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I Am Not Your Negro: The Importance of Black Owned Media and Journalism

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Updated October 3, 2017

L. Nicole Trottie

Publisher

A column that appeared in the WSJ several weeks ago regarding the Village Free Press met with backlash from fans of Mike Romain, publisher, Village Free Press.  I don’t shy away from controversy, I don’t avoid it, nor do I apologize for it.  However, allow me to set the record straight;  I have nothing against the publisher of the Village Free Press.  I think Romain is a tremendously talented writer with a big heart for Maywood and its residents.  I do, however, take issue with Dan Haley, publisher, Wednesday Journal.  The West Suburban Journal and the Wednesday Journal go back post-Reconstruction about 14-years.

Dan Haley, publisher and investor, of newspapers in the predominantly black communities of Austin and Maywood, with aspirations to one day own the historically black civil rights flagship newspaper the Chicago Defender.

Around 2002, I resigned from my career of several years in management and marketing at AT&T, Motorola and Skytel Communications.  I entered two programs to develop a business plan for a magazine idea, Edify; a master’s program at Northwestern and the Living Word Joseph School of Business.  During that time, I lived in Oak Park.  To gain publishing knowledge and mentors, I called nearly every publisher and editor in the Chicago Metropolitan area, I took them out to lunch and picked their brain for information.  At the time, I had no experience in magazines or newspaper publishing.  My background consisted of business, marketing, sales, and law school.  I glanced the local paper and happened across a Pioneer Press help wanted ad for an advertising representative.  I applied for the job, interviewed and landed it on the spot.  It was while working at Pioneer Press that I became immersed in Proviso.  I grew to love the Bellwood, Broadview and Maywood communities, its people, and its promise.

Down the block from my home on Oak Park Ave, on my way to George’s restaurant, I often passed Wednesday Journal.  I decided to call the Journal to speak with the publisher about my concept for a paper.  This was my first introduction to Haley.  He invited me to his humble headquarters for a meeting.  I arrived the next day with lap top booted to pitch my business plan for a Maywood newspaper. It was a success. Haley asked me back the next day to repeat the presentation for his business partner, Andy Johnston.

Haley liked what he saw and liked what he heard.   He offered to hire me so that together we could explore the opportunity of the newspaper launch. I agreed, on one condition:  I was not and would never be ‘for hire’.  We moved forward on the terms of an independent contract.  The contract length was 90 days in which were to explore the feasibility of launching a newspaper.  During the 90 days, I did much of the ground work; lining up sales, hosting receptions and even coordinated a well-attended town hall meeting.  Haley had few relationships in Proviso outside of Karen Yarbrough who at the time was the 7th District State Rep.  I on the other hand, had relationships embedded throughout much of Proviso.  I developed those relationships during my employment at Pioneer Press, attending chamber meetings, and participating in outreach and volunteer efforts.  Eventually I would partner with the Village of Bellwood to found and hosts its first ever Edify 5K run/walk to benefit Tabitha House, a shelter for battered women and children.

Toward the end of our 90-day exploratory trial, I succeeded in raising about $60K or more of capital in contingent advertising contracts (contracts that Haley drafted under his company Wednesday Journal).  The look on his face of sheer delight came at no surprise as he’d confessed his desire and “love” to own a black publication expressly the Chicago Defender.  Haley owns a weekly newspaper in a majority black population in the city’s West Side Austin community.  His grandiose plan was to merge the Austin and Maywood papers on the basis solely that the populations are majority black, never mind demographics.  To this several of Haley’s white employees confessed with anonymity “that’s so racist” about his idea, because not everyone fits neatly into a prototypical model of “blackness.”

“I think we should move forward (with the paper),” Haley said.  “Great, give me your attorney’s card,” I said.  Clearing his throat he managed to cough up the question “for what”.  “So that my attorney can speak with your attorney and work out the terms of an agreement.” I said.  Haley rambled “haven’t we been good to you…we’ll pay you well…we want you to work for us.”  When asked what exactly my role as an employee would be, he replied “the publisher”.  I then asked about the responsibilities of the “publisher”.  Haley added, “you will open drop sites for the papers, sell ads, and be the community liaison.”  I then asked, “who’s responsible for editorial direction.”  Haley said, “I am…we don’t share that responsibility.”. “Do I look like I fell off the god-damn turnip truck.”  “let me get this right, you want me to hand over my vision, put my face and name on the pages of a newspaper in a black community, and give you complete control of the editorial”.  My mind immediately left the conversation, while my body stood frozen.  I was shocked and offended by the absurdity of this white man’s straight-faced and ludicrous proposal.  If I remember correctly, I managed to articulate something to the effect of “plantation sharecropping” before turning around, gathering my belongings and walking out the door.  About three months later, Aug 4, 2004, I independently launched the first issue of West Suburban Journal of Maywood.  A number his employees discretely applauded my decision and courage to go it alone. To Haley’s credit, he helped along the way, albeit for exceedingly selfish reasons, hoping that I would bleed dry and come running to the savior to be rescued and bought.  I used his manipulation to my advantage, and I kept the relationship at two-arms length distance.

After launching West Suburban Journal, Haley and I entered into an editorial sharing and advertisement cross-selling agreement.  Essentially, we would exchange stories to run in the others paper and I would sell advertisement into his papers for a commission split.  He insisted that I provide to him regular stories on Proviso politics.  A Nationwide Mortgage executive, of Haley’s persuasion, and I became acquainted through church.   His company was planning a marketing campaign in the Chicago area and he thought I might be a good advertisement resource.  We met and I represented Haley’s Austin newspaper on the condition of our agreement.  I set up a follow-up meeting to introduce Haley to the organization.  To my surprise Haley approached the car with, Tony Bell, his single black advertising representative.  When asked why his employee was attending the meeting, Haley replied “to introduce him as the account manager”.   “That’s unnecessary” I commented “the work is done”.   Before leaving that meeting, my business acquaintance and church member pulled me aside and privately said, “watch out for that guy.  I wouldn’t trust him.”  It wouldn’t be the last time I was given said advice about Dan Haley.

