Don’t Take Your Local Newspaper for Granted

This week in North Philly Notes, Mary Lou Nemanic, author of Metro Dailies in the Age of Multimedia Journalismwrites about the importance of the daily newspaper. 

I’m endlessly troubled by the politicization of the news media and their demonization as the public enemy rather than as the providers of information that is vital to our democracy. Whenever I hear the news media trashed, the 1787 words of Thomas Jefferson come to mind:

“The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs thro’ the channel of the public papers, & to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people. The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Metro_DailiesI couldn’t agree more. Newspapers today are comprised of individuals who provide us with a critical public service. They should be appreciated for this, not denigrated because the exposure of the facts conflicts with a political agenda.  I wrote Metro Dailies in the Age of Multimedia Journalism to emphasize this point and to make people aware of what profiteering corporations are doing to local newspapers across the country. We need to appreciate the public service our news media provide in speaking truth to power and in illuminating the issues and concerns that are significant in our lives.

The COVID-19 (corona virus) pandemic is a good example of this. While I often go to the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s website for breaking news and I regularly get email summaries of major stories, the newspaper is where I go for in-depth information on international, national, regional, and local levels. There are infographics that show the spread of the pandemic, information on school and business closings and information on the Mayo Clinic fast-tracking a vaccine. There are resources for people who have questions and there are stories with experts who debunk popular social media myths about the disease.

Studies show people prefer long reads utilizing print rather than online platforms, and that newspapers—not online sources—provide readers with most of the original reporting available. And that includes investigations of political corruption and of major community issues, such as COVID-19. Yet, a rather alarming statistic unearthed by the Pew Research Center in 2018 indicates that more than 70% of Americans believe their local news outlets are faring well financially.

However, that means few are aware of what I witnessed in the six years of my study—that major metro newspaper staffs have shrunk from more than 100 to as few as 30 under the ownership of profiteering corporations. Of the five case studies in my book, three newsrooms were stripped to the bare bones. My hometown paper, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, suffered this fate at the hands of Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund that made double digit profits as the staff was laid off or offered buyouts until it was reduced to approximately 45 people. This tiny staff is responsible for both a newspaper and a website covering a city of more than 300,000 people.

Dave Orrick, a union representative and state government and politics reporter at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, is even trying to broker a deal to get local investors to buy the newspaper from Alden. Alden typically buys distressed companies, harvests them for substantial profits, and then sells off the remains. No individual or group has stepped up yet to buy the St. Paul paper, but Orrick hasn’t given up hope. His dedication to his newspaper and to journalism in these troubled times is truly impressive.

My appreciation for the free press dates back to my days at the University of Minnesota where I majored in journalism. The Journalism School there instilled in me a great respect for the free flow of information. As an undergrad, I had a chance to work for the student newspaper, The Minnesota Daily, the fourth largest daily newspaper in the state and a champion of the free press. In a lot of ways, Metro Dailies, is a book in defense of the free press at a time when its credibility is constantly under assault. I urge people to protect their local newspapers from profiteering ownership and to realize that is in our best interest for newspapers to survive and continue to be watchdogs over government and disseminators of essential information so vital to our democracy.

Celebrating Black History Month with Temple University Press titles

This week in North Philly Notes, we focus on some of our favorite African American titles to commemorate Black History Month.

The Man-Not: Race, Class, Genre, and the Dilemmas of Black Manhood, by Tommy J. Curry

2453_regTommy J. Curry’s provocative book The Man-Not is a justification for Black Male Studies. He posits that we should conceptualize the Black male as a victim, oppressed by his sex. The Man-Not, therefore, is a corrective of sorts, offering a concept of Black males that could challenge the existing accounts of Black men and boys desiring the power of white men who oppress them that has been proliferated throughout academic research across disciplines. Curry argues that Black men struggle with death and suicide, as well as abuse and rape, and their genred existence deserves study and theorization. This book offers intellectual, historical, sociological, and psychological evidence that the analysis of patriarchy offered by mainstream feminism (including Black feminism) does not yet fully understand the role that homoeroticism, sexual violence, and vulnerability play in the deaths and lives of Black males. Curry challenges how we think of and perceive the conditions that actually affect all Black males.

