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Chicago Defender won’t print anymore but available online

Illinois

Carol Ozemhoya | OW Contributor | 7/8/2019, 10:23 a.m.
The Chicago Defender, an influential African American...

The Chicago Defender, an influential African American newspaper for more than a century, is ceasing print publication next week and switching to a digital-only format, reports the Chicago Tribune.

“This is a difficult decision, but I think it’s the right decision,” Hiram Jackson, CEO of Defender parent company Real Times Media, said Friday. “The Defender is about providing information to the African American community. The numbers are evident that the best way to do that is through doubling down on our digital platform.”

Founded in 1905 by publisher Robert Abbott, the Defender evolved from a modest weekly into a daily newspaper and a national voice for African Americans, documenting racial inequality and championing the civil rights movement. The paper reverted back to a weekly in 2008, and made the decision to end the print version entirely amid dwindling circulation. The last issue will hit newsstands on Wednesday.

“In 2018, the Chicago Defender print version was profitable,” Jackson said. “But the readership trends as it relates to our print product were decreasing and our digital audience was vastly increasing.” The Defender has a weekly print circulation of about 16,000 copies, Jackson said. Its website reaches about 475,000 unique monthly visitors, a number Jackson hopes to build “quickly.”

The website is free, supported by advertising and sponsorships. Jackson said the Defender also has diversified over the past decade into special events and marketing services to generate revenue. But long term, he said the Defender plans to erect a digital pay wall to get online subscriptions to monetize the website.

While based in Chicago, the newspaper had a national role in the civil rights movement. It cast a bright light on everything from state-enacted Jim Crow laws enforcing racial segregation in the South to Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American kid from Chicago who was brutally murdered by White men in a racially-charged attack while he was visiting relatives in rural Mississippi during the summer of 1955. The Defender is also credited with creating the annual Bud Billiken Parade, a Chicago tradition since 1929.