State of the News Media 2016
African American News Media: Fact Sheet
Last updated June 2016
Black-oriented news media – one of the long-standing minority news genres in the U.S. – showed little substantive change over the 2014 to 2015 period. The overall number of newspapers aimed at this population – primarily community weeklies – remained steady, but there was some evidence of audience decline, a pattern also found among magazines in this genre.
In U.S. newsrooms overall, the portion of full-time daily newspaper jobs filled by blacks showed no change from 2014, while in broadcast, the percentage of television newsroom jobs filled by blacks remained steady at about 5%. Nonetheless, concerns about newsroom diversity figured prominently in media headlines throughout 2015. Two more full power TV stations came under black ownership during the year, but the launch of the Black Television News Channel (BTNC) – initially scheduled for the fall of 2015 – has been further delayed, and the broadcast spectrum used by WHUT – the nation’s only black-owned public television station – may be up for sale. In the digital space, The Root – a leading African American-oriented news site – was acquired by Univision Communications in a bid to expand its audience, and ESPN’s The Undefeated, with a focus on the intersection of race, culture and sports, launched in May 2016.
The black press trade association (NNPA) tracks the number of black newspapers – primarily community weeklies – and in 2015, the organization again put the number at around 200. Because so few of these papers have regularly audited circulation figures, however, it is difficult to acquire industry-wide measures. There are, though, a handful of historically prominent black papers with audited circulation data, which can serve as indicators, and among those the data show some audience decline in 2015.
- The Chicago Defender’s circulation declined by 18% in 2015, though in May of that year, the new publisher of the Defender stated that the paper had recently become profitable – if only narrowly so – for the first time in years.
- The print runs of the two Afro-American papers tracked (Baltimore and Washington) were combined as of June 2015. A comparison of the three-month period ended in September 2015 against the six-month period ended in September 2014 shows an overall 7% decline in circulation to about 10,300 for the two papers combined.
- The New York Amsterdam News showed a 21% drop in circulation from 2014 to 2015 to about 8,300.
- The Philadelphia Tribune 1 also showed a 21% decrease. However, the 2014 data included months when school was in session while the 2015 data do not. The Tribune distributes copies of their digital replica edition as a part of the Newspapers in Education program and summer circulation goes down due to school closure.
According to the latest available data from the American Society of News Editors, the number of blacks employed in newspaper newsrooms across the United States decreased from 1,754 in 2013 to 1,560 in 2014, a rate of decline that roughly mirrored the rate of decline in newsroom jobs overall. The black share of all newsroom jobs has remained steady over the past several years and stood at 4.7% in 2014.
Additionally, according to a count maintained for the National Association of Black Journalists, there were a total of 11 black top editors at daily newspapers at the close of 2015, though this number was reduced to nine by March 2016 after one editor retired and a second left for a new position.
The racial disparity in newsrooms seems to be especially notable at the local level: A 2015 Pew Research Center analysis found that smaller-market TV newsrooms and lower circulation newspapers – where journalists often start their careers – have long been less likely than their larger counterparts to employ minorities.
In 2015, a number of high profile news events involving race drew renewed attention to the issue of diversity in the nation’s newsrooms, raising questions about how the news media portray people of color and why newsrooms are not more diverse. The renewed attention during the year spurred several prominent news organizations like BuzzFeed, The Washington Post, The New York Times and NPR to more openly examine the level of diversity in their own newsrooms and, in some cases, create strategies to work to improve their numbers.
In the magazine industry, three national print titles geared toward blacks have audited circulation data: Ebony, Essence and Black Enterprise, and according to the latest available data, all three saw declines in circulation in the past one to two years.
Inside local TV newsrooms in the U.S., blacks generally made only minimal gains in employment in 2015. According to the latest data from the Radio Television Digital News Association, the share of television newsroom employment filled by blacks remained about steady – at 10% in 2013 and 11% in 2014. The share of black news directors remained at 2013 levels – 4%.
There were some notable developments in television news programming involving prominent blacks in the field during 2015 and early 2016. In June of 2015, Lester Holt was elevated to the position of permanent anchor of NBC Nightly News, making him the first African American to be the sole anchor of a nightly network news program. In September, NewsOne’s Roland Martin made a change to the time and format of his NewsOne Now program, with the goal of focusing more on hard news and capturing more of the black audience at the 7 a.m. EST hour. And in February 2016 MSNBC cut ties with Melissa Harris-Perry, who had hosted a news and public affairs program on that network since 2012.