Mediating America: Black and Irish Press and the Struggle for Citizenship, 1870-1914,  by Brian Shott

Mediating_America_webUntil recently, print media was the dominant force in American culture. The power of the paper was especially true in minority communities. African Americans and European immigrants vigorously embraced the print newsweekly as a forum to move public opinion, cohere group identity, and establish American belonging.

Mediating America explores the life and work of T. Thomas Fortune and J. Samuel Stemons as well as Rev. Peter C. Yorke and Patrick Ford—respectively two African American and two Irish American editor/activists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Historian Brian Shott shows how each of these “race men” (the parlance of the time) understood and advocated for his group’s interests through their newspapers. Yet the author also explains how the newspaper medium itself—through illustrations, cartoons, and photographs; advertisements and page layout; and more—could constrain editors’ efforts to guide debates over race, religion, and citizenship during a tumultuous time of social unrest and imperial expansion.

Black and Irish journalists used newspapers to recover and reinvigorate racial identities. As Shott proves, minority print culture was a powerful force in defining American nationhood.

Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slaveryby Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer

2253_regThe Emancipation Proclamation is one of the most important documents in American history. As we commemorate its 150th anniversary, what do we really know about those who experienced slavery?

In their pioneering book, Envisioning Emancipation, renowned photographic historian Deborah Willis and historian of slavery Barbara Krauthamer have amassed 150 photographs—some never before published—from the antebellum days of the 1850s through the New Deal era of the 1930s. The authors vividly display the seismic impact of emancipation on African Americans born before and after the Proclamation, providing a perspective on freedom and slavery and a way to understand the photos as documents of engagement, action, struggle, and aspiration.

Envisioning Emancipation illustrates what freedom looked like for black Americans in the Civil War era. From photos of the enslaved on plantations and African American soldiers and camp workers in the Union Army to Juneteenth celebrations, slave reunions, and portraits of black families and workers in the American South, the images in this book challenge perceptions of slavery. They show not only what the subjects emphasized about themselves but also the ways Americans of all colors and genders opposed slavery and marked its end.

Filled with powerful images of lives too often ignored or erased from historical records, Envisioning Emancipation provides a new perspective on American culture.

Suffering and Sunset: World War I in the Art and Life of Horace Pippin, by Celeste-Marie Bernier

2372_regFor self-made artist and World War I soldier Horace Pippin—who served in the 369th African American infantry—war provided a formative experience that defined his life and work. His transformation of combat service into canvases and autobiographies whose emotive power, psychological depth, and haunting realism showed his view of the world revealed his prowess as a painter and writer. In Suffering and Sunset, Celeste-Marie Bernier painstakingly traces Pippin’s life story of art as a life story of war.

Illustrated with more than sixty photographs, including works in various media—many in full color—this is the first intellectual history and cultural biography of Pippin. Working from newly discovered archives and unpublished materials, Bernier provides an in-depth investigation into the artist’s development of an alternative visual and textual lexicon and sheds light on his work in its aesthetic, social, historical, cultural, and political contexts.

Suffering and Sunset illustrates Pippin’s status as a groundbreaking African American painter who not only suffered from but also staged many artful resistances to racism in a white-dominated art world.

The Audacity of Hoop: Basketball and the Age of Obamaby Alexander Wolff

2384_regWhile basketball didn’t take up residence in the White House in January 2009, the game nonetheless played an outsized role in forming the man who did. In The Audacity of Hoop, celebrated sportswriter Alexander Wolff examines Barack Obama, the person and president, by the light of basketball. This game helped Obama explore his identity, keep a cool head, impress his future wife, and define himself as a candidate.

Wolff chronicles Obama’s love of the game from age 10, on the campaign trail—where it eventually took on talismanic meaning—and throughout his two terms in office. More than 125 photographs illustrate Obama dribbling, shooting free throws, playing pickup games, cooling off with George Clooney, challenging his special assistant Reggie Love for a rebound, and taking basketball to political meetings. There is also an assessment of Obama’s influence on the NBA, including a dawning political consciousness in the league’s locker rooms.

Sidebars reveal the evolution of the president’s playing style, “Baracketology”—a not-entirely-scientific art of filling out the commander in chief’s NCAA tournament bracket—and a timeline charts Obama’s personal and professional highlights.

Equal parts biographical sketch, political narrative, and cultural history, The Audacity of Hoop shows how the game became a touchstone in Obama’s exercise of the power of the presidency.

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