By: Tony Best
“Education being an object of the highest importance to the welfare of society, we shall endeavor to present just and adequate views of it.”
Nearly 200 years have elapsed since that pledged was first made in the early 1820s by John Russwurm, a West Indian immigrant, and the Rev. Samuel Cornish, an African-American minister of the First Colored Presbyterian Church. They had forged a partnership to enter the publishing business by introducing the “Freedom Journal” to New Yorkers and in the process launched America’s first Black newspaper. Its historic birth and its straightforward goal helped to inspire the emergence of hundreds of Black newspapers, the early Black media in many major cities.
Little wonder that as we at New York Carib News celebrate the paper’s 30 years of existence as a source of information and a bridge that brings African-Americans and people from the Caribbean closer together, we say with pride and conviction that we are really standing on the shoulders of Freedom Journal’s founders and on those the early newspaper pioneers whose vision remains as relevant today as it was when it was first articulated.
But Russwurm and Cornish didn’t limit themselves to promotion of education.
“We wish to plead our own cause,” they wrote. “Too long have others spoken for us. For too long has the publick been deceived by misrepresentation in things which concern us dearly…” It was a plea for an identity and a place in America that was reflected in the realities of the Black experience back then.
Although the world has changed dramatically since those early years of the 19th century–slavery was abolished first in the Caribbean and decades later in the United States; the U.S. became the richest and most powerful country on earth; the colonial empires of the European powers were dismantled and more than 100 sovereign states in Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and Asia joined the international community; the United Nations and its specialized agencies were established as instruments for development; and mass media institutions such as international, national, regional and local newspapers and radio and television networks have become the most influential communications institutions that have reduced the globe to a mere village --- some things have remained intact. One of them is the desire to plead one’s own cause. Another is the need to disseminate accurate information about the triumphs, obstacles and yes, the setbacks of people of color.
The emergence of the Internet and the high-tech revolution it fostered have fueled a global explosion in access to and use of social media – Facebook and Twitter, for instance --have given a new and expanded meaning to instant mass communication in the information age. For with the click of a computer mouse news about us in any part of the United States and the world is available, often within seconds and in the comfort of our home, office or automobile. Those innovations have shifted patterns of consumption of news and information, making them a participatory and social experience. Readers of Carib News, who in the early 1980s had to rely on a printed copy of the paper picked up at the corner newsstand or through mail delivery, have an exciting option of turning to our website benefitting from the immediate delivery of information that satisfies an increasingly engaged and wired audience. A similar thing has happened with the news organizations of the National Newspaper Association, an influential group of Black press owners and executives whose estimated 20 million readers have a buying power of at least $3 billion.
In this world of rapid technological change, the inhabitants of the news ecosystems aren’t just consumers. They help develop the news by volunteering information, distribute it and they share it, making what we do dynamic and fresh. That’s why we can’t remain static. The embrace of innovation in journalism is the life-blood of our operation and business.
Still, our core functions remain. Any review of Carib News’ 30 year track record would show a commitment to the flow of information that’s accurate, reliable and that tells our story. It comes from diverse sources in and out of the Caribbean and the United States, especially New York, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago Washington, Nairobi, Santo Domingo, Miami, Boston, St. Kitts-Nevis, Barbados, Haiti, Suriname, Grenada, you name them. The partnerships which Caribbean immigrants and African Americans have developed and sustained, dating back to the 18th century and we frequently highlight are sharp reminders of why we continue to function with such enthusiasm. Apart from providing solid information about the Caribbean, African-American communities, the continent of Africa and about policies emanating from Washington, state capitals, the United Nations and the states on the African continent, Carib News acts as a bridge between peoples of color.
Its special editions during Black History Month, the coverage of Capitol Hill in Washington and state capitals in New York and elsewhere in the country, features on Harlem Week, the attention paid to Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn and to the personal achievements of Blacks, regardless of their birthplace, and our emphasis on unity help to build invaluable alliances. Special events that have been promoting entrepreneurship and trade for decades and that pay tribute to Caribbean and African-American mothers Caribbean, and our annual Caribbean Business Conference strengthen the ties that bind us as reliable allies.
The Conference which we hold in different parts of the Caribbean strengthens our bonds as business owners and executives pursue profitable business deals in travel and tourism, telecommunications, science, health, technology, book publishing and garment design and manufacturing. This year’s four day conference that begins on November 8 in Jamaica will also provide an opportunity for all of us to pay tribute to the life and legacy of Harry Belafonte, one of the world’s best known entertainers, an icon, humanitarian and a global ambassador for the right of people. Belafonte whose immortal music has enriched the lives and entertained hundreds of millions of people in almost every corner of the earth is a product of Jamaica, the birthplace of his mother and a country where he spent many of his early childhood years.
Our 30th anniversary is occurring at a time of great financial and economic stresses for the United States, Latin America, and Canada, Europe and the Caribbean as well as the publishing industry. The Black press hasn’t been immune from the decline in advertising and from the shift in consumer demands for and use of news. We are facing many of challenges that are familiar to the so-called “mainstream press,” an aging audience, and drops in circulation.
But they are also spawning new challenges. Bright prospects exist for online editions which are not encumbered by geography as well as for the printed copies that use the technology to interact with its readers and receive and listen to their reaction and contributions to our content. We certainly don’t consider the trends to be a death knell but an exciting and dramatic opportunity, not simply to exist but instead to thrive.
Indeed, we have been extremely fortunate to have the support of so many readers and well-wishers and advertisers who recognize the value of the Black press in general and Carib News in particular Thanks for all the support.