While the newspaper business seems to be in steady decline, progressive measures have been made by veritable media brands to optimize content via digital and social media efforts. But for black newspapers across the country, the situation is bleaker, due to an erosion of advertising budgets targeted towards niche markets, lack of resources, an inability to adapt to ever-changing media trends and what is believed to be waning consumer interest.
For 33-years-young Patrick Washington, the Vice President of ‘The Dallas Weekly,’ taking the reins of the family business is a challenge he’s rising to - with a team of youthful staffers and designs to breathe a new life into the old periodical with the launch into radio programming and other non-print brand extensions.
“Newspapers are more relic than relevant, the information they provide and the integrity by which the journalism industry made its impact is still very much needed, but the manner and means of production and distribution need to change,” the Clark Atlanta University alumnus told NBCBLK.
“I think black media and newspapers suffer from the same problem [the] mainstream does; hubris. And they really believe in the legacy and history of an industry that, for good or bad is dying quickly, and not taking any steps to preserve itself,” he further elaborated. “Now we have more ways and faster ways to consume information and newspapers in general are no longer listening to the market and addressing the needs, and the black media - being niche and small - is of course taking a greater hit because of it.”
This is why Washington and his team of seven are looking to reinvigorate and revitalize the newspaper, which his father purchased in 1985. The newspaper, which has a circulation of 15,000 and is distributed for free throughout the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex area, was officially founded in 1954 with a mission to inform, unite and inspire the African diaspora worldwide.
Considered the most respected, most critically acclaimed and most widely read African American newsweekly in North Texas, the newspaper has served to inform, educate and enlighten the black community for over 55 years. “We are poised to take advantage of our unique position in this market,” stated publisher James A. Washington. “With all the changes we’ve made our evolution is just about complete. We’re still number one in Dallas and look to remain there. Now more than ever, we are the one stop shop for advertisers trying to reach the $23 billion African American consumer market that resides here.”
"I just wanted black people to stop asking why there aren’t any black people at the Oscars and just make their own media industry."
As a child, Patrick never realized the scope of his father’s work. To him, running the paper was simply what dad did to make a living.
“I read what I was told to read which sometimes was ‘The Weekly,’ but it was also more like a chore, like having to go to mom’s job after school, having to read dad’s job sometimes,” he confessed.
He never imagined following in his father’s career path. Or his mother’s, either; she’s an acclaimed artist who served as Director of the South Dallas Cultural Center.
With big hopes and dreams of following in Spike Lee’s footsteps, Washington, who has a younger sister, set a career path in filmmaking. But his Hollywood aspirations were dashed after what he cagily referred to as a “disheartening stint in the Hollywood media industry immediately after [my] college tenure.”
“I think like most Black people thought that there was a seat waiting for me at the Hollywood gates,” he offered when probed further. “Reality is such good teacher though.”
“And it kind of just hit me, take your dad’s this, with your connections to that, and voila. Now the plan was much simpler in my head but once I moved back home, it was a very clear but rocky road which all I knew was I definitely know where I’m going, and how to get there.”
Washington laughs off a description of himself as a millennial when asked how does a newspaper entity reach that desired demographic.
“Am I a millennial? I still remember record players and Walkmans!! I prefer the term ‘80s Baby' but you reach people where they are. My father taught me that. You don’t speak over someone, you speak to someone; You don’t force your opinions, you present them with the fact on why you feel that way: so basically, text them, DM them, troll them if you have to, but just meet them where they are.”
“I manage with expectations, if they’re not met, I probably won’t be managing you long.”
His idea could work for the short term. He believes that if newspapers were smarter they would see social media engagement as a helping tool instead of “as a new shiny toy to be had not necessarily utilized properly.”
For the long term, Washington said he envisions a new and rebranded 'The Dallas Weekly’ as a one-stop media shop named ‘DW.’
“The finished product is a Apple TV-like box in which we pump our media into the homes of the consumer directly, think of it as Viacom on crack. And we are laying the brick to that foundation now with the diversification of our product line and the way in which we produce and distribute information.”
According to the elder Washington, Patrick “was always a kid who saw things that others didn’t. It always gave him an edge and that’s what you need in the ever-changing media ecosystem.”
Regarding his management style, he has an approach that he thinks is pragmatic.
“I manage with expectations, if they’re not met, I probably won’t be managing you long,” he said. “I learned from just being out and seeing how people got things done, I think it’s a pretty simple idea: plan, execute, and review.”
“Maybe I’m a minimalist,” he quipped.
Yet, he’s not one of those managers who hover over their employees and set up meaningless meetings about meetings either. His modern take on management goes virtual at times too. And he’s open to having a flexible workforce with their own independent occupational goals.
“We’re all moving individually but within the greater machine,” he explained. “The overseeing is more through texts and emails, quick calls and instant messengers than meetings and discussions. Everyone knows their responsibilities and gets it done so that the big picture is met, but also they are hustling their side projects to create that ever-present brand and new idea factory.”
Though he recognizes that he could be deemed a role model or inspiration for those who may want to follow in his footsteps he’s cautious about wearing a heavy crown.
“Being a role model for black men by leading by example puts a big target on your back which I’m aware of but still unsure if I’m actually prepared for,” he explained. "I hope I am, but to be honest I just wanted black people to stop asking why there aren’t any black people at the Oscars and just make their own media industry."