State of the News Media 2015
African-American Media: Fact Sheet
Last updated April 2015
African American-oriented news media, one of the long-standing minority news genres in the U.S., maintains a presence in print, broadcast and now the Web. Weekly newspapers aimed at this population are still the most prevalent, but most of those with data that the Pew Research Center can track lost audience in 2014. In broadcast, a few new African American-oriented television news programs emerged in 2014 and at least one new syndicated radio program emerged. But Soul of the South, the digital television network launched in 2013, may be at risk of shutting down. In the digital space, NBC launched a new vertical in early 2015 aimed at its African-American audience.
In U.S. newsrooms more broadly, the portion of full-time daily newspaper jobs filled by African Americans has remained relatively steady while the portion inside television newsrooms has increased slightly. And seven full power TV stations came under black ownership in 2014 – up from zero in 2013.
The number of African-American newspapers – primarily weeklies – continues to hover around 200, according to the National Newspaper Publishers Association. They are hard to measure as a group, though, because few have audited audience figures. Among the five larger African-American newspapers that do, four saw sizable declines in total paid circulation (which includes both print and digital) from 2013 to 2014 – ranging from 7% for the New York Amsterdam News to 19% for the Chicago Defender.
Only one of the five papers examined, The Philadelphia Tribune, saw an overall increase in circulation in 2014. The total growth was 40% – though all but 2% of this is attributed to 5,200 copies of their digital replica edition distributed as a part of the Newspapers in Education Program.
The digital space is not providing much relief. The two papers examined which offered subscriptions to digital replicas in both 2013 and 2014 – the Baltimore and Washington editions of the Afro-American – also lost significant circulation in their digital editions.
Inside daily newspaper newsrooms, the number of black journalists has declined at roughly the same rate as newsroom jobs overall. Their share of all newsroom jobs, then, has remained steady over the past five years, settling at 4.8% in 2013.
In the magazine industry, four titles geared toward African Americans have audited circulation data: Ebony, Jet, Essence and Black Enterprise. Essence saw a circulation increase in 2014 while Ebony and Black Enterprise circulation declined, and the 60-year old Jet ceased print publication altogether midyear, relaunching as a weekly digital application. (In 2013, Jet had already reduced its publication frequency to every three weeks.)
While there is far less television news programming than newspapers aimed specifically at African-American audiences, the genre saw a handful of developments over the past year, both positive and negative. WBTV, the CBS affiliate in Charlotte, N.C., began producing three hours of daily news programming targeted at its black audience on its Bounce subchannel: a 7-9 a.m. morning news program and a one-hour 8 p.m. newscast with two African-American hosts. In addition, the long-planned launch of the Black Television News Channel (BTNC) is now slated for fall 2015. In March, an 11-year deal was announced between Florida A&M University and BTNC for a 24-hour multiplatform cable news network. BTNC plans to produce 14 hours of original news programming daily.
On the other hand, Soul of the South (SSN) – a multicast, digital television network launched in 2013 – may be at risk of shutting down. The network, headquartered in Little Rock, Ark., and which had been airing in 25 markets, laid off about a dozen of its news employees in March 2015 and ceased original news production. Then, in early April, CEO Doug McHenry said he was considering winding down the entire Soul of the South operation due to financial strains and the inability to secure a spot on cable.
TV Newsroom Investment
In late 2014, seven1 full-powered television stations were poised to come under black ownership2 – largely as a result of the FCC’s March ruling that bars companies from controlling two or more stations in the same markets. This was something of a breakthrough in that it reversed the downward trend in the number of stations owned by African Americans, which had hit zero by the close of 2013. Four of the seven stations were formerly owned by Nexstar (three Fox affiliates sold to media executive Pluria Marshall Jr. and a CBS affiliate sold to DuJoan McCoy of Bayou Broadcasting). The other three stations – two ABC sub-channels (WCFT and WJSU) and a MyNetwork affiliate (WWMP) – were Sinclair Broadcasting properties sold to conservative commentator Armstrong Williams.
Inside TV newsrooms, African Americans made slight gains. According to the latest data available from RTDNA, the share of television newsroom employment filled by African Americans rose slightly from 9.9% in 2012 to 10.4% in 2013. The gain was bigger for TV news directors – increasing from 2.9% of all of those jobs in 2012 to the highest level ever in 2013 – 4.3%.
To get a sense of the current digital footprint of African-American media, Pew Research analyzed audience data for 18 African American-oriented websites and associated apps tracked by the Maynard Institute, an organization aimed at helping news media accurately portray all segments of society. The set of web entities includes entertainment and lifestyle outlets as well as news organizations. Thirteen garnered 1 million or more monthly unique visitors in January 2015, according to data provided by the analytics firm comScore, four of which are outlets dedicated to news: The Root, NewsOne, The Grio and Huffington Post Black Voices.
As a group, the majority of the sites and apps (12) received at least 10% more of their traffic from mobile devices than from desktop, according to comScore. But among the four focused on news, two (The Root and NewsOne) garnered more traffic from mobile than desktop, while the other two (The Grio and Huffington Post Black Voices) saw more traffic from desktop users. This differs from news websites and associated apps overall, where a majority receives at least 10% more traffic from mobile device users than from desktop.
The metric of time spent on African American-oriented websites and their apps, however, reveals a somewhat different picture. Taken as a group overall, 12 of the 18 had desktop visitors spending more time than mobile visitors. And among the four African American-dedicated news outlets, two – The Root and NewsOne – had desktop users spending more time, while the other two – The Grio and Huffington Post Black Voices – saw mobile users spending at least 10% more time than those using desktop. This stands in contrast to patterns of time spent on news websites and apps overall, where time spent on desktop visits outpaces time spent on mobile devices.
Editorially, NBC made two changes over the past year that are likely to affect their coverage of African American-focused news: It sold their website TheGrio.com back to its original owners, and it launched a new vertical focusing on the African-American audience – NBCBLK.com, which went live in January 2015.
- In late 2013 Armstrong Williams had secured FCC approval for the purchase of WEYI-TV and WWMB-TV, but these two stations were operated as “sidecar” agreements with Sinclair. ↩
- Issues surrounding African American-owned media also surfaced in another context in late 2014 and early 2015 when the National Association of African American Owned Media (NAAAOM) filed several lawsuits. A $10 billion lawsuit against AT&T and DirecTV was filed on Dec. 3 alleging that a disproportionately small percentage of advertising dollars was being spent on 100% African American-owned companies. On Feb. 20, 2015, a $20 billion lawsuit was filed against Comcast, Time Warner Cable and several other entities charging racial discrimination in contracting. ↩