African American Newspaper Rises to the Top

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ST. LOUIS - The number one newspaper in the state is The St. Louis American, an 85-year-old African American newspaper printed right here in Mid-Missouri. 

The St. Louis American was established in 1927, as an African American voice in a highly segregated city. Throughout it's history, the newspaper's goal was to focus more on the positive news regarding the African American community in St. Louis, rather than the negative.

Wiley Price, a recent Missouri Photojournalist Hall of Fame inductee, has worked for the St. Louis American for 30 years.

"When the American started, segregation was strong and healthy in this country so all cultures realized we need to give out information about our own, and that's how African American papers came to business," said Price.

The St. Louis American survived through the Great Depression, World War II, and the Civil Rights Movement, but it's success came gradually. In the late 1970s, the newspaper was stagnant publishing only 6,000 copies per issue, and lacked a practicle business model. 

Trying to find ways to grow the paper the owners brought on a team of three investors, one being a young anastegialogist, Donald M. Suggs.

Suggs, a Chicago native, was an activist during the Civil Rights Movement, where he became passionate about public policy. After the success of the movement, Suggs decided to try and get community issues heard by becoming involved in journalism.

Upon arrival at the American, Suggs tried to convince reluctant shair holders to create a business plan, not centered around gratuitous advertising.

"Even I, with my lack of a business background understood we're not gonna go on forever. I realized this, so we needed to build some value in the product, which meant we had to build the audience, we had to grow the newspaper, we had to professionalize the newspaper" said Suggs.

Suggs eventually took ownership of the newspaper in the 1980s and began putting his vision for the paper in action. Over the last thirty years, the value of the paper has grown because of Sugg's understanding of his audience.

"In a community that is being rafted with so much negative reporting, we are able to focus more on some positive things that go on", said Suggs. "I think people want to hear good news, good stories, their stories. quite frankly".

Suggs gradually grew the paper from 6,000 to 70,000 copies published per issue. Thus, making the St. Louis American the largest, locally owned paper, in the state. Chris King, The St. Louis American's Managing Editor, insisted in giving Suggs the title of executive editor.

"Everything about the newspaper was set by Donald Suggs, and he's just got a brilliant vision for community news. I mean he understands that you need things that will get people talking, you need gossip, you need pictures of people's children achieving things, you need just really good positive news", said King.

Suggs doesn't take all the credit for himself, he credits the paper's recent success to the talents of the journalists working for him. 

"I think the caliber of our journalists is good and high, and that's difficult to find for a community newspaper because it's not considered to be necessarily the destination for a lot of journalists", said Suggs.

"Obviously, we do have an online presence and are involved in social media. We've tried to hire younger people because a newspaper like ours exists to tell the stories about it's community everywhere," said Suggs. "To provide information, to provide a forum for discussion of ideas and to entertain quite frankly, we have a lot of interest in that as well."

Suggs has worked to evolve the paper from not only an African American advocate, but to a newspaper that involves a whole community.

"The advantage that we have in giving the African Americans the information they need to know is we're actually giving information to everyone, it's not just regulated in that circle of African Americans", said Price. "Now that your talking to a broader community, people realize that what happens in one culture affects the other, you know the saying ‘we're all in this together', we really are."

Price says gaining the trust of the public means everything to surviving in the newspaper business.

"You get the public to trust what you say in your publication, that's what garnishes your popularity," said Price. "It's really important to get the public's trust, because without it you're nothing."


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