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‘Word in Black’ becomes a corporation. It could bring more resources to Black newspapers

The St. Louis American’s headquarters on Thursday, March 23, 2023, in Downtown West.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Word in Black, a digital website that publishes national news and local content from 10 local Black newspapers, including The St. Louis American, has been incorporated into a public benefit company. The transition could help bring more resources and finances to Black-owned newspapers.

Word in Black, a digital collective that produces national and local content from 10 Black newspapers, including The St. Louis American, has become a public benefit corporation.

The news outlet launched in 2020 after a white Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd. It provides originally reported and shared content from the Black perspective that addresses racial inequalities across the nation.

The transition from pilot phase into a public benefit corporation could bring in more resources and promote greater commercial opportunities for Black newspapers, said Donald Suggs, publisher of The St. Louis American.

“It's imperative that we work together, so we can build sustainable newspapers that can best serve our community with journalism,” Suggs said.

The weekly newspaper originated in 1928, and today it reaches about 300,000 people every month digitally and in print. The American is one of the nation’s largest Black newspapers. Suggs has published it for the past 40 years and has survived many industry storms. The paper has remained consistent in telling impactful stories through the Black lens.

‘Word in Black’ becomes a corporation. It could bring more resources to Black newspapers

Suggs said some common challenges that newspaper publishers run into are the lack of resources – financial and personnel.

“Newspapers in general are facing challenges,” he said. “There are dozens and dozens, hundreds of newspapers that go out of business every year, so it's a very challenging industry and it's doubly so for community newspapers and Black newspapers in particular.”

The media startup’s journalism is monetarily supported by the Word in Black Racial Equity Fund, which is a component fund of the Local Media Foundation.

The nine other websites that make up Word in Black are the Houston Defender, Dallas Weekly, The Washington Informer, New York Amsterdam News, The Seattle Medium, Michigan Chronicle, The Sacramento Observer, AFRO News and The Atlanta Voice.

According to a press release, Word in Black allows the 10 publishers to add “mini-beats” to their newsroom coverage spotlighting education and health. They also can access original content from the Word in Black team.

The publishers are leaning into collaborating closely with other newsrooms and Word in Black’s national reporting team to help provide more coverage to a broader population.

There are always similarities within stories, so the collaboration allows them to run national coverage, localize it and produce it to add additional reporting on a specific topic, said Liz Courquet-Lesaulnier, Word in Black’s managing director.

“There are so many Black news outlets, and not everyone has the resources, and folks have very small reporting teams, and they are doing the best that they can to serve their communities,” said Courquet-Lesaulnier. “At the end of the day, that's what this is about, serving the Black community, giving folks the information that they need to make decisions about their lives.”

Courquet-Lesaulnier plans to continue growing the site by incorporating news from a number of Black outlets to increase the perspectives of African Americans in small and large cities. She hopes the new business model could help shift Black newspapers into different markets.

“I think what really excites me about it is that at a time when so much of the news about the media is that people are being laid off,” said Courquet-Lesaulnier, “it's exciting to see this investment and the belief that we can build something new, and that it can grow.”

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.