At the end of 2015, there were more TV stations in the hands of black owners than in 2014, though the fate of one public TV station remained up in the air. In April 2015, black-owned Radio One completed a buyout of Comcast’s minority interest in the TV One cable network. The total number of black-owned television stations grew to 12 after the purchase of two additional stations – KVMY in Las Vegas and WLYH in Harrisburg – by Armstrong Williams. One of only four blacks to own any television stations in the United States, Williams now owns seven of the 12 black-owned stations. But, at year’s end, the fate of WHUT, Howard University’s public television station, remained up in the air after the university placed the station in the FCC spectrum auction scheduled to begin at the end of March 2016. WHUT is the nation’s only black-owned public television station and the prospect of a sale sparked a vigorous debate about the responsibility of the university and how significant the loss of the station could be for both the campus community and the greater Washington, D.C., area.
Television news programming aimed specifically at blacks remains relatively rare. Although Bounce TV is not primarily a news broadcaster, Nielsen placed it as the fastest growing black-oriented television network among several key age groups in 2015, ahead of both BET and TV One, and its local affiliates can opt to carry or produce news. One station doing this – WBTV, a CBS affiliate in Charlotte, North Carolina – debuted three hours of news programming for its black audience on its Bounce subchannel in 2014. Urban Perspectives, a weekly half-hour urban affairs program that debuted in 2014 airs in the Twin Cities and is produced by Black Music America – a local black-owned and operated cable channel. But some other initiatives continue to face difficulty. The Soul of the South digital TV network based in Little Rock, Arkansas, that launched in 2013 experienced significant financial troubles 2 throughout 2015, sold its media communications center and reported pared down operations. And the launch of the 24-hour black-owned Black Television News Channel (BTNC) to be based on the campus of Florida A&M University – initially slated for the fall of 2015 – has again been delayed. A university memo indicated that BTNC is awaiting both a distribution commitment from a cable carrier and regulatory clearance from the FCC.
Among the more significant developments in the African-American digital space were NBC News’ January 2015 launch of a new vertical, the May 2015 acquisition of The Root by Univision Communications, and the February 2016 decision by the Maynard Institute to reallocate resources away from “Richard Prince’s Journal-isms” – the online column focusing on news media, race and society that the Institute had hosted since 2002. The column now lives independently online. In March 2016, the Poynter Institute and the National Association of Black Journalists announced a new partnership to provide leadership training to journalists of color working in digital media. And, ESPN launched the long-delayed The Undefeated – a site that will focus on the intersection of race, culture and sports – in May 2016, and hired staff, including managing editors from two newspapers, The Washington Post and the Winston-Salem Journal.
To arrive at a snapshot of the current digital footprint of African American media, Pew Research Center analyzed comScore audience data for a cohort of 19 African American-oriented digital news publishers. While there is no official source or census of African American-focused digital media, the Maynard Institute – an organization aimed at helping media accurately portray all segments of society – is a leader in tracking developments in this space. Each year, the Institute compiles a comprehensive list of African American-oriented sites and ranks them using web traffic data. While the Maynard list is not exhaustive, it is an established accounting of record of key stakeholders in the African-American digital news space. Pew Research then takes that list and queries comScore for more detailed data on unique visitors and minutes per visit spent by both desktop and mobile users to each of these websites. 3 (For this analysis, Pew Research Center analysts worked directly with comScore to identify and remove from the sample web entities whose traffic shifts over time were the result of changes in how those entities are measured by comScore, rather than organic changes in audience behaviors.)
Overall, from 2014-2015, there were nearly equal shares of gains and losses in terms of the number of unique visitors and the minutes per visit those readers spent with the 14 outlets in this cohort of African American-oriented media that exhibited organic changes in audience behavior. As with many other media sectors, mobile traffic was a bright spot in 2015 for this group of publishers.
When it came to mobile traffic, the majority of sites (10 of the 14) experienced an increase in unique visitors, and eight of these sites showed an increase of 10% or greater from the previous year. For 11 of 14 of the outlets, however, the number of unique visitors from desktops fell, with eight showing a drop of 10% or greater from the fourth quarter of 2014 to the fourth quarter of 2015.
Changes in the average minutes per visit spent on the sites also differed by platform. Half of the sites (7 of 14) saw an increase in the minutes per visit spent by desktop users, while half saw a decrease. And, in most cases, these changes from 2014 to 2015 represented differences of greater than 10%, with 6 sites showing a large gain and 6 showing a large loss. The story is somewhat different, however, for visitors coming from mobile devices – the majority of sites (11 of 14) showed fewer average minutes spent per visit in 2015 than in 2014, and for nine of the sites, this difference was 10% or greater.
- In accordance with the decision by the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM) to transition from six-month publisher’s statements to quarterly reporting after March 31, 2015, the change between 2014 and 2015 reflects somewhat different periods. ↩
- Arkansas Business, based in Little Rock, Arkansas, published several articles during 2015 and early 2016 on the financial and legal troubles of the Soul of the South network. ↩
- comScore Media Matrix Multi-Platform and Desktop only, minutes per visit and unique visitors, October-December 2014 and October-December 2015, U.S. Data provided by comScore includes both desktop and mobile traffic via websites and, where available, associated mobile apps. ↩