Cloves Campbell had something to say about Simone Biles quitting the Olympics this week.
“She’s black, but she’s an American first,” said the publisher of The Arizona Informant, the local newspaper that's celebrating its 50th year serving the state’s African American community. “When the mainstream media reported that, they were reporting on her because she’s an icon, and not because she was standing up for herself, or for women, or for Black women. We see stories that never make it to the mainstream media that are just as important as this, and that’s why we’re here.”
We're living in an era in which more white Americans are contemplating racism, but Campbell claimed his paper hasn’t given any new column inches to the topic. “It’s an issue we’ve been talking about for decades, if not for several hundred years,” he said. “So if we’re doing anything, we’re being more diligent in letting people know that racism isn’t something new.”
But the Informant, which Campbell’s father co-founded in 1961 as a way of promoting unity among Black people and to give coverage to their stories, has seen a recent uptick in its circulation, Campbell says — even as mainstream print journalism continues to struggle.
“These days, more people are looking for more truth about Black people,” he said. “Readers obviously think of a Black newspaper as a source they can trust on that topic.”
His dad, he knows, would have been pleased by this paradox. “He was the guy always walking around with a camera,” said Campbell, “which was a novelty at the time, as a lot of people didn’t have cameras back then. This was before he started this newspaper, and before he went to work for [African-American newspaper] The Arizona Sun as a reporter. He noticed that people liked having their pictures taken, and if you took their picture they would talk to you about what was going on in their world.”
Campbell’s father noticed that these stories weren’t being told in local dailies of the time. The only time Black people were in the newspaper, he felt, was when they’d committed a crime.
“So he and my uncle Charles went to a man who had started this paper in 1958 called The Arizona Informant, but he’d only published a few issues,” Campbell recalled. “They said, ‘We want to buy your newspaper,’ and he sold it to them for a dollar. My dad was the editor and the photographer, and Uncle Charles was the bean counter.”
Campbell warmed to newspaper work, eventually writing for the paper. After his father and uncle passed away, he took over as publisher.
The Informant has logged its share of local milestones. Its staff rallied in 1992 to get Martin Luther King Jr. Day recognized as a proper holiday. It was one among a few businesses that last year called for the removal of Confederate monuments in Arizona.
“But my dad was most proud of getting Evan Mecham out of office,” Campbell said of the reviled governor who was recalled in 1988. “That was a victory not only for the Black community but the whole state.”
His father served four years in the state House of Representatives and became the first Black Arizona state senator in 1966, always focusing on civil rights issues in local communities. Cloves, Jr. had a lot to say about the ongoing absence of African American representation in the state Senate.
“It’s a problem that still hasn’t healed,” he said. “We look at the House of Representatives, and we see two Black members out of 151. Black people vote white people into office all the time — why can’t it work the other way?”
Other things have been slow to change, as well. The Informant’s motto is “98% of Our News You Won’t Find in Any Other News Media in Arizona,” a slogan born of that old truth about mainstream media coverage of the Black community. “The daily news doesn’t really consider what’s going on in the African American community until you have Jesse Jackson come to town to scream at Kyrsten Sinema,” Campbell sighed. “If a national figure hadn’t come, there wouldn’t have been any coverage of that sit-in against her.”
It’s not lost on Campbell that if media were more inclusive, he might be out of a job. He figures that as long as Black stories remain marginalized, the Informant has the same responsibility it held 50 years ago.
“We’re here to teach things Arizonans aren’t getting in schools or newspapers,” he said. “It’s Black history from Black perspective, and it’s all stories you didn’t know you didn’t know.”