It doesn't take long for stacks of the newspaper Our Insights to disappear from churches throughout Anne Arundel County.
Eager readers are quick to grab copies of the tabloid, devoted to "promoting good news from the African-American communities along the Chesapeake Bay," as soon as they arrive every other Tuesday. The paper is where people find out what's happening in the community, express their views (only positive, please) and read about their friends.
"The key is to find your niche," said editor and publisher Joyce Black. "Our niche is with the churches and nonprofit groups."
The newspaper quickly found its audience. Before the first issue came off the presses in October, Black had logged 100 subscriptions at $18 each. As of Sunday, that number exceeded 520, and the goal is to double that by the end of the year. On average, 2,500 copies are produced and distributed throughout the community.
Success has forced the small staff to move its operation from Black's basement to an office in Edgewater.
A feature story about Anne Arundel County School Superintendent Carol S. Parham, who received a racially tinged death threat March 21 after her decision to bus elementary pupils from south county to Annapolis, is planned for today's issue. The FBI has begun a civil rights investigation into the matter, and Parham has been under county police guard since March 21.
But, true to the paper's mission, the story will not center on the threat or the issues which brought it about. Rather, Black said yesterday, it will focus on positive community response -- ranging from a reward fund that has topped $21,000 in donations, to pastors leading prayers for Parham.
'Look forward to reading it'
Finding the positive spin is what separates the paper from other local media, said Carl O. Snowden, a special assistant to the county executive and one of the first subscribers. Snowden attributes the paper's growth to two things: the community calendar that lists church and organization events, and the coverage of those events. "The paper covers a lot of stories that larger newspapers can't or don't want to," Snowden said. "People look forward to reading it."
Black said she didn't expect the response from the community that she has received. It's meant more work for her, her staff of about 15 and an advisory board, but that's just what she wanted.
Originally from South Carolina, Black moved to Arnold in 1983. An electrical engineer by trade, Black said she's always had a passion for writing and has written several plays about black history.
She's wanted to launch a newspaper since 1990, but, she said, it took several years "until all the cards fell together."
Black, who maintains a day job as an engineer, spends her afternoons and evenings working on Our Insights. Her basement is full of papers, fax machines and computers.
The paper is published in Prince George's County and mailed to subscribers. The rest are hand-delivered by Black and her staff.
"It really is a lot of work," Black said.
Black enlists the help of interns and area residents and organizations to produce stories. And, 87 churches send their bulletins on Mondays for inclusion in the community calendar.
"We try to send a reporter to every event," Black said. "People like to see that."
In addition to providing listings and coverage of local events, Black said, she's trying to promote and bring technology to African-American churches in the county through a project called Branches of Zion.
Local churches are listed in each issue, and Black has been interviewing the pastors about their goals, and church and life missions.
The project also calls for a percentage of the paper's profits to be used to equip churches with up-to-date technology. Many of them still mail in their bulletins because they don't own fax machines, she said.
Our Insights has provided the Second Baptist Church in Annapolis with a fax machine, and Asbury-Broadneck United Methodist Church will receive a computer next month.
Black declined to release the paper's budget, but said it is not losing money.
Much of the paper's growth can be attributed to the churches, Black said. Copies of the paper are delivered to local churches, where pastors promote it to their congregations.
"The churches have been so great as far as generating subscriptions," Black said.
Joyce A. Dobson, an administrative assistant at Mount Moriah African Methodist Episcopal Church in Annapolis, said the church subscribes to the paper as do many of its members.
"Everything in there is positive and you don't find that in other media," Dobson said. "It's very popular here."