STILL PLEADING OUR CAUSE

Media professionals considered the Florida Courier a dead man walking when it was launched as a statewide Black weekly newspaper on March 3, 2006. Exactly 521 weekly issues later, we’re still here – and still having impact.

BY CHARLES W. CHERRY II
FLORIDA COURIER PUBLISHER

A front-page article on Dec. 17, 2005 in the St. Petersburg Times essentially introduced the statewide Florida Courier to the world. The introductions were not welcoming, to say the least.

160304_front01“At a time when big newspaper chains have announced space cutbacks, shrinking circulation numbers and massive layoffs, the Cherry brothers will stake their family-owned company’s future on a corner of the media business increasingly seen as outmoded and in decline,” wrote reporter Eric Deggans.

“In the process, they will create a type of publication that exists almost nowhere else in the nation – a statewide newspaper focused on Florida’s nearly 3-million Black people…. One media analyst predicted such a project could cost anywhere from $3-million to $10-million.”

Deggans went on to quote another Black newspaper owner who buried the Florida Courier prematurely.

‘Wasting paper’
“According to officials at the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a trade association for black-focused newspapers, the 25,000-circulation Arizona Informant is the only other statewide, black-focused newspaper in the country. Started 34 years ago, the publication was an attempt to unite the state’s small numbers of geographically separated black people,” Deggans reported.

“It’s going to be hard to crack those cities which already have established African-American publications,” said Informant editor Clovis Campbell Jr. “Unless they offer something unique, with some unique information they’re going to be wasting paper and ink and eventually a lot of money.”

And so it was.

But a decade ago, the Cherry family knew better. Here’s the story.

My father Charles W. Cherry, Sr., who was the founder and publisher of both our family-owned newspapers as well as the key man in all of our existing family businesses, died in 2004 of colon cancer. At the time, I was assisting my brother, Dr. Glenn Cherry, in operating Tama Broadcasting, Inc. the owner of nine affiliated FM stations and two AM stations spread across Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

‘What we gon’ do?’
After Dad’s homegoing – after his burial – after everyone went home – we had the proverbial living room conversation that every family business has at this tragic juncture: “What we gon’ do now?”

Mom’s answer: “We keep going.”

Dad died on a Tuesday. Both newspapers were published the following Thursday and Friday respectively without incident after his death, and a week later after his funeral. (After that, keeping things going was easy.)

We decided that I would leave our radio group and step into Dad’s shoes as publisher of both newspapers; Glenn would run the radio group.

We also decided that the Florida Courier, which had originally served only Fort Pierce’s Black community since 1989, had to be expanded if staying in the newspaper business was to be worthwhile. Owning 11 radio stations made us accustomed to thinking big. Mom agreed to use some of the insurance money Dad left her to assist in financing the expansion.

We all agreed that Black Floridians deserved a first-class, well-designed newspaper that used as much color as possible, with a focus on professionally written content without typos, misspellings, and sloppy errors.

We used USA Today as our newspaper model. The great staff at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies linked me up with Edward Hashey, a graphic artist who had worked for the Wall Street Journal and other world-class newspapers, as our first graphic designer.

And it was on from there. Here’s my message on behalf of the family in the first issue, March 3, 2006:
You hold in your hand an act of faith reduced to newsprint, the result of four generations of planning, sacrifice, hope, prayer, education, and work.
But we of the Cherry family know the Florida Courier you are reading right now is not a finished product; it is a work in progress, changing, evolving, from issue to issue, year to year, as it has now for almost 20 years.

We invite you to be a part of our evolution. Our goal is to share, among us and with our neighbors, the diverse thoughts, feelings, and desires of Black Floridians throughout this great state, and to inform, entertain, uplift, and challenge you in the process. You won’t like everything we write, or even how we write it. (Our Daytona Times and Fort Pierce-based Florida Courier readers can vouch for that.)

We’ll agree to disagree on various issues. But there’s one thing on which you can depend; our story selections and editorial positions are our own. They are not dictated by what happens in Tallahassee, Washington, D.C., on Wall Street, or in courthouses or city halls or corporate offices throughout the state.

We have no personal or political beef with anyone. We retain the absolute right to disagree with anyone, and maybe everyone, on any given issue. And believe me, the disagreements will be made manifest over time.
We proudly stand on the 250-year history of the Black press in America. We will continue to advocate and educate, much as we have done over the 30-year course of ownership of our Florida media interests.

So contact us. Let us know what you like and what you don’t. But understand we are a family-owned, small (at least right now) for-profit business. If this newspaper is useful to you, support it by subscribing, by patronizing advertisers and letting them know where you saw their ad, by using us as a vehicle to market your business or event, and by telling somebody about us.

But that’s not all. Add us to your prayer/mediation list, as you are on ours. Maybe that way we can assist each other in making the best decisions we can in a world that sometimes seems to teeter on the brink of the abyss. After all, we are all running this race called life daily, and the ancestors are watching.

Around the state
When we first got started, I was as busy as a one-armed Jamaican wallpaper hanger. I assigned, wrote and edited stories, proofed pages, and picked up the newspapers from the printer in either Miami or Ocala before passing them off to Glenn, Louis Muhammad, Chicago Jones, and others in our “Underground Railroad” network of stops in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Fort Pierce, Orlando, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Daytona, Jacksonville, and Tallahassee (which we eventually dropped as being too far away.)

On the content side, our first issue reflected the editorial diversity we strive to maintain. We featured “God,” with a long story about Miami-Dade activist Bishop Victor T. Curry, and “Negroes With Guns” – the title of a famous book, as well as a series of articles about Black gun ownership we were to publish nine years later.

We had a fine young woman (and a young man) showing some skin as our first “Florida’s Finest” – an idea we got from Jet magazine’s “Beauty of the Week.”

We also had comic strips drawn by Black artists; a crossword puzzle for kids; an HBCU sports page; a new car review; and an editorial page featuring both sides of the debate about reparations for slavery.

Back to NNPA
Part of my duties and responsibilities also would be to reactivate our membership in the National Newspaper Publishers Association, the Black newspaper trade group.

That was a major business decision because NNPA, like many Black non-profit organizations, has an organizational culture like a small Black Baptist church in which everybody in leadership thinks they know the Lord better than the person sitting next to them – if you get my drift.

I was to serve two 2-year terms on the national board of directors. Eventually I ran for the national chairmanship against incumbent Cloves Campbell, who trashed us when we first started. (I came in last of three candidates; I was too outspoken.)

Reviewing our progress
We’re proud of the issues and stories we’ve focused on statewide for a decade now, starting with our first statewide issue featuring Martin Anderson’s 2006 death in a Florida boot camp. We followed it up for 19 consecutive weeks on our front page. We’ll review some of those high-impact stories over the next year as we celebrate this milestone.

Mass media is a collaborative venture. It doesn’t happen without people who do their jobs with passion and commitment, week in and week out. You’ll meet many of them who have “brought us thus far on the way.”

So on behalf of the Cherry family and all of the staff of the Florida Courier, we thank you for making us the statewide Black newspaper of record. We’ll continue “Sharing Black Life, Statewide” as long as the Lord wills – and the Everglades don’t rise.

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