In a timed day-after-a-holiday Friday news dump, the owners of the Chicago Defender announced the publication is ending its print edition on July 11 and shifting entirely to digital.
The move is not unexpected; numerous smaller newspapers are doing likewise amid a tremendous slump in print as digital has siphoned away advertising dollars.
”Under the print version, we could not reach people where they live and work,” said Hiram E. Jackson, CEO of Detroit-based Real Times Media in a statement. “Being a digital -only outlet will help us reach people who live on the West Side or South Side or south suburbs, giving people what they need when they want it. It makes us more nimble.
”We’re really excited to pave the way to the future in really making sure there is a spot in the future for the black press. We have more newspapers than any other black media company in the country. I see this as our responsibility to show what the future looks like.”
Founded by Robert Sengstacke Abbott in 1905, the legendary paper gave a voice to the city’s African-American Community, covering issues often neglected by Chicago’s other newspapers. It was also instrumental in encouraging African-Americans to migrate into Chicago from the Deep South as the Windy City had more opportunities. The paper also created The Bud Billiken Parade, a longtime South Side summertime staple that continues strong to this day.
But recent years have not been kind to the Defender and newspapers in general. Sold to out-of-town interests in 2003 amid plunging circulation, the Defender reverted back to a weekly in 2008 after 52 years as a daily publication. Since then, both the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune has since increased coverage of issues involving the African-American community.
Also playing a role is a now “reverse migration” of African-Americans from the Chicago area as the market’s black population has been on a steady decline.
This is the second time this week a major name has called it quits when it came to print. Rumors surfaced Thursday night that satirical publication MAD Magazine was pulling the plug on print, but unlike the Defender isn’t planning to maintain a digital presence (MAD Magazine also spawned sketch TV show MAD TV, airing on Fox between 1995 and 2009 and had a short-lived revival on The CW in 2016.)
Earlier, Chicago-based Johnson Publishing filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and beforehand sold Ebony and Jet magazines to a Texas-based private equity group. Both titles made the move to digital-only publishing with the former making the move last year as the print issue disappeared from stores and newsstands.
Plans for the Defender’s digital ambitions are yet to be detailed, but their website is expected to be revamped, with a paywall added. As noted here over a decade ago, the Defender’s website was plagued with problems and they would need to stay on their toes if they want to keep the namesake newspaper’s legacy alive.