Afro American Tribune Informs DC-Area Readers
New America Media, Media Profile, Adina Young Posted: Jun 25, 2008
Editor's Note: Multi-tasking reporters at a century-old black newspaper keep Baltimore African Americans informed on national issues and local events. An increasingly diverse staff has served the paper well, they say. NAM contributor Adina Young is a journalism student at American University. NAM profiles are generated under the J-school partnership with American University.
BALTIMORE -- While the District Department of Transportation is busy installing new traffic signals, curbs and fire hydrants on the outside, the staff at the Washington bureau of the Afro American Tribune is hard at work inside their Benning Road office.
The Afro, as the paper located Northeast Washington is commonly called, has a current circulation size of about 50,000 people. It was founded in Baltimore in 1892 as a newspaper for African American people in the area.
Though there is noise outside and trash lining the sidewalks, inside the Afro’s three-level townhouse is a clean, quiet sanctuary. The main floor, with walls lined in framed African American paintings, awards, and important past issues of the Tribune, is the editorial department where Valencia Mohammed, 56, and James Wright, 43, and the Washington bureau chief all have space.
It is an hour before deadline, and Mohammed and Wright have already turned in some of their stories. Now they make calls and send emails for the other three stories each of them are working on.
Mohammed takes time out to clean her desk and has only been in the office 10 minutes. The phone rings just once before she picks up.
“She’s being evicted now?” she said, frantically grabbing her shoes from under her desk. “Okay, I’m on my way over.”
“See, this is my day,” she said walking across the wooden floor to grab her coat from the rack. She is about to head out the front door on the hunt for another story to add to the three others she is juggling.
Mohammed, who lost two children to gun violence in Washington and has been outspoken against gun violence, has also been outspoken about her job as a writer for the Tribune. She said that the Tribune and other African American publications do not get the respect they deserve compared to other mainstream publications.
“We do the same job,” said Mohammed. “There are a lot of good writers in the [African American] community and salaries should be comparable to these other publications. People in other companies’ mindsets of black newspapers need to change.”
In some respects, she said, the writers do more than their counterparts at other newspapers do and still cannot even afford the family plan for health insurance. They blog, write, report, write the headlines and take their own photos with digital cameras provided by the publisher when they are out in the field.
Edgar Brookins, 60, the general manager at the Washington bureau, said that the goal of the newspaper is to keep the black community informed on important issues.
“We want to let people know we are credible, we are serious about documenting our history,” said Brookins, a retired Army communications officer and graduate of Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi.
However, both Mohammed and Wright agree that they love writing about African American people.
“I stay here because I love my people. Not for the money,” said Mohammed.
The Tribune writers write about topics such as the economy, education and healthcare, and other national issues, all of which are important to the African American community, according to Brookins.
Another issue, however are the four empty cubicles separating Mohammed and Wright. Brookins hopes to fill these with young interns to broaden the Afro’s audience.
In the carpeted basement of the Tribune are the circulation and marketing departments where there are several more empty cubicles, but also a fresh, young face.
Elizabeth Johnson, 27, a graduate of North Carolina Central University in Durham, N.C., is the marketing manager for the Tribune and is one of the youngest working for the newspaper.
Though she works at the Baltimore office most of the time with other young people in the marketing department, she has a desk that she likes to sometimes go to at the Washington bureau.
“A lot of employees in Baltimore don’t like to come down here because it’s the ‘hood’, or whatever,” said Johnson. “I come here when I really need to go work. It’s peaceful.”
Brookins said they are still in need of a diverse young pool of writers, however.
Currently, all the full-time employees at the Washington bureau are African Americans, but Brookins said that last summer they had a young, white intern from the University of Maryland.
There are three senior managers at headquarters in Baltimore who are white.
“Ten years ago you wouldn’t have seen a white person working here,” he said. “You need that diversity to get through certain doors. It has worked well for us so far.”
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