In the era of the dominance of digital media, the vitality and viability of print media can often seem to be teetering.

In its examination of print media in the United States, database company Statista projected the revenue in the newspaper publishing industry would decrease to $27 billion by 2020, down from $33.59 billion in 2011.

News junkies and others who want to stay informed are likely to check in with favorite news websites or television news outlets rather than wait for the morning or next edition of their newspaper of choice to get the latest information.

And news professionals and industry watchers are known to bemoan the 24/7 news cycle, the transience of the sound bite, the short attention spans of those who prefer the fleeting nature of the likes of Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram and on and on.

In such an atmosphere is it any wonder a newspaper born at the turn of the 20th century may be perceived as, well, no longer needed?

The final print edition of the weekly community newspaper The Chicago Defender arrived on newsstands July 10.

The storied publication, the brainchild of John Sengstacke Abbott, was first published in 1905 as a handbill, four-pages long, featuring news of the black community in the city from which it took its name.

The newspaper would go on to thrive, becoming a weekly and a daily newspaper before returning to its weekly format.

In her first book “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration,” Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson describes the Chicago Defender as a leading force sparking the physical move of African Americans from the southern United States as well as the newspaper telling the news to and of the community it served.

In her editorial of the week of May 29, my colleague Kelly Lutterschmidt, editor of the Whitehall-Coplay Press, Northampton Press and Catasauqua Press, wrote of the weekly newspapers for which we work, collectively identified as the Lehigh Valley Press, as “capturing the happenings in our communities in print.”

The Chicago Defender did that and more, becoming the voice of a community beyond its own city limits.

The newspaper took on racial inequality, discussing segregation laws in its pages and promoting the Double V campaign, which advocated for democracy at home and overseas for African Americans during World War II-era. Coverage of the murder case of teenager Emmett Till also appeared in The Chicago Defender.

Wilkerson offers details of the efforts of a law enforcement official in Mississippi ordering copies of the newspaper confiscated before they were sold as well as a network of railroad porters smuggling issues of the Chicago Defender into the southern United States and “hurling them out by the bundle at strategic points along their routes.”

The Chicago Defender readers could be found throughout the United States and the newspaper would inspire others to create community newspapers of their own.

On July 11, a new era for “Defender” readers began.

The Chicago Defender moved to a digital-only format.

One of my former professors emailed me a link announcing the news.

April Peterson

editorial assistant

East Penn Press

Salisbury Press