By Hazel Trice Edney –
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – Loud laughter, greetings and chatter between old friends and fellow publishers filled the Sunset Room near the Gaylord Hotel on the National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md. The aroma of hot hors devours hang heavily in the air as tunes of oldies but goodies drifted from the dance floor. It was the opening reception of the NNPA summer convention.
But neither the music, the energetic conversations; nor the smell of shrimp tempura could cover the thick scent of politics in the atmosphere. By the end of the week, the ballots were all counted and a new chair of the National Newspaper Publishers Association had been elected.
Dorothy Leavell, publisher of the Chicago and Gary Crusader newspapers, once president of the federation, had excelled to the top of the organization that represents more than 200 Black-owned newspapers – descendants of Freedom’s Journal, founded 190 years ago. This week, in an interview with the Trice Edney News Wire, she told her plans for NNPA, in which many members are facing severe challenges with advertising, digital growth and shrinking staff sizes.
“We will develop a strategic plan that we will follow to the letter,” Leavell said in an interview. “We really have been devastated by a lack of advertising for our newspapers. What we will do is we will map out where we’re going to go first.”
Known for her feisty personality, Leavell listed just a few of the huge corporations that will soon get a strategic call from the Black press. Amazon, Starbucks, Microsoft – “all of those big companies. We need to do what we must to make sure we are successful as an organization but that our newspapers are also successful.”
Washington Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes, now chair-emeritus, immediately conceded Leavell’s win following the contentious election that allowed absentee ballots for the first time.
“NNPA has made tremendous strides in the last two years. It is my hope that it will continue moving in an innovative direction,” she told a reporter this week. “We need to stay focused on how to broaden our reach and expand our content; not only in print, but in digital…I look forward to supporting NNPA’s efforts in those areas.”
Leavell says national advertising dollars, building bridges with traditional civil rights organizations, and an editorial campaign focused on gun violence in America’s Black communities will be among her top priorities.
“I’m energized and ready to go. Our number one project is to save our young people,” she said.
She says she will also urge national civil rights leaders to understand that their support should be going to the Black press. “Many of them are doing extremely well financially. They should be one of our greatest supporters.”
For example, the NAACP has its annual corporate report card, Leavell pointed out. “The Black press ought to be a part of that report card. Do they support the Black press? Do they advertise in the Black press? That should be one of those things that they consider when they grade.”
Leavell says she is not overly concerned with the fact that President Donald Trump has yet to grant an interview to a Black-owned publication. According to sources, including civil rights stalwart Barbara Arnwine, during a January meeting, Trump assistant Omarosa Manigault promised NNPA President Ben Chavis the first interview with the President. But Manigault denied that promise when this reporter asked about it in mid-March. She then publicly assured him that he would get an interview. But Chavis says he hasn’t heard from her since.
“If we report the news and we’re actively involved, they’re going to want to have a relationship with us,” says Leavell.
Boxing promoter Don King, owner of the Cleveland Call & Post, an NNPA member, is a friend and associate of Trump’s. Leavell says she will reach out to King “and try to get a perspective on how he thinks we ought to do” as it relates to the Trump Administration.
Although she has big vision for the work ahead, Leavell says she will maintain a team leadership style. Houston Forward Times publisher Karen Carter Richards was re-elected as first vice chair of the organization; New Tri-State Defender Bernal Smith was elected second vice chair; Indianapolis Recorder publisher Shannon Williams will continue as secretary and Atlanta Voice Publisher Janis Ware will continue to serve as treasurer.
Leavell is not new to NNPA leadership. Over the years, she has served as president of the association, chair of the foundation, and was once named publisher of the year. Leavell says she and her leadership team will pursue holding a panel discussion in September during the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference. This is the same week that NNPA holds its annual board meeting and leadership reception. “So, we’re going to hit the ground running.”