Dr. Miya Williams Fayne on the Black Press

by Evan Da Silva, Hillary Avelino, and Kristofer Medina

Dr. Miya Williams Fayne is an associate professor at California State University, Fullerton. She is an extremely well-educated individual, having received a Ph.D. from Northwestern University in media, technology and society, an M.A. from Emerson College in publishing and writing, and a B.A from the University of Southern California in print journalism. In her study, The Great Digital Migration: Exploring What Constitutes the Black Press Online, Dr. Williams Fayne acknowledges that the Black Press has historically been defined as print publications that are published by and for African Americans in the United States. The Black Press was officially established as an institution in 1827. But, historically, there is not an outstanding definition of what the Black Press truly is. Being that most media is now consumed digitally, is attempting to reach wider audiences, and is primarily white-owned, Dr. Williams Fayne hypothesized that, in the opinions of modern journalists, black ownership and advocacy would no longer be requirements for publications of any medium to consider themselves a part of the Black Press. With that hypothesis in mind, Dr. Williams Fayne felt that it was important to find out how the Black Press was being defined in today’s journalism field.

I think a lot of the definitions of the Black Press were very historical in nature and looking at it when it was strictly in print, and I felt that now that we [are] in the digital age, that that definition didn’t necessarily hold true for how I knew people were thinking about the Black Press.

-Dr. Miya Williams Fayne

To test her hypothesis, Dr. Williams Fayne used qualitative methods to investigate the shifts in production practices in the Black press during the new media age. She used a digital article from journal-isms.com that listed the top Black Press websites as a basis to gather her interviewees. From there, she used her personal knowledge on black press journalists and snowball sampling, where interviewees referred Dr. Williams Fayne to contacts of their own. She interviewed 30 senior-level journalists—founders, editors-in-chiefs, and managing editors—all of which, prior to or at the time of the study, worked for traditional Black Press newspapers and magazines, online-only publications, or failed Black-targeted outlets. Interviews were conducted via phone and ranged between 30 minutes to over two hours in length, with the average interview time being roughly one hour. 

The medium of the samples were mainly digital-first outlets that had never had a print version. Since these outlets were digital, the geographic location of their headquarters or audience base did not have an effect on the research, as the outlets reported on national topics and not just local news. Dr. Williams Fayne also intentionally included interviewees from a few defunct outlets, which she collected through reference from various journalists. These defunct outlets were popular during their time and Dr. Williams Fayne felt that the voices of those journalists were important to include in her research.

In conducting her study, Dr. Williams Fayne asked interviewees what they considered Black Press, and what they didn’t.

“The major agreement, I think, is that if you call yourself Black Press, then you’re Black Press…In general, when I asked them who wasn’t Black Press, a lot of people were very hesitant to say anyone,” Dr. Williams Fayne said. A modern definition of the Black Press is non-discriminatory. Those publications and outlets who consider themselves Black Press, are. This adds a new level of complexity to the question about what the Black Press is. There are no guidelines or requirements, no registration, to be considered a Black Press outlet in a modern consideration.

Dr. Williams Fayne cited that some disagreements of what constitutes a Black Press outlet could come from what she called “legacy outlets,” those that had been part of the official Black Press for far longer than any newer digital-only publication. These legacy outlets, which are, in large majority, print outlets, are part of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a “formal organization for Black Press outlets.” The NNPA has more rigid requirements to be considered an official member of the Black Press, the main requirement being that the publication must be at least 51% black-owned. According to the chairman of the NNPA, Black Press outlets should not be solely entertainment-driven, and should focus on all areas of press and journalism to qualify.

Digital outlets were far broader in their opinions of what could be considered Black Press, striving not to gatekeep a rigid definition of Black Press at all. This is likely because modern digital media is often shorter-form. There’s no time for a reader or patron to stick around for a heftier news story when something else on their screen is yearning for their attention. And there is definitely no time to go to the store to grab the local paper. Digital media is meant to be quick and constitutes shorter media, like entertainment feature stories and short-form video storytelling. The Black Press, in the opinion of modern digital outlets and Dr. Williams Fayne, should include all forms of media, and should not exclude any press outlet that claims to be black-targeted.

To measure the results of her study, Dr. Williams Fayne coded all of the data she collected using the MAXQDA coding software. It took her about two weeks at six hours per day to code the responses from interviews. She looked for themes in the responses and categorized them accordingly. When a category got really big, she categorized it further to break down the distinctions. She chose to write about the responses that were most interesting and unique from the rest, and chose to emphasize points that multiple interviewees talked about. Responses that were common knowledge or lacked total relevance were excluded.

In gauging participants’ sentiments on what they believed constituted the Black Press, and their respective publications’ tactics on reaching an African-American target audience, Dr. Williams Fayne found that black journalists were very inclusive as to what they believed constituted a Black Press outlet. She found that this loosening of the traditional interpretation of ownership and advocacy is a move being made by most new digital media publications to remain financially viable in a competitive environment. Tabloid, entertainment first, and soft-news publications which would traditionally not be recognized as Black Press are now being included in that definition. Ultimately, her study affirmed her research hypothesis that black advocacy and ownership, in their traditional senses, were no longer prerequisites for a publication to be defined as Black Press.

To hear more about Dr. Miya Williams Fayne’s study on the modern definition of the Black Press, see the highlight video of a virtual interview with Dr. Williams Fayne.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s