The Chicago Defender, launched in 1905 by John Sengstacke Abbott, was originally a four-page, six column handbill. Producing news of interest to the black community, it became a vocal advocate for issues of the day, including the migration north, anti-lynching legislation, and for integrated sports. And it was the first newspaper to have a section devoted to children, the Bud Billiken Page. The Defender had its ups and downs, its slowdowns and rebirths across the century.
It was at one point the largest African American newspaper in the world and the first to achieve national distribution in the country. It went from a weekly publication to a daily, and back to a weekly. John Sengstacke, nephew of the founder, took over the paper. He was a mover and shaker in the community: he brought together the publishers of African American newspapers and organized them into the NNPA; he acted as a counsel to presidents, and was instrumental in advocating for integration in the armed forces. After his death in 1997, who the paper was bought by Real Times Media.
The Defender was always in the forefront of the struggle for racial equality in Chicago and beyond, and it continues that role today and will in the future.
The Chicago Defender is now embracing the next generation for media, moving toward a digital platform. Real Times Media, which acquired the Chicago Defender in 2003, announced that on July 11 the paper will evolve from a printed newspaper and relaunch as a digitally-focused content platform dedicated to online editorial, premiere events, custom publishing, and archival merchandising.
“It is no secret that the media and publishing landscape has shifted drastically and the pace of change continues at dizzying speeds,” said Hiram E. Jackson, chief executive officer of Real Times Media. “That is why, over the past few years, we’ve made significant investments in digital media. The Defender already has a digital daily edition, one that reaches hundreds of thousands of readers weekly. We are just continuing that trajectory for the Defender.”
Real Times Media is an innovator in the African American news and entertainment space. “For more than 10 years we have developed new ways of reaching and touching our community, particularly through targeted events,” said Jackson.
Readers of the Chicago Defender will be able to get their news daily online, rather than waiting for the weekly paper to come out. Research has shown that those who look to the Defender for news, entertainment and information want the flexibility of receiving that content when and how they want it and digital is the preferred format.
“We understand that to some of our loyal readers, this rite of passage is a painful one. However, we are committed to preserving the legacy of the Chicago Defender and are excited to be making this bold step to ensure its vitality for the next 100 years,” said Jackson “We remain committed to being an iconic news organization, but we must double-down in the areas where we are seeing growth. Ceasing print operations allows us to do that. And readers of the Defender are now all over the city, reaching them online is a win-win for all of us.”
“The Chicago Defender will lead the way in reinvigorating news delivery for the African American press, one that makes business sense in this digital age,” said Jackson. “This trailblazing move will allow the Defender to not only continue, but to thrive. All of us at Real Times Media are excited about this next act.”
Although the Chicago Defender will no longer print a weekly edition, it will continue to highlight pivotal moments via special print editions to create more capacity to actively engage with the community. With this transition, the publication will retain its existing editorial and management staff and continue to offer its signature events — Men of Excellence, Women of Excellence, the relaunch of Who’s Who in Black Chicago, and activities surrounding the Bud Billiken Parade. Additionally, the money saved by not producing a print edition will go back into developing more content on a daily basis.
Currently the Defender prints 16,000 weekly papers, but it has almost half a million unique monthly visitors to its website.
“There is so much opportunity for the Chicago Defender, on a digital platform, to grow nationally and become a premier player in the African American media space,” adds Jackson.
The Defender’s final weekly issue in print is scheduled to hit newsstands on July 10, 2019. The brand will seamlessly begin publishing daily content of interest to the Chicago community on July 11 at www.chicagodefender.com.