Eric Easter discusses the the evolution of black media online on a panel with Kinsey Wilson. (Photo by Ashley Southall)
Digital integration gives the black press a chance to reconnect the African-American community more than 50 years after the “split and spread” that accompanied desegregation, says Eric Easter.
The Web is going to "reshape how we define news and information, and the way we present it as well," said Easter, chief digital strategist for Johnson Publishing Company (JPC), the world's largest African-American-owned and –operated publishing company. “And the challenge is to remain relevant in the technologies and to be in places where the audience is.”
Easter says the globalization of Black culture has expanded the Black press's competition to include virtually every media outlet. He says that stories the Black press once “owned” are now up for grabs. And Black publications have struggled to compete with publications that have larger, wider circulations.
Still, Easter says the Web offers the Black press a chance to reclaim its initial role and undo the drawbacks of civil integration.
"You used to be able to walk down the street when you lived in a Black neighborhood and grab a Black newspaper because it was everywhere you went. Now, if you live in the suburbs or you live in the ritzy part of town, like a lot of Black folk do, you could go months without ever seeing a Black publication,” Easter said. “So, there’s still very much a niche, very much a need.”
The Black press's move to digital technology also presents specific challenges to Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Many of the journalists employed by Black publications matriculated in these institutions.
Easter, a 1983 graduate of the Johnson School of Communications at Howard University (named after JPC’s founder and namesake, John H. Johnson), says it is imperative for Black schools to nurture business and entrepreneurial skills, teaching students “to be owners, not employees.”
-- Ashley Southall