The Chicago Defender, an influential newspaper aimed at local African-American readers with a history that dates back to 1905, is ceasing print publication.
Editors announced the decision to local Chicago media Friday but haven’t alerted readers yet on the company’s website or social media.
“This is a difficult decision, but I think it’s the right decision,” Hiram Jackson, CEO of Defender parent company Real Times Media, told the Chicago Tribune. “The Defender is about providing information to the African American community. The numbers are evident that the best way to do that is through doubling down on our digital platform.”
The Defender has been a weekly publication since 2008. The final print edition will publish Wednesday.
Jackson told the Tribune the Defender publishes 16,000 copies weekly but reaches 475,000 unique monthly visitors online.
“It is estimated that at its height each paper sold was read by four to five African Americans, putting its readership at over 500,000 people each week,” says PBS, in an online bio of the paper, a companion to its 2005 Paper Trail documentary. “The Chicago Defender was the first black newspaper to have a circulation over 100,000, the first to have a health column, and the first to have a full page of comic strips.
Jackson told the Chicago Sun-Times that going digital only will help it reach more readers, “who live on the West Side or South Side or south suburbs, giving people what they need when they want it. It makes us more nimble.”
Detroit based Real Times also owns newspapers aimed at the Black communities of Detroit, Pittsburgh, Memphis and Atlanta. Jackson told the Associated Press that his other newspapers will continue to offer a print version.
Attempts to reach Jackson over the weekend were unsuccessful.
The Defender has a long history as a voice of Black America.
Author Ethan Michaeli cited the paper’s influence in his book, “The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America.” The newspaper had the clout “to elect mayors and presidents, including Harry S. Truman and John F. Kennedy, who would have lost in 1960 if not for the Defender. Along the way, its pages were filled with columns by legends like Ida B. Wells, Langston Hughes, and Martin Luther King Jr.”
Former president Barack Obama said in a 2005 interview with PBS that the Defender “chronicles the passage of the African-American community from the South to the North. And in that sense, it captures the immigrants story of America,” Michaeli notes in his book.
The Defender, he added, represents the “best of American journalism, which has always had a function not just of reporting, but about advocacy and having a point of view.”
The two publications could hardly be compared, but this week another historic title, Mad magazine, told editors it would stop publishing new content after 67 years. And the staff of Ebony magazine, another historical publication aimed at black readers, told the Root they had all been laid off.
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