The State of Atlanta’s Black Media

By Maynard Eaton

Rev. Albert Love, Green Light Think Tank founder

It was billed as the “Metro Atlanta Black Media Summit,” convened by civil rights activist Rev. Albert Love, founder of the Green Light Think Tank. Participating in the robust and riveting conversation were some 15 “top tier” black media and business “decision makers” and icons who were asked to grade the impact, import and influence of Atlanta’s black media outlets.
The group included the likes of Atlanta Tribune Magazine publisher Pat Lottier, former Atlanta Daily World publisher Alexis Scott, the VP/General Manager of V103/WAOK radio Rick Caffey, John Smith Jr. of The Atlanta Inquirer, and the VP/General Manager of Radio One, Inc. Tim Davies. Davies was the only white executive in the meeting and was there representing black media mogul Cathy Hughes, routinely acknowledged as an urban media maven. She is the Founder and Chairperson of Radio One, Inc., the largest African American owned and operated broadcast company in the nation.
“Cathy Hughes is probably the closest to Oprah in terms of black owned media clout,” says Love. “They may not be in the same sentence, but Cathy Hughes is certainly in the same paragraph.”
The group ruefully agreed that the black media business in Atlanta has changed dramatically in the past decade or more because of economics, a generation gap, social media and the digital divide. It’s a totally new day in journalism, they say.
“We are fractured because everybody is getting their news 24/7 from devices like you have in your hand,” opines Pat Lottier, the publisher of the Atlanta Tribune Magazine for the past 31 years. “There are also people out there who tag themselves as a blogger and say ‘I’m going to tell you the news’. Now, is it real or are they just trying to grab more subscribers so they get more money? I have no clue now, but I am really frustrated over what’s going on. I gave us a five—right there in the middle—but we do have to improve. It’s about the green dollar.”
Lottier and her counterparts, contend the black media business has essentially become about how many subscribers you can get to your magazine, newspaper, website, production or your program, and then take it to an advertiser. “The media ballgame now is about selling eyeballs, readers and listeners – not necessarily substantive content and compelling story-telling,” she said.
“It’s a more sophisticated industry now,” Lottier says. “You can’t just say I am doing one piece of that pie.”
Jean Ross was once a popular and highly regarded Atlanta radio news reporter/announcer who is now the WAOK/WVEE news/public affairs director and operations manager.
“One of the problems that I have, as being closely affiliated with WAOK – a station that is talking about all the issues brought up here today- but doesn’t have the exposure to the general community that we should have to get that message out,” she says. “One of the ways we do that is that we need more black media ownership. We need more people to understand that if you own the media, you can control the message. And, that’s what we don’t have now. Even with V103 we are owned by a white corporation. So, there is only so much we can do. And, at the end of the day it is about ratings, it is about revenue. But we need to be able to control our media, to control the message to reach the young people, and to get them on board so that they can understand that they are the future and we need them to help carry this [black media] message forward.”
Alexis Scott is the former Executive Editor/ publisher of the Atlanta Daily World, and a Georgia Gang commentator for Fox 5.
“I think the state of Atlanta’s black media is pretty good, the problem is connecting with the readership and listeners because everything is so fractured right now with the advent of social media,” she opines. “It’s a whole different ballgame and we’ve got to find the money to market our media.”
Scott had a 22-year career with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution working her way up from a respected reporter to vice president of community affairs. The news business is in her blood. In 1932, the ADW, founded by her grandfather W.A. Scott II, became the nation’s first successful black-owned daily newspaper. The paper, now owned by Real Times Media, publishes once a week, and can be accessed daily over the Internet.
“He was a live wire,” Love fondly recalls of the family patriarch. “He was the granddaddy of Atlanta’s black newspapers. The family were movers and shakers.”
Alexis Scott rejects the notion that black media will get lost or marginalized in this new digital age. “There is always going to be a need for that perspective,” she says. “As long as there is racism in America there will be a need for the viewpoint of oppressed people.”
Rev. Albert Love is a seasoned Atlanta civil rights activist and founder of the Greenlight Think Tank. His group is spearheading a Georgia Black Economic Empowerment Day demonstration on Saturday, July 8 to highlight the need for strong black owned banks in Georgia. He wants the city’s black media to write and report about his bank-in that day at Citizens Trust Bank.
“We are all in this ship together, sinking. The black media leg of the table is wobbly,” Love suggests to the media executives gathered at the historic Paschal’s restaurant, a black owned restaurant founded in 1947 that became the unofficial headquarters of the Civil Rights Movement because many of its leaders gathered there to discuss strategy and sample fried chicken. “Thirty years ago, Atlanta’s black media was strong so we are just fast forwarding to take a current look-see,” says Love. “Some of us are operating as if it was 30 years ago, but I think we still have an impact and influence. Radio and the social media are bustling.”
Rick Caffey is a black radio expert, having been in the business since 1979. He is the VP and Market Manager at CBS Radio – V103/WAOK.
“The state of black media finds itself faced with a lot of challenges, but also there are a lot of opportunities,” he opines. “The challenge for us to figure out contemporary ways to tell stories to a younger generation and do it in the form that they are now communicating with such as social media. You are also competing with so many different news outlets. We have more ways that people can access and receive news and information than ever in the history of our existence. We have to transition how we gather content, and how we make sure that content is credible—but also how that content gets distributed in a meaningful way.”
According to their website, The Atlanta Voice newspaper was founded by Ed Clayton, a formidable newspaperman and J. Lowell Ware in 1966 with a defined vision and mission, which has been the publications’ motto and driving force ever since: ‘A People Without A Voice Cannot Be Heard.’ Clayton died after the first issue of the paper was produced leaving Mr. Ware as the sole publisher.
The venerable, award-winning publication was born out of the refusal of the white-owned majority Atlanta media to give fair and credible coverage to the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. It was effectively and uniquely spearheaded by the legendary and politically powerful, J. Lowell Ware, who when he died at age 63 in 1991, had been responsible for publishing seven newspapers throughout the states of Georgia and Alabama.
The paper was started “out of The Movement,’ remembers his daughter and current Atlanta Voice Publisher, Janis Ware; a dynamic and charismatic housing expert, business woman and community activist, who readily assumed the role and responsibility for fulfilling her father’s vision.
“I think the Voice has an impact and an influence,” Ware says without hesitation. “but we must use our influences and our impact past the pages of our printed publications, thus having an application for the I-phone and the Android phones. We’ve got to have a website that’s vibrant and active and puts information out there differently in a digital platform. But our older readers still want to hold the paper in their hands.”
Ware laments that the “advertising dollars are not there” as they once were, which demands that Atlanta’s black media “must generate money from other things” such as events in order to survive. She says publishers and black broadcasters “must tell our own stories and speak for yourself.” And, Ware confidently vows, that despite the current climate of change and transition within the city’s black media outlets, the Atlanta Voice will survive.