Every February, during Black History Month, we here at the Philadelphia Tribune are reminded of, and humbled by, our role as informants and advocates for our community. As the nation’s oldest continuously published African American newspaper, we acknowledge our role in helping chronicle Philadelphia’s Black history, and we hope to keep that history alive for many, many Februaries to come.
This week we were privileged to host a group of young African American aspiring journalists, visiting from the University of Missouri, courtesy of the National Association of Black Journalists. They gathered in the Tribune’s conference room to probe our veteran journalists and editors about life, journalism and working in the “real world.”
They were clearly sharp and inquisitive, yet asking questions with that wide-eyed wonder of discovering a new world that all journalists had at their age. They had just come from a similar meeting at another paper, and commented on the lack of diversity in newsrooms, and specifically, why there are so few African Americans in positions of authority in the media - from big city newsrooms to magazines to network and cable news outlets.
They needed to hear the truth, and we gave it to them - as newsrooms have shrunk considerably over the past decade, the most negatively affected readers have been African Americans, whose voices have been notably diminishing as journalists of color slowly become a rare breed.
Whether Black journalists are laid off, given a buyout, or offered early retirement, Black readers suffer because every time it happens, that’s one less person available to tell their stories. And there are so many wonderful stories to tell. From a first-grader who created an amazing video game app, to a Germantown Tuskeegee Airman honored by the White House, our community is teeming with stories of dreamers and achievers.
We told those young students that they were the key to the future of Black journalism - that it was up to them to find those untold stories, and make sure they are told fully and truthfully. They are the reporters, editors and columnists we’ll be reading in a few years. They will be our source of information, and will introduce us to the next generation of dreamers and achievers.
At its best, this profession is an honor - journalism is the only job description specifically protected by the Constitution of the United States. Although the industry has taken a hit lately, if our conversation with those amazing young students from the University of Missouri’s journalism is any indication, the future of Black journalism, and by extension Black history, is in good hands.