By Megan Sayles
For Tracey Williams-Dillard, running a newspaper was a birthright. Her grandfather, Cecil Newman, founded what’s known today as the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder in 1934 to serve as a trusted voice for the African American communities living in the Twin Cities.
Today, Williams-Dillard is the third generation publisher of the newspaper, which is the oldest Black and minority-owned business in Minnesota and one of the longest-standing, family-owned newspapers in the United States.
Despite these distinguishments, the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder has struggled to stay in business like many other local newspapers across the country. At one point, Williams-Dillard went without a paycheck, and her late husband used their savings to finance the paper. While he completely supported her in her attempts to revive the newspaper, he also suggested that she start thinking about an exit strategy.
“This is the legacy of my family, I have no exit strategy,” said Williams-Dillard. “How do you exit something you never planned on exiting unless it’s death that takes you away from it or old age and retirement?”
The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder fortunately made a turnaround, but it continued to struggle in growing its digital audience, attracting younger subscribers and finding qualified writers.
Last spring, Williams-Dillard was informed that the newspaper was chosen for Deluxe’s sixth season of Small Business Revolution, a TV series that revitalizes small towns through strengthening small businesses.
For more than eight months, the Deluxe team worked to revitalize the newspaper’s appearance and its headquarters. They also connected Williams-Dillard with AFRO publisher and CEO Frances “Toni” Draper to strengthen the paper’s media strategy.
“Deluxe is not just here for the one and done, it’s here for a long term relationship, and to me, that’s phenomenal for a major corporation, such as Deluxe, to be able to lend that to my company.” said Williams-Dillard.
Throughout the collaboration, the interior of the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder received a facelift with upgrades to offices, meeting rooms and devices. The Deluxe team also helped to create a new logo for the paper and enhance its website and print edition.
Draper and other AFRO staff members offered Williams-Dillard advice on obtaining grant money as another revenue source for the newspaper. She said the mentorship from another female Black publisher was invaluable and something that she always wanted.
As a local newspaper, the content that the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder produces is important because it’s centered around the community. Williams-Dillard said each article is written to reach the hearts of community members and to provide them with accurate information.
When viewers tune into her episode of Small Business Revolution, she hopes they garner a better understanding of the work that goes into publishing a newspaper.
“We’re here because we care, and because we want to make sure that we’re able to educate, inform and inspire the people that read the words on our pages,” said Williams-Dillard.