How the Oldest Black-Owned Newspaper in Minnesota Plugged Into the Community During Pandemic

Since 1934, the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder (MSR) newspaper has been committed to telling Black stories with honesty, integrity, and optimism.

When it originally started as two separate publications, the Minneapolis Spokesman and the St. Paul Recorder, founder Cecil E. Newman recognized the lack of positive news coverage around his community and single-handedly set forth to change that.

Now, 88 years later, Cecil’s granddaughter, Tracey Williams-Dillard, is the CEO and publisher, carrying on Newman’s legacy from the paper’s office in South Minneapolis.

The MSR is the oldest Black-owned newspaper in Minnesota and one of the longest-standing, family-owned newspapers in the country. In 2020, the pandemic presented new obstacles for the Black newspaper, forcing a quick pivot to stay afloat. “Less people were advertising in print, which meant less income, so we had to focus on driving advertising to the MSR website since the internet was where people were spending time when they didn’t leave their houses,” Williams-Dillard tells BLACK ENTERPRISE.

In fact, newspapers all across the country were forced to scramble and push their digital publication as streets, coffee shops, public transportation, and other public areas where newspapers are typically bought were suddenly deserted.

In addition to doing more through its digital presence, the MSR’s staff needed to start working from home, something different from the vibrant press offices of daily newspapers. However, the paper and its staff took the challenge head-on. “We learned how to shift to doing most of our editorial and layout processes remotely, which has been a successful change for our editorial and design team,” Williams-Dillard adds.

The MSR also prioritized keeping its readers aware of the latest, updated information on COVID-19, how to stay safe, and where to get vaccinated. The information was paramount for Black Americans who were initially infected and fell to COVID-19 at higher rates than almost all other racial demographics in the U.S.

“When we put the information out there, our goal is to keep it fresh and keep what’s going on right-now-relevant,” Williams-Dillard says. “Online has a lot more of a youth-oriented slant to it, because [youth] are digital. On our website, we try to have a balance for the younger readers and the older readers.”

Since the MSR’s first issue was released on Aug. 10, 1934, the newspaper has been a family business connecting readers to Minnesota’s Black community through its journalism.

“Multiple generations of involvement from family members, serving the community with honest journalism, has remained at the forefront of the newspaper’s mission. In terms of our integrity, it has taken us a really long way and allowed us to remain successful,” Williams-Dillard says. “From my grandfather down to myself, and my grandmother and my family in between, we all strived to make sure our values were held to high standards.”

Today, Williams-Dillard is proud to see first-hand that the MSR can add a worldwide pandemic to the things it has survived since its first issue.

“It feels good to see the other side,” Williams-Dillard says.

“I’m proud of being able to weather such a huge storm, especially considering how many businesses closed and are still closing today from the after-effects of the pandemic.”

In addition to celebrating the continued excellence of MSR, Williams-Dillard was also named one of AARP’s 50 Over 50 in 2022.

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