The Chicago Defender, a century-old institution and pillar of African American journalism, is going online-only.
Covering the announcement, the New York Times recounted the history of the newspaper and its towering place in American history. The Defender didn’t adhere to the “gotta hear both sides” notion of objectivity that reigned in the mainstream media, serving its community by printing the truth instead of dabbling in false equivalence:
In 1905, Robert Sengstacke Abbott started The Chicago Defender in a landlord’s kitchen. In the years that followed, the newspaper’s reputation reached far beyond Chicago, in part with the help from Pullman railway porters who carried copies of the newspaper with them and spread the editions along their routes. The newspaper tackled issues of race head on, editorializing against Jim Crow laws, advocating equity for African-Americans in the military, and becoming an essential outlet for any politician who hoped to win black voters.
It was ubiquitous, a fixture of African American life in the 20th century, particularly in Chicago: “It was at everybody’s house. It was at the barber’s. It was everywhere, South Side or West Side. There was a joke that if someone said something had happened and someone else said it hadn’t, you knew it didn’t happen if it wasn’t in The Defender,” ” said former editor Glenn Reedus. The newspaper covered vital stories like the funeral of Emmett Till, but, as Jesse Jackson explained to the Times, it was also important for its coverage of daily life: “We never saw ourselves listed other places in weddings, funerals, debutantes, so this became a real frame of reference for activities.”
The publication will continue to exist online; “It is an economic decision, but it’s more an effort to make sure that The Defender has another 100 years,” explained Hiram E. Jackson, CEO of the paper’s parent company.