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Publication: Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper
Year founded: 1895
Founding publishers: George P. Stewart and Will Porter
Current publisher: William G. Mays

What began as a two-page church bulletin by co-founders George P. Stewart and Will Porter, The Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper now hails as one of the top African-American publications in the nation. In 1897, the co-founders of the newspaper decided to expand their already successful newssheet into a weekly newspaper. The earliest existing issues of the Recorder dates to 1899—the year Porter sold his share of the newspaper to Stewart.Realizing the importance of local news, Stewart captured that market, outdistancing his local competitors, the publishers of the Freeman and the Colored World. With its emphasis on local news, the Recorder set itself apart from other Black newspapers. It had an immediate and an enduring impact on the Indianapolis community. Though the focus of the newspaper was local people and events, the Recorder also reported national events. It solicited news from communities throughout the state, as well as from around the country. Sales agents, who dually served as local correspondents, sold issues in their cities and hamlets.

During the first two decades of the 20th century, the Recorder reported on the work of many community organizations and institutions. It heralded the achievements of individuals in various spheres. The Recorder commented through news stories and editorials on the socio-economic and political climate that affected the daily lives of its community. It provided a forum for advertisers. The newspaper advocated for American support of World War I. It assumed that Black participation would bring better jobs and a better quality of life for patriots and their families.Instead, the end of the war brought an escalation of lynching and race riots, and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan. The Recorder and other Black news organs devoted much ink to stories reporting these activities.

The post World War I era crystallized the concerns for better education, housing,and health care for Indianapolis African Americans. The Indianapolis Recorder, in a social reform mode, editorialized on several specific issues including lynching, public accommodations, voting, unemployment, crime and health concerns. It continued to report on the activities and attributes of Black organizations and institutions, including Crispus Attucks High School and Walker Manufacturing Co. With the formation of The Indianapolis Recorder Charities, the newspaper was an active participant in supplying relief to its constituency. Remembering the aftermath of World War I, the Recorder was more cautious in lending its overwhelming support to American involvement in World War II. Though slow in coming, the support was enthusiastically given. Capitalizing on a phrase coined by the Pittsburgh Courier—the Double V Campaign, victory abroad and victory at home—the Recorder published the Victory Progress edition to celebrate the end of the war. The issue was cited in the Congressional Record. It remains as a useful chronicle of national and local Black history.

The Indianapolis Recorder diligently reported the activities of the civil rights movement. It profiled national figures, including A. Philip Randolph,Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Thurgood Marshall and John F. Kennedy. During the 1980s and 1990s, the Recorder continued itsextensive reporting of Indiana Black Expo and the Circle City Classic, two nationally-recognized events that take place in Indianapolis every year. In1990, William G. Mays, owner of Indianapolis-based Mays Chemical Co., purchased the Indianapolis Recorder to save a legacy. In 1993, the Journalism And Writing Seminars (JAWS) program was developed. JAWS is a program that allows area high school students the opportunity to receivehands-on training in the field of journalism.

In 1998, Mays’ niece, Carolene Mays, took the leadership role as Publisher and General Manager, with the challenge to give new direction and further elevate the publication for survival and success in the new millennium. Concentration immediately was placed on the reputation, quality, integrity and financial stability of the Recorder. A commitment was made to exceed the expectation of the readership, improve the quality of writing and appearance,strive for a zero defect paper, and actively support local community service efforts. Through the years the changes have been significant. They have included structured business policies and procedures, major production and technology advancements, financial restructuring, personnel reorganization,additional training and support, and building renovations. The changes also included the formation of the Recorder On Air Report (ROAR),a 1½-minute news roundup segment that airs locally several times a week.

The reconstruction of the newspaper focused on decreasing the amount of negative news and increasing the level of positive, educational and empowering news that would offer encouragement and support to the community. The Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper’s circulation increased by more than 200 percent and the readership has grown by 62 percent to nearly 100,000. The readership now outpaces that of other local weeklies, such as the Indianapolis Business Journal. The institution stays high in demand and on the cutting edge with creativity, innovation and a focus on the community. These concepts and changes have garnered successful direction and growth. The publication has received numerous awards nationally and locally,including the 2003 National Newspaper Publishers Association’s first place Merit Award for General Excellence, and in 2004 Best Layout and Design.The Recorder also won the Indiana Journalism Award in 2000 and the 2001 National Enshrinement Award in Washington, D.C., at which time the Recorder was placed in the National Black Archives.

The paper’s legacy:

— Since 1895, The Indianapolis Recorder has been a major voice for our local community, the state of Indiana, our nation, and now internationally. From the beginning, the Recorder has been an advocate for those who could not express their thoughts or concerns; we’ve also been a supplier of truth and justice. The vision of our founders was to create a publication that would speak to and for the people. The Recorder today continues to hold that original vision in high regard. We communicate in order to increase awareness, educate and motivate the community as well as preserve the community’s knowledge of relevant issues. The Recorder, as with other Black newspapers, are not only voices in the community, we are also advocates for African-Americans and minorities as well as the underserved.

Future plans:

Electronic media will continue to be a major focus for us. As our young people begin to move more and more towards the Internet, we will continue to expand electronically, reaching out to those who may not ordinarily pick up the printed paper.

— Another top priority for the Recorder is the work we do with local youth. Through our non-profit arm, the Indianapolis Recorder Charities, we’ll continue to expose high school students to the field of journalism by giving them hands-on experience and lessons from top journalists. We’ll also reach out through Indianapolis Recorder Charities to organizations with needs in the community, taking on more projects, not only through monetary donations, but also with a staff that has a great interest in reaching out and helping the community.

— The Recorder will also continue to grow in our collaborations. One of the major focus areas of this publication is to collaborate with other media, including digital print and electronic outlets. We will continue to build those collaborations, so the issues and concerns in the communities that we’re representing will be heard more broadly and more globally.

Contact info:
2901 N. Tacoma
Indianapolis, IN 46218

(317) 924-5143
(317) 924-5148 Fax

Wilma L. Gibbs, program archivist for African-American history at the Indiana Historical Society, contributed to this article.

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