National black paper being launched here Filling a void: Aiming for a circulation of 350,000 within five years, Our World News will strive to serve the "discerning black reader."

March 06, 1996|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

Donald L. Miller believes there is a segment of African-Americans who are not being properly served by most newspapers. In fact, he's banking on it.

Mr. Miller, a retired vice president of employee relations with Dow Jones & Co. Inc., is the chief executive officer and publisher of Our World News, which is slated to begin publication in Baltimore in the summer as a national newspaper aimed at black readers. Mr. Miller says he plans to take the black press -- which historically has consisted of magazines and local newspapers -- to a different level.

"Our paper will have it all, with national and international news, and it will cover it all, business, sports, education, entertainment," Mr. Miller said recently as he relaxed in his downtown Baltimore office.

"We are beginning to see a more discerning black reader who is saying, 'I want to know more about issues and how it affects me.' We will report that news."

His targeted audience is the 1.2 million African-American households that make $50,000 or more and the 4.2 million households with incomes between $25,000 and $50,000. His projected circulation is ambitious -- 120,000 to 150,000 the first // year and 350,000 by the end of five years.

But Mr. Miller firmly believes that his reader, the sophisticated and educated African-American who wants more news that is for and about the black community, is out there waiting for his publication. He believes it because he is such a reader.

"A few years ago, while talking to some friends about the black press, it became very clear to me that there was nothing of any serious news basis being offered for the black reader," Mr. Miller said. "Our community is a well-educated community that not only deserves but requires a paper that offers fair and accurate news and analysis."

Monte Trammer, a black journalist who has been in the business since 1969, finds the project exciting.

The publisher of the Saratogian, a daily newspaper in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Mr. Trammer said the planned newspaper has "a cutting-edge feel."

"Very often in the mainstream media, the black perspective gets marginalized," Mr. Trammer said. "There is a black perspective no matter what the story, and, from what I understand, this

paper will address that."

Kenneth T. Berents, an analyst who follows the newspaper business for Wheat First Butcher Singer Inc. in Richmond, Va., said that, while the idea of a national weekly for blacks is an idea whose "time may have come," Our World News now faces the challenge of attracting advertisers.

"National papers with narrow niches have not been very successful in the past," Mr. Berents said. "Maybe this is a significant enough market that advertisers will pay attention."

There have been attempts at national black weeklies before, including the National Leader, based in Philadelphia, which lasted from May 1982 until February 1984 as a weekly before it went to a monthly format and then folded. Historically, monthly magazines aimed at blacks such as Essence and Ebony have been more successful with their glossy formats and emphasis on broad, topical stories, and local newspapers such as the Afro-American have fared well with a focus on regional news.

Mr. Miller, 64, is a self-made man. At age 16, he dropped out of high school in his native New York City and joined the Army. After a 20-year military career, he attended the University of Maryland, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in business.

His career path has taken him to several diverse positions, including those of deputy assistant secretary of defense from 1971 to 1973 and vice president of employee relations at the Consolidated Edison Co. of New York from 1979 to 1986. Last year he retired from Dow Jones after nine years to concentrate on developing the newspaper, and it is that relationship that may provide a boost to his venture.

"We have offered to rent time on our presses and maybe contract for use of our distribution facilities," said Roger May, a spokesman for Dow Jones, which has 17 printing plants across the country and publishes the Wall Street Journal. "Don Miller is a great man, and we're lending our support in whatever way possible."

The State of Maryland has also stepped in to help. James T. Brady, secretary of business and economic development, has been working to link Mr. Miller with financial backers for the newspaper, which he believes will be a "very substantive publication."

Catherine Lockhart, vice president of the Maryland Small Business Development Financing Authority's management group, said her office has guaranteed a loan of $500,000 from Signet Bank to Mr. Miller for start-up costs. The newspaper is just the type of project that her office looks for, Ms. Lockhart said.

"All of our deals are about economic impact," she said. "This venture is going to result in about 70 jobs created here in Baltimore."

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