The Chicago Defender Ends Print Publication | WBEZ
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Legendary Black Chicago Paper Goes All Digital

The newspaper that once featured commentaries by Martin Luther King, Jr. and printed photos of Mamie Till-Mobley receiving the body of her murdered son, Emmett Till, is adapting to the current media environment.

The Chicago Defender issued its final print edition on July 10. The legendary black newspaper is going all digital. Hiram Jackson, CEO of the Defender’s parent company, Real Times Media, said “the print version has been very limiting for us.”

He said Chicago’s black community has expanded beyond the city’s South Side. The demographic is growing in both the south and west suburbs and going digital, Hiram Jackson said, “will allow us not only to reach these different communities, but we will be able to reach them daily and be able to bring them relevant content when they need it and where they need it.”

The Defender’s print circulation is about 16,000, and its online visits are at a “few hundred thousand every month,” Jackson said. Those visits could be through the paper’s daily digital newsletter or on social media, he added.

The CEO also said going digital allows the Defender to be “hyperlocal,” which could include “job openings, whether there be an issue with school boards in a specific suburban community that’s African American, we can dispatch a reporter to report on that issue specifically.” He said readers, especially younger news consumers, are getting their news online.

On Wednesday, a group gathered in front of the Chicago Defender office in Bronzeville to grab commemorative copies of the last print issue. Rev. Jesse Jackson sat in a folding chair and reminisced about the paper. Rev. Jackson said he wrote for the Defender in 1965 about the march on Selma. “The Defender’s genius is that it covered the whole of our humanity, weddings and funerals and social events,” he said.

There was also a group of high school journalism students covering the event and learning about the paper’s influence in the black community. Amara Alexander, 16, will enter her junior year at Jones College Prep this fall. She said she doesn’t read the Defender now but will start reading online. The newspaper’s history should be taught in history classes, Alexander said. “It represents a community that needs more representation in the news and more positive representation in the news.”

Hiram Jackson, the Real Times Media CEO, said the move to digital-only is also about extending the Defender’s legacy. “The Chicago Defender was always at the forefront of influencing messages, influencing pop culture, influencing politics,” he said. “We want to be that for this new generation, and this new generation is online.”

Copies of the last printed version of the Chicago Defender are available at several Walgreens and CVS stores and some gas stations.

Carrie Shepherd is a news reporter for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @cshepherd.

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