Sure enough, I never saw a dime from Haley for my and effort and the thousands of dollars Nationwide spent on advertising in his Austin newspaper.  And, to the relationship, if I talked to people he didn’t approve such as Amy Rita, publisher of the Forest Park Post, I was told “We’ll have nothing to do with you”.  At the outset of Rita launching the Forest Park Post in Forest Park, where Haley, too, owns a publication, he sent a copy of her publication to her employer at the time, the Chicago Tribune.  As for the editorial agreement, if I did not follow his direction and weekly assaults on Chris Welch there was a price to pay.  When I moved the West Suburban Journal offices from Maywood to Forest Park, Haley called not to say “welcome” but to direct me “not to cover any news whatsoever of Forest Park”.  Eventually, the price to play became greater than the price to run the hell away.  I took the advice of my mentor, Bill Garth, I put on my walking shoes and I never looked back.  The fact that I did not strike hands in a deal with Haley had nothing to do with his race, and everything to do with his apparent racism, his poor business ethics, and his core beliefs and values.

So now it appears that after years of lying in wait for Maywood, Haley’s bought his Negro.   Haley sits on the board of Cook County Suburban Publisher as its Vice President.  The group consists of several board members, all of whom have ownership in newspapers.  The group procures and places Legal and Public Notice advertisements in newspapers.  The public notices that have been placed in West Suburban Journal under contract for 11-years have been steered over the last two years to its board member’s newspapers and more recently in their entirety the Village Free Press new weekly. The group has arbitrarily and conveniently determined that it will not place notices in the West Suburban Journal.  The revenue from the notices are significant to help carry a newspaper in towns like Maywood and Bellwood, that have more manufacturing than they have retail, like say, Oak park where Haley’s papers are published.  Foremost, they are an important source of information for citizens to be informed about the decisions and actions by government and businesses which affect them and their community.

The Village Free Press, independent of ownership under Haley or another accredited publisher located in Proviso, is not legally eligible to publish Public Notice.  You have to pay your dues to earn the right, according to the law.  Il statutes define an accredited newspaper as having published 50 consecutive weeks.  The Illinois Public Notice Statute 715 ILCS 5/ Notice By Publication Act is guided under Federal law which expressly states papers eligible to publish Public Notice meet the minimum criteria of 50 consecutive weeks of publication to establish itself a withstanding, reliable and credible source for citizens to gather information, not a pop up paper that launched overnight, that may or may not be around in 10 to 20 weeks.

A PDF of The Village Free Press, August 30, 2017, 2nd weekly print edition. The Public Notice Section includes more than 6 pages of Public Notices for the Village of Maywood and surrounding areas, and according to the control numbers originate from Cook County Suburban Publishers, of which Dan Haley is board member and Vice President.  The notices are paid at $145 each by Cook County Suburban Publishers to the publisher, minus the groups 15 percent commission, with profits divided annually among its board members. 

A coalition of African-American and Latino newspaper publishers are taking up the issue of Public Notice treatment of entitlement and abuses with IL legislators Sen. Jim Oberweis, Rep’s. Tom D emmer and Joe Sosnowski, and others in the coming weeks.  We are of the strong belief and position that if Public Notice is treated with contempt, used with unfair advantage, for the benefit and the monopoly of a few at the expense for which they are intended to serve citizens, then the government should intervene and more closely regulate their procurement and advertisement placement.

Romain approached the West Suburban Journal early on into his popular blog about a job opportunity.  We made him a fair and reasonable offer based on the economies of scale that serving Maywood allows .  He counter-offered on the condition that Haley made him a better offer, and he made his bed.  I suggested to Romain that he watch out for Haley and I wished him well.  Mike replied, “he said the same thing about you.”  I was hoping to hear back from Romain the question, “Why do you say that.” However, he never asked why.

Haley admits publicly and privately that he’s a Sub-marine Christian, surfacing on Christmas and Easter to say the catechism and to see and be seen.   Well, I’ve come this far by faith in God, and I will remain steadfast in print and purpose by if only mustard seed faith in God — add to the equation I’m a single mother of a 5-year-old son — Haley will, if he hasn’t already, have the opportunity to witness first hand God move the mountain.  The blood that courses through my veins, and that of all black people, comes from a race who’ve faced larger Goliath’s than the likes of Dan Haley and Cook County Suburban Publisher’s.

The Black press (ownership) is a voice in journalism that is not always defined correctly simply because views of the black community in America are mostly that of being negative, and disruptive and interpreted through the narrow lens of projected theory and ideology by mass media and its majority stakeholders.

 “Among all the many thousands and thousands of actions that show why the Black Panther Party correctly dubbed the police “pigs,” few compare to the viciousness and lies surrounding the assassination of Fred Hampton (product of Maywood).  The media took up and spread these lies from the authorities as if they were the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But the Panthers in Chicago—still shocked and grieving from the terrible loss of their key leader (Fred Hampton), and with many of their core members now in jail—refused to give up.” ~ The Revolution Newspaper

 In an editorial headlined “No Quarter for Wild Beasts” the Chicago Tribune urged that Chicago police be given the order to approach all Panther suspects prepared to shoot.

 

 

 

 

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