In December 2020, the Kansas City Star apologized. Its “I’m sorry” moment was part of a six-part series called “The truth in Black and white.”
“It is time that we own our history,” wrote Make Fannin, Star editor. “It is well past time for an apology, acknowledging, as we do, that the sins of our past still reverberate today.” He admitted the newspaper “disenfranchised, ignored and scored generations of Black Kansas Citians” for most of its 140 years in print.
In September 2020, the L.A. Times addressed its longstanding racial biases, as well.
“On behalf of this institution, we apologize for The Times’ history of racism,” the newspaper’s editorial board wrote.
“We owe it to our readers to be better, and we vow to do so. A region as diverse and complex and fascinating as Southern California deserves a newspaper that reflects its communities.”
Brent Staples, who is Black, is a member of the New York Times editorial board. He wrote a full-page lead editorial titled “How the White Press Wrote Off Black America” that ran last Sunday, July 11.
It is a poignant, thought-provoking must-read, regardless of your race. It is a truth which remains too difficult for many Americans to face.
“Since the early 2000s, historically white newspapers in Alabama, California, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and North Carolina have apologized with varying degrees of candor for the roles they played in this history,” Staples wrote.
“When read end to end, these statements of confession attest to blatantly racist news coverage over a more than century-long period that encompasses the collapse of Reconstruction, the rise of Jim Crow, the two world wars, the civil rights movement, the urban riots of the 1960s, the Vietnam era and beyond.”
While the apologies and admittance of guilt do not erase these newspapers’ respective pasts, they do illustrate how disheartening, disappointing and disgusting it is that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has not felt the need to address its long history of similar shameful coverage of the Black community.
The local newspaper’s relationship with the Black community remains strained, regardless of its current publisher, editor and staff. The constant editorial page criticism of the city’s first Black mayor, Freeman Bosley, Jr., and first Black woman mayor, Tishaura Jones is troublesome. The lack of an apology for decades of journalistic irresponsibility targeted at African Americans can only lead one to believe that the Post-Dispatch couldn’t care less about what it put Black people through then – and now.
The Black Press was vital to Black people for many decades when major white newspapers published false, racially insulting stories (that sometimes led to Black murders) or simply ignored the success of African Americans. It still is a viable and much-needed source of information you will not find in white daily newspapers.
Staples wrote that Black newspapers like The St. Louis American,The Baltimore Afro-American, The Chicago Defender and The Pittsburgh Courier (and other members of the National Newspaper Publishers Association) “served as a haven against white press hostility, while incubating and advancing the early civil rights movement.”
“At a time when African Americans had to commit crimes to appear in the white press, (Black) papers filled their society pages with scenes of the Black middle class succeeding at business, convening civic organizations or taking their leisure at tony vacation spots,” he wrote.
“In other words, the Black press was a century ahead of the news media generally in discovering the African American middle class as a marketable subject of journalism.”
Hopefully, the Post and other major daily newspapers will someday find the courage to admit their own respective mistakes and apologize to Black members of their communities.
While shame might not be enough, financial concerns might be the factor that makes publications see the proverbial light.
“News organizations that were not moved to address this problem when the business represented a license to print money have come to see things differently since the business model has collapsed,” wrote Staples.
“The apology movement represents a belated understanding that these organizations need every kind of reader to survive.”