Chicago Defender building (281693)
Credit: Google Maps

By HERB BOYD

Special to the AmNews

When Henry Ford, the automobile manufacturer, offered his $5 a day pay in the 1920s, The Chicago Defender made that announcement a headline story and promoted the story consistently. During World War II, with the “Double V Campaign” slogan—victory abroad and at home on civil rights—The Defender again led the way.

Many readers who looked forward to a print copy of the weekly will now have to get it online as the print edition, after this Wednesday, will cease publication. According to Hiram Jackson, chief executive of Real Times Media, which owns The Defender, the Michigan Chronicle and other African-American newspapers around the nation, the decision to halt the print version was “an economic decision. But it’s more an effort to make sure that The Defender has another 100 years.”

Jackson was referring to the paper’s more than century-long existence after it was founded in 1905 by Robert Sengstacke Abbott. Like many Black newspapers, The Defender started with meager funds and then gradually built its circulation, largely from being distributed nationwide by Pullman porters. The porters not only carried the paper from city to city but they read it religiously and helped to spread the news about such tragedies as the Emmett Till lynching.

In relying mainly on an online edition, The Defender merely follows a pattern that is becoming quite common as the digital age expands. And it’s amazing that it managed to continue a print edition as long as it did given the decline in print advertising and the prominence of the internet.

“My career would not be what it is today if not for The Defender,” Jackson told the press.

The handwriting had been on the wall for quite a while, particularly by 2010 when there were only 10 full-time employees and one staff reporter. Jackson said no staff members would be cut with an impetus transferred to the website and social media accounts.

“We’re nervous but we’re really excited about this,” Jackson added. “The Chicago Defender is known for the impact it’s had. The only way we can be impactful is to have a huge audience. You can’t do that with printed newspapers.”