Bernal Smith is bringing the Tri-State Defender, a Memphis newspaper that played an important role in the Civil Rights Movement, into the 21st century. In less than a year as president and publisher of one of the longest-running papers for African-American news, he’s rolled out a social media strategy that has helped increase the paper’s sales by 15 percent.
Bernal Smith is making history … by adapting tradition to modern-day technology. Formerly CEO of HR consulting firm B.E. Smith and Associates, Smith had no experience in publishing when he came to the Tri-State Defender in 2010. He acclimated himself quickly – forming a partnership with WMC-TV Action News 5 within his first three months that enhanced news coverage, increased opportunities for joint marketing, and improved awareness of the Tri-State Defender brand.
He has also instituted a social media strategy, including a Facebook page, digital version of the paper, and Twitter account, to reinforce the paper’s position as the print and digital voice of the African-American community of the Tri-State Area — an area that includes Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi — with a circulation that now numbers 36,000.
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What’s next for Bernal?
In August 2010, Smith announced plans to introduce a sister publication called Who’s Who in Black Memphis, which will feature the community’s most influential African-Americans. As Associate Publisher of this networking/resource guide, Smith will unveil the first issue in February 2011.
In his own words …
“It is time to build a bridge, using [the newspaper’s] history as our foundation, to a dynamic and impactful future where the Tri-State Defender is well recognized as the true voice and vehicle for issues impacting, affecting and certainly improving the lives of African-Americans of all ages.” Smith wrote in a Tri-State Defender editorial in 2010.
A little-known fact …
The first African-American newspaper was The Freedom’s Journal, published in 1827 – the same year slavery was abolished in New York State.
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