Recap: Alexis Scott Shares Atlanta Daily World History on Family Business Radio

Alexis ScottWhen Alexis Scott visited Family Business Radio on January 12, 2012, she treated listeners not only to her wisdom about family businesses, but also to an important journalism history lesson. The newspaper she publishes as a third generation family member, the Atlanta Daily World, was the nation’s first black-owned daily newspaper in the 20th Century. As publisher and printer of 40 newspapers across the Southeast and beyond, the Atlanta Daily World played an important role in the modern Civil Rights Movement from its earliest days.

Nation’s first black-owned daily paper, first syndicated reporting

Ms. Scott’s grandfather, William A. Scott, II, was born in Mississippi. He earned a two-year degree from Jackson State College, then he came to Atlanta to attend Morehouse College. Afterwards, he worked one year as the only black clerk on the Jacksonville, Fla., to Washington, D.C., rail line. Family lore says that the white clerks would not speak to him, so he rode in silence for the full year. During that time, he realized that black people didn’t know a lot about black-owned businesses and whom to call for services. Mr. Scott published a Jacksonville, Fla., business directory to help them find each other in 1927. In 1928, he did the same for Atlanta.

While Mr. Scott had plans to publish similar directories around the region, some black Atlanta businessmen convinced him that an alternative newspaper was needed in the city. The Atlanta Journal and Atlanta Constitution—separate newspapers with separate owners in those days—operated under the “cultural mores of the time,” according to Ms. Scott, and covered little positive news about the black community. Mr. Scott founded a weekly paper, the Atlanta World, in 1928. By 1932, it had grown into a daily publication. As the Atlanta Daily World, it became the nation’s first black-owned daily newspaper in the 20th century.

But Mr. Scott did not stop with Atlanta. He also published the Birmingham World and the Memphis World. He employed his Atlanta printing press to produce 40 other weekly newspapers as well, spanning as far north as New Jersey, as far west as Texas, and into the Midwest as far as Michigan. Mr. Scott used each city’s local news for the front page of each paper, then consolidated the information on the inside, helping cities to share news. Because of this practice, he is credited as the first publisher, white or black, to syndicate content.

In 1934, shortly after returning from a trip to Havana, Cuba, where he planned to start a newspaper, he was killed in what would be called a drive-by shooting today. The family says he also had with him the paperwork to start a radio station, evidence that he was looking toward the future for ways to get news out to the nation’s African-American community. At the time of Mr. Scott’s death, Alexis Scott’s father was just 11 years old. Her father’s uncle, C.A. Scott, took over publication of the paper at the age of 26. He published the paper until 1997, when Alexis Scott became publisher.

A family affair

Through the decades, the Atlanta Daily World benefited from the involvement of many family members. Ms. Scott says the tragedy of her grandfather’s death pulled most of her grandfather’s eight siblings into the business to keep it going. One of the brothers held multiple Ph.D.’s and was more academically inclined than interested in the business, but even he wrote occasional columns for the paper. Other brothers helped with production and the presses, and the sisters also became involved.

Ms. Scott’s great-grandmother – the founder’s mother — came to work as a cashier and office manager. Ms. Scott’s grandmother was divorced from her grandfather at the time of his death and had worked for the Birmingham paper, but even she moved to Atlanta to help the business survive. Ms. Scott’s father grew up and was drafted into World War II, then returned to work for the paper as well.

After the founder’s death, shares of the business were split among his mother and siblings. As they passed away, they split their shares among their children. When Alexis Scott took over as publisher in 1997, the business had 25 shareholders.

Atlanta Daily World and the changing society

When blacks started going to World War II, black media highlighted the involvement of African-Americans and their support of the U.S. war effort. Ironically, black soldiers were fighting for rights abroad that they did not enjoy at home. The Pittsburgh Courier led the “Double V Campaign,” calling for victory abroad and at home. The idea was that blacks would help to secure freedoms overseas then come home and secure them here.

Ms. Scott says the movement during and following WWII was a precursor to the modern Civil Rights Movement. When the GIs returned from war, they were eligible for educational assistance. She says her father applied at Georgia Institute of Technology, knowing he would not be admitted, but testing the system. Blacks found other ways to test the system while continuing to pursue equal opportunities through court cases. They led voter registration drives. In the early 1950s, ministers in Atlanta organized a bus campaign. Blacks fought for equal access to public parks, equal pay for teachers and many other equalities. All of the efforts were reported on the front pages of the Atlanta Daily World.

Through these peaceful times, the Atlanta Daily World continued to do well from a business standpoint. However, once mass demonstrations began, advertisers threatened to pull their business if the demonstrations didn’t stop. Publisher C.A. Scott used his influence to try to stop the protests not only in the interest of his business but also because he thought the demonstrations were dangerous and people who were arrested would be negatively affected in the job market later. Of course, the movement was much larger than Atlanta, and the protests continued.

