Black and successful? Here's the good news

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The Independent Online
The primacy of Britain's oldest newspaper for black people, the Voice, is about to be challenged - by a paper funded by Rupert Murdoch's son-in-law.

The New Nation, an upbeat, aspirational tabloid to be launched next month, will, say its publishers, rapidly divide the black community into Voice readers and New Nation readers. It is certainly dividing opinion on what a black newspaper should be. The New Nation accuses the Voice of being a "doom-and- gloom sheet" which prints damaging images of blacks as victims; the Voice retorts that its rival will be a good-news "fairy- tale".

There are 1.2 million black people in Britain, yet the black press sells a total of just 60,000 copies a week, of which the Voice accounts for more than 40,000. Since its launch in 1982, the Voice has seen off all serious rivals and is widely regarded as black Britain's national media voice - despite the fact that only a small minority of black people buy any "black" paper. "People have grown up with the Voice, but now they've grown out of it," says the New Nation's editor, Richard Adeshiyan. "We know about all the problems for blacks in Britain, and the Voice tends to be just a doom-and-gloom sheet. We are not in the business of protest journalism." Instead, the 64-page colour tabloid will "champion the good things black people are doing".

Mr Adeshiyan, 35, knows all about the Voice - his career began there, and he was managing editor of its sister paper, the Weekly Journal, until it closed last December. He and the New Nation's publisher, Tetteh Kofi, another ex-Voice man, concluded that there was a huge gap in the market, found the finance from an American venture-capital company co-owned by Elizabeth Murdoch's husband, Elkin Pianim, and conceived the New Nation. (There is at present no connection with the Murdoch media empire, News Corporation.) A staff of about 15 journalists, recruited largely from the BBC, Fleet Street and the black press, will produce a paper covering non-race-related issues - health, education, the economy - and aspiring to mainstream standards of quality, design, and - unprecedented in black publishing - mainstream advertising. Traditionally, advertising in black newspapers is restricted to public-sector recruitment. "There are millions of stories about black people having a tough time," says Mr Kofi, "but black people are also known to spend a fortune on clothes, toys for the boys, and be very conscious about the cars they drive. Yet there hasn't been a newspaper which the people selling those products are happy to advertise in."

His point is that mainstream corporate culture is ignorant of the black market (there are very few black marketing executives) and wary of what it sees as angry, radical journalism. The New Nation will be explicitly aspirational; the target reader is 18-35, employed, fashion- conscious, and, in Mr Kofi's words, "most importantly of all, aspiring to improve his or her station in life".

"Our readers," says his editor, "don't want to be hiding our product when they are reading it on the Tube."

The pair describe the paper as a "social mission" - to profile black role models, and "deliver the ambitions and aspirations of a community".

Others will suggest they are letting their community down. "A newspaper full of happy stories about black people is not reflecting actual life," says Annie Stewart, editor of the Voice. "There have been other attempts to print a good-news paper, and they've failed." (One such was Black Briton; many believe the Voice only launched its Weekly Journal to put it out of business. If so, it succeeded - Black Briton closed within two months of the Weekly Journal's launch.) "Black people need their press to address their injustices. That's not victim journalism, that's campaigning journalism." Ms Stewart is also alarmed by the source of the New Nation's funding: "Rupert Murdoch already has a monopoly on the white British press, and I'm very worried about the agenda."

The New Nation insists it has total editorial independence, will be politically unaligned, and points out that Mr Pianim is related to Mr Murdoch merely by an accident of marriage.