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The secrets of his success

on March 22, 2010

In a media world beset by dizzying change, Vernon Whitmore is a model of consistency.

“Our approach is positive, educational, informative,” said Whitmore, the publisher and owner of the Richmond Globe, the region’s largest black-owned newspaper. “I can’t stand the ‘woe-is-me’ philosophy.”

Whitmore, who was recently named president of the West Coast Black Publishers Association, discussed his recipe for newspaper success with students and faculty at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism on March 15.

As major regional media outlets have responded to declining advertising revenue by trimming staffs, they have scaled back their coverage of local communities, Whitmore said. This has cleared the way for smaller, niche publications like The Globe to fill the void.

The dynamic is particularly acute in Richmond, where area newspapers have focused declining resources on stories with broader regional implications, like the city’s ongoing struggles with Chevron Corp. and the local crime blotter. That has left less sensational community events uncovered.

That’s where The Globe, and its publisher, have stepped in. A longtime Richmond resident, Whitmore is the rare newspaper executive who resides in the community he covers.

“You won’t see anything about shootings or robberies in our pages,” Whitmore said. “I leave that to my buddies at the (West County) Times.”

Whitmore, 60, has come a long way since he first learned the business as an advertising man with the West County Times in the 1980s. From there, he caught on with the Oakland Post, an historic black newspaper.

Whitmore, a man known in part for his impeccable dress and indefatigable work ethic, developed large ambitions.

“To make a short story shorter, I tried to buy the Post,” Whitmore said. “I couldn’t buy it, so I started the Globe.”

Whitmore launched his Globe in 2004, and hasn’t looked back.

He flipped through broadsheet copies of recent editions of his weekly paper, including a photo-heavy special commemorating Black History Month.

“We deliver to all the local black churches,” Whitmore said. “Some of the pastors have said they have to tell their church members ‘would you put the Globe down so I can preach,'” he added with a chuckle.

While other papers have seen their print circulations dwindle, The Post maintained a steady clip of 25,000 weekly in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. And that’s not the best part.

“We’ve even seen an upturn in advertising (revenues),” Whitmore said.

The formula behind the rise of The Globe from a startup – the early days were staffed by just two UC Berkeley students and local journalism legend Chauncey Bailey – to a flourishing local paper is simple, Whitmore said.

“I feel that we should always give back, always help, always be there for our readers,” Whitmore said. To that end, The Globe regularly distributes free copies door-to-door, delivers stacks to local churches and civic institutions, and focuses on an upbeat mix of photos and featurettes on locals and helpful, encouraging content.

“We did a series I am quite proud of about seeking solutions to black-on-black crime,” Whitmore said.

Whitmore has about a dozen people write for his editions every week, and has a full time staff of three writers and two photographers.

He aspires to reach a broader audience, and is not entirely comfortable with The Globe’s reputation as a “black newspaper.”

“I like to think of The Globe as a community paper that just happens to be owned by black folk,” he said.

Whitmore stays mostly behind the scenes, but his work has not gone unnoticed. Last month, the Richmond City Council honored him for his appointment as head of the Black Publishers Association. Residents praised him that night as a man of integrity and heart.

“Mr. Whitmore has done what most news media refuse to do,” Councilman Nat Bates said in a recent interview, “And that is to provide positive, rather than negative and sensational, news within the community.”

Whitmore plans to continue doing what works: Local news, positive news, and tireless outreach to core readers in the community. The city is changing, and its residents will continue to rely on someone to put it all in perspective, Whitmore said.

“We are about upward mobility,” Whitmore said. “Richmond is going through a period of transition. it’s an under-served community that could really be doing great things.”


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