Trust, Collaboration Keep Black Media Outlets Relevant
Black owned media outlets have long been vibrant threads in their communities—countering mainstream racism, educating on social injustices and advocating for basic human rights among African Americans. In 1843, the Palladium of Liberty (Columbus) was Ohio’s first African American newspaper.
Fast forward almost 180 years later, African Americans now own radio, television and cable outlets in addition to newspapers, magazines and websites.
Yet, these once heavily relied upon bastions of enlightenment now struggle to avoid financial quicksand.
For forty years, Curtis Symonds has developed, operated and invested in media entities. He believes one way to preserve them is for individuals and small businesses to aggressively put some skin in the game. “Our culture has a problem of investing in us. We look at us (Black entrepreneurs), doing our thing, we talk about it but we wont invest,” says Symonds. “We have to support each other.” Something he applauds the Ohio Black Media Collective (OBMC) for doing.
"Three years ago, President Tom Robert and the late Don black of The Dayton Weekly opened state -wide dialogue on issues facing Black Ohioans and the Black owned media," said William R. ellis, Jr- a co-founder and Publisher of The Reporter. Sixteen media outlets comprise the Ohio Black Media Collective (OBMC), including newspapers, radio and television stations. This September, the group invited Symonds to speak at their second annual Black Press/NAACP luncheon. It was held in conjunction with the 92nd State Convention of the Ohio Conference of the NAACP. Representatives from sixteen cities and counties across Ohio gathered at the Crowne Plaza in Columbus North-Worthington for the two-day conference.
The luncheon theme was, “The Power of US– The Black Press.” Rev. Dr Mike McNair of the Youngstown Buckeye Review was the master of ceremonies, Walter White of the Cincinnati Herald introduced his friend and guest speaker. Other OBMC members in attendance were Montrice Terry of the Toledo City League, and William R, Ellis, Jr of the The Reporter ( Akron/Canton).
According to Symonds, its difficult for small media outlets to command lucrative advertising dollars from large clients because these clients don’t value the Black consumer. “Agencies will say: we know Black Americans are watching more television than we do, we know their spending power is twice as much as everybody else. But they don’t value Black Americans. However, we must.”
Symonds serious media journey began with ESPN in 1983 as an advertising sales consultant. Later, he joined BET as an executive vice president of affiliate sales. In the early 2000s, he co-founded HBCU Go TV, a broadcast streaming site for sports, interviews and other content associated with historically Black Colleges and Universities.
According to Symonds, he struggled to get investors. “There were some years when I had to pump up my hustle because it was really lean,” recalls Symonds.
He and his team gradually amassed content and gained traction on a digital platform. In 2021, he caught the attention of media mogul Byron Allen (Allen Media Group) and sold HBCU Go for an undisclosed amount. Symonds is now president and his management team continues running HBCU Go. He is also chairman of an Allen Media Group business development division.
Sharon S. Gordon owns and operates Urban Trendsetters Media, a multi-media group based in Columbus. She has an affiliate distribution partnership with the Allen Media Group and recently added HBCU Go to her digital lineup. She excitedly calls it a game changer. “Now every Saturday, our youth can see Black greatness on HBCU Go for free.” Urban Trendsetters broadcasts in Columbus, Nashville, Louisville, Baton Rouge and in New Orleans.
Symonds suggests the best way for Black media owners to thrive in this highly competitive industry is through collaborative relationships based on trust. “Pool our marketing dollars to buy time and space in larger markets, share stories and deliver one message, one voice on statewide issues impacting the Black and Brown communities,” Symonds maps out. The most immediate issue is to promote voter registration and voting in November’s midterm election. “In Toledo they’re saying this, in Akron their saying this, and in Dayton they’re saying the same thing. Its now in my memory, get to that poll and register,” explains Symonds.
Gordon started her business in February 2003 and is one of a few Black women running a media company. She echos Symonds urging that African Americans must value the creative and industrious talents of African Americans. “We have to get to a point where we value going to a Morehouse as we would going to a Stanford. We value shopping in our own designer brands as much as we value buying a Prada purse,” proclaims Gordon. “No one tells our story like Black Media.”