By Stacy M. Brown
After 114 years of using ink on paper to deliver news that informs, educates and empowers the African American community throughout the Windy City, Real Times Media, parent company of the Chicago Defender, has announced that the Chicago Defender will move to a digital-only format with its July 11 edition. The final printed edition will be delivered Wednesday, July 10.
“This is not a sad day, it’s an exciting time,” said Hiram E. Jackson, chief executive officer, Real Times Media. “We have several hundred thousand people reading on our website and we have more than 200,000 Facebook followers, so when you compare that to printing 20,000 newspapers once a week, there’s no comparison,” Jackson said.
“At the end of the day, it’s about impact and influence. Influencing the community; influencing the politicians and the business people — and you can’t do that with less than 20,000 readers a week and now we’ll publish every day. When you take a city like Chicago where black people are everywhere, with the printed version we couldn’t reach everyone,” said Jackson.
The iconic Chicago Defender, which the legendary Langston Hughes once penned articles for, has always been respected as one of the most important newspapers in the history of the Black Press.
Founded in 1905 by Robert S. Abbott, The Chicago Defender fiercely covered and railed against Jim Crow laws; openly championed the Great Migration; tackled segregation head-on; and loyally kept its readers abreast during the Civil Rights era.
The Defender is a member of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), the trade association that represents the Black Press of America – African American-owned newspapers and media companies throughout the U.S.
Keeping with tradition of the 192-year old Black Press of America whose first newspaper, “Freedom’s Journal,” published its first issue in 1827, most members of the Black Press still publish print products. However, nearly all are delivering content on both digital and print platforms.
“It is simply time for the Chicago Defender to break away from the printed page and put more focus on bringing our readers daily content from the African American perspective and increasing the impact of our community voice,” Jackson said.
The company remains committed to being an iconic news organization, but must double-down in the areas where we are seeing growth, Jackson said.
“Ceasing print operations allows us to do that,” he said.
Although the Chicago Defender will no longer print a weekly edition, the brand will continue to highlight pivotal moments via special print editions to create more capacity to actively engage with the community.
With this transition, the publication will retain its existing editorial and management staff and continue to offer its signature events: Men of Excellence, Women of Excellence, and activities surrounding the Bud Billiken Parade, Jackson said.
Bolstering the Defender’s digital transition, Real Times Media has robust plans to continue digitization and licensing of the Chicago Defender archives via strategic partnerships that will generate significant revenue for the brand through 2029.
Jackson said the Defender also will be able to cover more national stories and, if the beloved Cubs win a world series, “We can cover it that night,” he said.
“There is so much opportunity for the Chicago Defender to grow nationally and become a premier player in the African American media space,” Jackson said.
“However, we must continue to courageously evolve our focus to reflect the habits of our readers and our audience and stay focused on those vehicles that genuinely serve our client base. If we do not evolve dramatically, we will be left behind without a clear path for continued success,” he said.