A community of 65,000 deserves a vibrant local newspaper. And West Virginia’s Black population of that size deserves a small media empire.
That’s the thinking behind Black by God, founded last year by Crystal Good, a West Virginia poet, writer, activist and media entrepreneuse I’ve gotten to know through making the Moundsville film and writing this blog. (Disclosure: We once teamed up to run a poetry contest on this site.)
BBG, as it’s shorthanded, is a free multi-platform media company that showcases the experiences of a population usually overlooked in coverage of West Virginia, whose 1.8 million people are usually typecast as white working-class. The state, to be sure, is roughly 90% white, but that only reinforces the importance of listening to its minorities.
Good is a force of nature, a cultural leader and cheerleader who has a gift for inspiring people. “It’s a news and media storytelling information,” she said of venture. “What we’re trying to figure out is an information problem.”
The U.S. has lost a couple thousand local newspapers this century, and it’s founders like Good who are filling the need for daily information, education, and entertainment. The good news is that, absent the costs of trucks, print, and ink, start-up costs are minimal. Writers, however, must still be paid, and Good has cobbled together funding from donations.
The current incarnation of BBG is an easy-to-navigate website with new stories weekly, a newsletter and a quarterly print magazine. Good is mulling the best delivery system. “Journalism is changing,” she said. “It’s important for everybody to think about how to do the job.”
Recent stories include an account of a rally of formerly incarcerated people, a feature on West Virginia artists at Carnegie Hall, and a report on Black-owned farms.
“In West Virginia, growing food just came with the territory for most people in the area when I was growing up,” says Black farmer Jason Tart in the story.
“We’re trying to fill an information gap, whether that’s Covid testing or politics, or who did what from your county,” Good told me. “People have this impression of West Virginia being all white… well, they should ask some Black folk about Joe Manchin.”
West Virginia has around 85 local newspapers, and only a handful of Black journalists. Only 14 Black-owned newspapers have existed in West Virginia, with the last one closing in 2006.
As Amanda Page reports in a recent profile of Black by God and Good in YES magazine:
The current media landscape serves the population who can pay for the news. That population is White, wealthy, and mostly liberal, according to Nikki Usher, author of News for the Rich, White, and Blue: How Place and Power Distort American Journalism. “That’s dangerous,” Usher explains, “because it creates inequity in the stories that get told. “What we’re seeing is a filtering, or a clearing of the trough. When you’re separating curds and whey, you get excellent news for certain people and not so good news or misinformation for others,” she say.
One of the goals of Black by God is showcasing the diversity of opinion and experience within the Black community of West Virginia. “This 65,000 is not a monolith,” said Good. “We have Democrats and Republicans. It’s also important to understand what it means to be a Black Republican in West Virginia.”
What issues are important to Black people in West Virginia. “That’s easy. Any problem you know that’s impacting poor whites, it’s worse for Black Virginians.”
One example is how reporting on the opioid crisis has focused on white victims. “I have family members that just got out of jail yesterday, on heroin charges,” she said. “One of the problems is a lack of data.” For example, Good wonders, “how many Black addicts are in prison while white addicts are sent to drug court? How many Black addicts are offered treatment? That’s the kind of data, and stories, we’re looking to illuminate.”
In some places in West Virginia, when Good puts the magazine in shops, “this is the only Black visibility on this street,” she said.
When white writers submit pieces, Good said she often has to “remind them to rewrite while centering Black people and not themselves.”
Good is still raising funds, and trying to figure out other ways of keeping BBG going. “It’s hard to make a newspaper,” she said. “But it’s so important to bring this perspective into West Virginia and into the world.”
John W. Miller