Iconic 'Chicago Defender' Newspaper Ends Print Publishing

The Chicago Defender, a 114-year-old Black Chicago newspaper, printed its last print edition on July 10. The newspaper announced an end to its printing operations and will offer a digital-only platform as of today, July 11. Hiram E. Jackson, the CEO of Real Times Media who had purchased the newspaper back in 2003, said that the print version of the Black newspaper limited the paper’s reach.

“Under the print version, we could not reach people where they live and work,” Jackson said. “Being a digital-only outlet will help us reach people who live on the West Side or South Side or south suburbs, giving people what they need when they want it. It makes us more nimble.”

“We’re really excited to pave the way to the future in really making sure there is a spot in the future for the Black press. We have more newspapers than any other Black media company in the country.

I see this as our responsibility to show what the future looks like,” Jackson continued.

Jackson told The New York Times that the move was also “an economic decision” in an “effort to make sure that the Defender has another 100 years.”

The Chicago Defender was founded in 1905 by Robert Abbott, who once called the publication "The World's Greatest Weekly.” The publication featured columnists like artist Langston Hughes, intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois, and civil rights activist Walter White. The Black-owned newspaper also published the early poems of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks.

The newspaper focused on racial injustice in Chicago and across the world, covering important moments in Black history. During World War I, the publication supported “The Great Migration,” the mass movement of African Americans from the rural South to urban centers in the North. This large-scale movement pattern would result in over one and a half million Black people moving to the North between 1915 and 1925.

During the movement, the publication used articles and cartoons to discuss the topic of the migration. This reporting influenced its southern readers and, from 1916 to 1918, at least 110,000 people moved to Chicago.

The newspaper also covered the Red Summer of 1919, marked by anti-Black riots that broke out in cities like Houston, Texas; East St. Louis and Chicago in Illinois; Washington, DC; Omaha, Nebraska; Elaine, Arkansas; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Charleston, South Carolina.

The Chicago Defender announced that although it will no longer print every day, it will “highlight pivotal moments via special print editions to create more capacity to actively engage with the community.”

“We understand that to some of our loyal readers, this rite of passage is a painful one. However, we are committed to preserving the legacy of the Chicago Defender and are excited to be making this bold step to ensure its vitality for the next 100 years,” Jackson told readers of his publication.

“We remain committed to being an iconic news organization, but we must double-down in the areas where we are seeing growth. Ceasing print operations allows us to do that. And readers of the Defender are now all over the city, reaching them online is a win-win for all of us.”

“The Chicago Defender will lead the way in reinvigorating news delivery for the African American press, one that makes business sense in this digital age,” Jackson continued. “This trailblazing move will allow the Defender to not only continue, but to thrive. All of us at Real Times Media are excited about this next act.”

The publication stated that while it printed 16,000 papers a week, it has almost half a million unique monthly visitors to its website. It also plans to keep its editorial staff and will continue to host special events like the Men of Excellence and Women of Excellence awards dinners. The company also hopes to relaunch “Who’s Who in Black Chicago” and will continue to hold activities surrounding the Bud Billiken Parade.

“There is so much opportunity for the Chicago Defender, on a digital platform, to grow nationally and become a premier player in the African American media space,” Jackson added.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.