Black newspaper dynasty gives way to new guard

By Ernie Suggs The Atlanta Journal-Constitution | 3/24/2014, 9:34 a.m.

ATLANTA (AP) - Whenever M. Alexis Scott walks past the old Atlanta Daily World headquarters on Auburn Avenue, a tinge of melancholy sweeps over her.

"I think about all of the family members who worked here,'' she said standing outside of the abandoned building that was ripped open in 2008 by a tornado. "I think about my dad, who dedicated his whole life to the paper and died too young.''

In January, Scott became the last family member to leave the black newspaper dynasty that lasted 85 years.

Her departure, and the ultimate exit of the Scotts from the nation's first black daily paper, marks a significant turning point in the history of the black press, which like the Negro Leagues or historically black colleges, served as an independent industry specifically catered to a group that was separate and unequal.

"The black press played a vital roll, even before the modern civil rights movement, in covering events that wouldn't be covered --- or at least covered fairly --- in the white press,'' said George E. Curry, the editor and chief of the newsletter distributed by the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a federation of more than 200 Black newspapers from across the country. "The black community trusted the black press. They still do today.''

While the mainstream press ignored or downplayed the black community, the Atlanta Daily World --- along with contemporaries such as the Chicago Defender, Philadelphia Tribune, Baltimore Afro-American and Pittsburgh Courier --- stepped in to fill that void, offering extensive coverage on the subjects like the Emmett Till lynching, Brown vs. Board of Education and the Montgomery bus boycotts, while also covering local weddings, births, church news and cotillions.

"And we are still talking about up until the mid-1960s, when many daily newspapers either segregated or didn't cover us at all,'' Curry said. "In some cases, even the ads were segregated. The black press was our own source of getting news about ourselves.''

With Scott's departure, leadership at the Atlanta Daily World passed to Misha Helvey, the vice president of integrated marketing for Detroit-based Real Times Media, which publishes a handful of other black papers. The family had already sold the paper to the Real Times in 2012, but Scott stayed as publisher. Helvey is the only full-time staffer in Atlanta; she depends on wire services and freelancers for stories.

The aggregated content that comes on the ADW's Digital Daily is geared more toward national news and entertainment than local stories. On Thursday, only one local item shared the page with several stories about the Obamas and celebrity news about Oprah, Pharrell and Queen Latifah.

Helvey said that does not mean a reduction in local coverage. "It may seem like that, but there has been so much national news so worthy of our coverage as well,'' she said. "We still plan on covering things that are very relevant to the region.''

Stan Washington, who interned at the Daily World as a Clark College student, now edits the rival Atlanta Voice. He sees the paper's sale and Scott's exit as part of a larger saga: the gradual eclipse of the Atlanta Daily World.