An African-American newspaper that covered Boston’s busing riots of the 1970s, the fall of black political leaders and the rise of state’s first black governor, Deval Patrick, has suspended publication after 44 years and laid off its 12 employees.
Bay State Banner publisher and editor Melvin Miller said Tuesday that financial pressures and a sustained falloff in advertising have forced him to close the weekly newspaper, at least temporarily.
Miller, a 75-year-old Boston attorney who founded the paper in 1965, said he had prepared for a long economic turndown but couldn’t risk pouring in more of his own money. When or if the paper reopens depends on any potential new investors, but Miller said he would not actively “go around twisting arms” to convince people.
“When you do something for so long, people think … that no matter what happens the Banner is going to be there,” Miller said. “Now everybody has to be confronted with the idea that it’s either people step up and do what they have to do or else the Banner will be gone forever.”
The paper most recently had a weekly circulation of 34,000.
Jeffrey Berry, professor of political science at Tufts University, said it would be painful to see the newspaper close for good since it did an exceptional job covering the city’s black community.
“It has given voice to a particular community that’s been chronically ignored by the local media,” Berry said. “If it closes, the city will be losing its lifeblood.”
In a statement, Gov. Patrick said the newspaper has a venerable history and is an important contributor to the state’s civic life.
“I wish them every kind of encouragement as they work to weather these difficult economic times like so many other companies and media outlets throughout Massachusetts,” Patrick said in a statement.
Miller said he believed the newspaper helped “defuse rage” by serving as an outlet during the 1960s as Boston largely escaped the race riots that ravaged other cities. But he said the newspaper also helped augment coverage by other media outlets by adding its own twist.
According to Richard Prince’s Journal-isms, an online column that focuses on diversity in media, black-owned weekly newspapers have largely avoided layoffs and bankruptcy filings, unlike mainstream press outlets. A large number of black-owned weekly newspapers are family-owned.
Berry said any decline in the number of ethnic media newspapers will leave a void.
“I have some people who are really geniuses, journalistic geniuses,” Miller said. “And I can’t suggest to other people to fill that gap. They are not going to be able to do it.”
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.