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2008 FGS Review, published Winter 2008

Review published in Journalism History (University of Alabama), Summer 2009, Volume 35, Number 2, pages 113-114.
Copyright 2009

Pinnick, Timothy N. Finding and Using African American Newspapers. Wyandotte, Okla.: Gregath Publishing Co., , 71 pp. $25.

(Publisher's Note: This reviewer did not have access to the lower priced $12.00 softbound edition, only the hardbound library edition.)

Finding and Using African American Newspapers, which is useful for both historians and genealogists, has two purposes: How to find black newspapers and then how to effectively mine their contents. For journalism historians, the first purpose will be the one of most interest.

Timothy N. Pinnick, a former public school teacher who is now an historical researcher and a lecturer, touches on a topic that particularly perplexes researchers who have little or no experience examining black newspapers. While it is relatively easy to find what white-owned, mainstream newspapers existed - looking in Editor & Publisher Year Book is frequently a good start - it is quite another thing to do this with many black papers. For example, there has been considerable disagreement among historians about how many black papers existed in the period from the end of the Civil War until 1900, much less where they were located.

The value of Pinnick's book is that it quickly shows historians how to find these newspapers through the Library of Congress, which two years ago had 1,696 black papers catalogued, he specifically recommends three excellent books., They are: African-American Newspapers and Periodicals: A National Bibliography; Bibliographic Checklist of African American Newspapers; and Extant Collections of Early Black Newspapers: A Research Guide to the Black Press, 1880-1915. He briefly discusses each book's strengths, which is extremely helpful. He also touches on internet sites of value for black newspaper scholars. Among these are Accessible Archives and ProQuest, LLC. As he notes, however, it can be costly for an institution to purchase what these sites offer and finding a university that has bought them "may be a challenge."

In discussing how to most effectively use black papers, Pinnick points one of the interesting differences between many black newspapers and their white-owned counterparts. Because the white papers rarely discussed blacks unless they were sports stars, entertainment standouts, or possibly involved in criminal activity, black readers generally were forced until the 1960s to read black newspapers in order to find out black news. Thus, black papers frequently wrote about blacks not only locally but sometimes in other communities. Thus, researchers can find information about them in papers outside the town or city where they lived, and that is important to remember when trying to piece together historical facts about someone.

One slight flaw in the book comes from Pinnick's adulation of the Chicago Defender, which he calls "the premier newspaper in terms of African American newspaper research." Clearly, the Defender was one of the two most significant black newspapers in U.S. history, particularly from 1910 until the 1930s. However, to ignore the Pittsburgh Courier, which in the 1940s became the largest black paper in U.S. history and the most powerful and influential of that period, is an oversight. It was just as important as the Defender, and with its many editions across the country it had just as much information about blacks in numerous places as the Chicago paper. Serious black newspaper historians have mined the Courier extensively over the last several decades, and they will continue to do so just as much as they continue to examine the Defender.

In assessing this book overall, it is startlingly overpriced given the small number of pages. But that aside, it has considerable value for both faculty and students who are new to researching black newspapers. This is a topic that is starting to draw more and more attention from academic researchers, and Pinnick does a nice job in addressing how to get off to a good research start.

Patrick S. Washburn
Ohio University

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