DELRAY BEACH — In light of the changing media landscape, the reduced interest in newspapers and magazines, and the increased push by companies to deliver news via electronic pads and tablets, the future of media as a whole and black media specifically was on the mind of Michelle Brown.
The idea bubbled up into a panel discussion Feb. 4 at the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum in Delray Beach, which Brown, who is president of Kaliah Communications Inc. and public relations consultant for the museum, moderated. It was the first in a series of six lectures put on by the museum each year. The topic interested more than a dozen people who came to hear the views of Bradley C. Bennett, executive editor of the South Florida Times, Sun-Sentinel reporter C. Ron Allen and Florida Atlantic University English professor Sika Dagbovie on how they thought the industry is doing.
Brown navigated the panelists through topics ranging from how young people use the media, to how newspapers plan to survive the economic downturn, to how media interact with their audiences.
Margaret Newton said she came to the lecture hoping to find out how to change the negative portrayal of blacks in the media.
The panelists all addressed Newton’s question.
Allen, from the Sun-Sentinel, said he understands how some people might perceive that a newspaper focuses on negative issues in the black community, such as crime-related coverage.
But newspapers are “damned if they do and damned if they don’t,” he said.
“People love reading about smut; people love reading about crime,” Allen said.” It is the nature of people.”
Bennett, a former editor at The Miami Herald, acknowledged that sometimes in mainstream news, communities do not get any attention until a shooting happens.
At the South Florida Times, a newspaper that is global and local in its coverage of the African Diaspora, Bennett balances the bad news with the good. He said this is how his newspaper survives, even thrives in a tough business climate for traditional media.
“People want to see themselves reflected in ways that they don’t in the mainstream media,” Bennett said.
Newspaper circulation is at its lowest in two decades, and declined 10 percent year over year, as reported last October by the Audit Bureau of Circulation. Faced with those daunting numbers, newspapers need new audiences.
But, Dagbovie said, the new audiences are not likely going to be the upcoming generation.
“You would think with 24-hour news that they would be less apathetic, but not so,” Dagbovie said. “They are surfing the web, comatose.”
She said 100 percent of her students get their news from online, mostly blogs about the news or comedic takes on the news.
“Young people do not read local news,” she said.
To underscore Dagbovie’s observation, audience member Newton said her 13-year-old granddaughter had an assignment to report on a news story. Newton, ready to assist, thought she needed a newspaper.
“The teacher told her it had to be an online story,” Newton said. “I was shocked.”
To capture and keep readers, Bennett said the media will have to deliver news via the methods people want. People now can access news stories on their smart phones.
Already developed are electronic tablets on which news will be downloaded and read.
Most newspapers, including the South Florida Times, are reporting to more readers online than in print.
And with access to home office and library computers, more readers are interacting with the paper—even if it is about mundane topics.
“Every time I write a story about animals I get e-mails,” Allen said. “That’s about the only time.”
Photo by Carol Porter. Michelle Brown
IF YOU GO
The Spady Cultural Heritage Museum is located at 170 NW 5th Ave. in Delray Beach. For more information, call 561-279-8883 or log onto www.spadymuseum.org.