Covering a community within a community.
When publishing the “Empty Cradles” series on infant mortality back in 2011, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editors realized they weren’t reaching the audience they most sought: young black women. So they called the Milwaukee Community Journal, the state’s oldest black newspaper, and pitched the idea of the weekly republishing the stories. Its editors obliged, but with some firm rules. They’d control the layout and graphics. The stories must focus on the black community. It would only be a limited-time partnership dedicated to these particular stories. And they wouldn’t reprint any focused on predominantly white suburbs.
The Community Journal had one thing the Journal Sentinel didn’t – the black community’s attention – according to Editor Thomas Mitchell Jr., as many black people in Milwaukee have a general distrust of the metro daily and local TV stations. With a circulation of 42,000, the weekly still relies on old-school tactics of free door-to-door delivery and dropping off stacks near the courthouse, City Hall and local churches. But as the paper turns 40 in 2016, it’s also courting a new millennial readership that wants a balance of hard-hitting news and features, and working hard to embrace a fully digital newsroom.
Over the years, some of the Community Journal’s most striking editorial stances have revolved around education, including questioning how school integration would benefit black Milwaukee children in 1976, and advocating for the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program in 1990. In the wake of the Jeffrey Dahmer trial, the paper noted how racial tensions had effectively allowed him to get away with killing black victims – for a time. In 2013, the paper ran a two-part interview with Police Chief Ed Flynn covering crime in the city and police misconduct.
“We view ourselves as an arm of the civil rights movement,” says Associate Publisher Mikel Holt, a Community Journal staffer since 1976. “We need those hard-hitting issues because there’s no other paper touching on them for the black community.”