Information Age griots

E-mail newsletters and discussion groups create community despite distance

Before the advent of the printing press, telegraphs and telephones, the responsibility for transmitting information fell largely to individuals. In Africa, they were called griots, and they were charged with retaining and disseminating their village’s history and reporting on current events. Information was passed between villages using drums, and griots would relate it to their constituencies orally. In this fashion, information could travel great distances.

Today, our Information Age griots perform a similar function on the Internet, receiving news pertinent to African Americans and passing it to the community. Their drums are e-mail newsletters and discussion groups full of information that, because of distance or lack of awareness, we might not have been privy to.

Husband-and-wife team Janine and Tom Fondon operate Boston-based Unity First Online News, a direct e-mail newsletter that shares news and opportunities with thousands of African Americans and other people of color. “People use us to stay up on news that is often just mentioned in passing in traditional media — multicultural news such as reports on the Urban League Conference and the Million Youth March,” says Janine.

Unity First Online News also provides information on specific communities around the country. “We let people know what’s going on in other black communities. Think about it. Are you living where you are from? Many black folks are ‘from somewhere else.’ We give them a way to stay in touch.”

Rounding out the Unity First Online News experience is an online store and a very handy guide to upcoming African American-focused television programming. “All too often, shows on PBS or the networks are [scheduled], and you hear about them only after they’ve aired,” says Janine. Husband Tom adds: “Our server sends the information out every Sunday night. People like finding us in their e-mail every Monday morning. We’re something you can depend on.” To register for the Fondons’ newsletter, visit www.unityfirst.com.

Anita Brown, founder of Black Geeks Online (www.blackgeeks.net) uses her newsletter, Heads^UP, to keep people informed about job openings, news items and events of importance to African Americans. The site is also dedicated to promoting computer literacy and technology. To sign up, visit the Black Geeks Website.

If talking technology is too intense for you, perhaps entertainment will fit the bill. The Electronic Urban Report (EUR) reports on the African American entertainment industry via e-mail. Founded by radio veteran Lee Bailey, the EUR has championed the use of the Internet for disseminating information about our community since the early ’90s. If you want to find out what movies actors such as Wesley Snipes and Lynn Whitfield are making, then the EUR is for you. The EUR also carries information about the music and television industries, as well as some biting commentary from contributing writers. You’ll also find interviews and general news on the African American experience. Sign up by logging on to www.eurweb.com.

While e-mail newsletters such as the EUR provide a wealth of information, discussion groups often provide a forum where people of color from around the country can express their ideas. The

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