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Black Papers Look to Web Presence

June 15, 2001

ATLANTA (AP) _ The nation’s black newspapers are looking to the Internet for new clout in advertising and journalism, combining their traditional local stories about social change and positive community news with a focused online audience advertisers covet.

The National Newspapers Publishers Association, which represents 210 of the roughly 250 U.S. black newspapers, is halfway to its goal of raising $500,000 to create a Web presence for each paper.

The group plans to have 100 papers online within a year. AT&T Corp. and United Parcel Service each donated $125,000 to help launch the first 100 newspapers’ sites.

The group is holding its 61st annual convention in Atlanta through Saturday. Nearly every discussion at the conference is related to the possibilities of ``aggregated digital content,″ or how each newspaper could benefit if its stories, advertisers and readers are configured correctly online.

``So much of what’s done on the Internet is about volume,″ association executive director Benjamin Jealous said Thursday. ``Having one or two newspaper sites doesn’t get a lot of attention. But if you put up 200 papers, then you’re a player.″

The association says its members have a weekly circulation of 15 million people, reaching more than a third of the country’s black households. While the average black press reader is 42, the association is aiming for the 18-30 demographic advertisers seek most ardently.

Only 42 of the association’s papers offer any news on their sites, while more than 70 percent offer no classified advertising in either print or online versions, Jealous said. Tight staffs and the expense are the main culprits.

``The community that we serve is just coming online, so we’re using the print version to direct people to the Web site,″ said Jesse Long-Bey, city editor of Detroit’s Michigan Citizen, which has a weekly circulation of 60,000.

Long-Bey said he believes the Internet also will prompt many of the papers to do more hard news coverage, including stories that point out problems in black communities.

``We have a hardcore cadre of readers and they want hard news″ even if it’s unflattering at times, Long-Bey said.

The site, blackpressusa.com, will post stories from members throughout the day, allowing other papers access to them. An editorial staff will choose and edit submissions for the primary national site, akin to a traditional wire service.

``With most issues, if it’s affecting a black person in Detroit, it’s affecting a black person in Des Moines and a black person in Mississippi,″ Jealous said.

The association has talked with National Public Radio, NBC’s Internet site, NBCi, and the Tom Joyner morning radio show about access to the stories.

``There’s no conversation we aren’t willing to have,″ Jealous said.

Ken Smikle, president of Target Market News, a Chicago market research firm that specializes in black consumers, told a panel discussion that future readers will demand to receive news and ads online.

``You have to have a Web site,″ Smikle said. ``You will not make it if you don’t have a Web site. I am not kidding.″

The association also hopes to inspire more investigative and critical reporting among its members by tying a portion of advertising revenue returned to a paper to the number of times readers select its stories.

Mansfield B. Frazier, editor of CityNews in Cleveland, isn’t yet sure about how deeply his paper will be involved in the site because he hasn’t heard how much ad revenue will be shared.

CityNews is working on its own site, to be launched this summer.

``It’s fast becoming the time when if you don’t have a Web presence, you’re not a real newspaper, as far as I’m concerned, Frazier said.


On the Net:

National Newspaper Publishers Association, http://www.nnpa.org

newspapers’ Web site, http://www.blackpressusa.com

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