After desegregation, the Atlanta Daily World continued to serve the black community. Though strides were made in mainstream coverage, Ms. Scott says it took many years for the larger papers to see the value in covering all groups. Advertisers, however, were not as eager to spend money on a niche paper because they said the mainstream media now reached everyone. Many Atlanta Daily World reporters left the paper, too, seeking bigger audiences and more opportunities for advancement.

The paper had begun publishing only six days per week during WWII to save paper. Now, in 1970, it went down to five days per week, then four. The printing press, which was the same machine used in 1928, was closed in 1970. By the late 1990s, publication had diminished to two days per week. In 1999, when they introduced their website with daily content, the paper went back to weekly print editions in 2003.

Atlanta Daily World

Ms. Scott says she always had some involvement with the family business. Her dad was circulation manager, and she often went with him on Saturdays to collect money from the newsboys who delivered the paper.

She also was always aware of her family’s important role in the Civil Rights Movement. During her childhood, says the papers always published a spread during Black History Week. It would feature Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Carter Wilson, Abraham Lincoln, and her grandfather. The underlying message to her was that she was part of something big.

Ms. Scott attended Barnard College, a women’s college at Columbia University in New York City. She later become a journalist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A cousin once said when strangers asked her father why she didn’t come to work with the family, her father replied, “She’s in training.” However, he never said as much to her. It was after his death that she made the decision to join the family business.

Meanwhile, Ms. Scott moved from journalist to vice president of community affairs at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In her role, she met weekly with all department heads at the paper. Each gave an update and asked questions of the others, so she learned about all aspects of the business. Later, she worked four years as Cox Enterprises’ director of diversity. She traveled around the country overseeing diversity training and management development training as she sought to increase the hiring of women and people of color in Cox Enterprises businesses.

About five years after the death of her father, when her Great-uncle was failing in health, her cousin called and asked her to help the family business. The business had been incorporated in 1983 (previously being run under her grandfather’s estate). There was an informal board of directors, but there were no other formal business systems in place.

One of the first things Ms. Scott and her cousin did was to visit the Cox Family Enterprise Center at Kennesaw State University. Through the classes, she learned how to introduce business practices into the family arena. She also had outside experience, which she learned through seminars at the Cox Family Enterprise Center was a valuable asset.

Before joining the Atlanta Daily World, Ms. Scott said she was aware of some tensions and issues at the paper. She knew there was work to be done. The paper still looked the same as it had 30 years before. She learned that the advertising rates had not been raised in at least 10 years. The paper was still put together in the old-fashioned paste-up method.

After the board of directors named her chairman, she was able to institute more changes. Within two or three months they modernized the layout process. It took two or three more years before they got the software for full electronic production. Ms. Scott says her Great-uncle toured the facilities about a year before his death and was pleased with the changes in the way the paper looked (color had been added) and he “marveled” at the computers and modernization.

Ms. Scott says the decision to move from her role at Cox Enterprises into the family business was a big one. However, she knew the family strength that had come out of the tragedy of her grandfather’s death. She recognized their commitment to maintaining the newspaper, and she realized she would not be all right with it if she didn’t help.

Atlanta Daily World now and into the future

The Scott family now holds annual shareholders meetings, and the board of directors meets quarterly. Currently, the board is composed of family members representing two generations. Three of the five board members are in the business.

The paper still serves Atlanta’s black community, though Ms. Scott says that newcomers to Atlanta don’t know the story behind the paper. Black residents are not a separate community anymore, and have great representation in local political offices and in high-profile places such as sports and business. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also provides coverage for the black community.

However, Ms. Scott says the paper still plays a significant role in Atlanta media. Last September, she and her family were inducted into the inaugural class of the Hall of Fame for the Atlanta Press Club. It’s an honor they share with local media greats such as Ted Turner and Henry Grady. She says it’s good to get recognition for her family’s legacy.

While she says the newspaper industry faces a “scary” future, the Atlanta Daily World is  looking into potential strategic alliances in terms of new media so they can help their advertisers get more exposure. As with other newspapers, they still garner more money for print advertising than online advertising. They face the challenge of maintaining and growing while reader habits are changing.

They have found one new revenue stream through the licensing of their name for three news stands at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The stores carry the newspaper’s name, and the paper gets paid licensing fees based on the stores’ proceeds. In addition to the additional funds, the partnership also exposes consumers to the Atlanta Daily World brand.

Alexis Scott’s tips for family businesses

  1. Participate in programs and gain knowledge at the Cox Family Enterprise Center. Study how family businesses are different from other businesses.
  2. Apply business practices to your business. Don’t run your business like a club. Put governance systems in place.
  3. There’s no substitute for DNA.  If it’s on you, you’re going to do it. You just have to heed the call.

Subscribe to the Atlanta Daily World:
Visit Subscriptions are $52/year.

Contact Our Guest:
M. Alexis Scott

Atlanta Daily World
3485 N. Desert Drive
Suite 2109
Atlanta, GA 30344
Phone: 404.761.1114 ext. 18

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