THE WEST SIDE’S MOST POPULAR & WIDELY READ NEWSPAPERS ARE THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE
The mayor says he reads it. Cops and crooks don’t always like it, but they wouldn’t miss an issue. A generation of West Side schoolchildren grew up on it. All contenders for local office make it their first stop before announcing their candidacies. And, for more than two decades, it has been the source of assistance and advocacy for readers seeking help with all manner of problems.
THE AUSTIN VOICE, the crusading newspaper that won the Ethics In Journalism Award from the Chicago Headline Club for exposing chronic corruption in the 15th police district resulting in the conviction of officers known as the Austin 7, built a reputation since its founding in 1985 battling drug dealers and violent street gangs in the face of police and political indifference on Chicago’s tough West Side.
“We are the people’s voice on the West Side,” says founder and publisher Isaac Jones. “That’s why we started THE AUSTIN VOICE and that’s our most important role today, even as issues change.”
It is as the people’s voice that THE AUSTIN VOICE is the only newspaper ever presented the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Drum Major For Justice Award by the Southern Christian Leadership Council.
In January 2005, THE AUSTIN VOICE opened s new chapter, launching a sister newspaper – THE GARFIELD-LAWNDALE VOICE – and began a weekly publishing schedule for both newspapers. “Although THE AUSTIN VOICE has served East and West Garfield Park and North Lawndale since the beginning 21 years ago, the dynamic growth of these neighborhoods makes it appropriate for them to have their own newspaper with its own name,” says Jones.
THE VOICE Newspapers are often referred to as models of the new, interactive Civic Journalism concept for its involvement in West Side affairs as a partner and advocate of its readers in finding solutions to community problems.
In addition to fighting drug dealers, gangsters, and dirty cops, THE AUSTIN VOICE was the first West Side newspaper to warn readers about the impending AIDS epidemic about the engulf its readership. Chicago’s West Side communities have some of the highest HIV infection rates in the city. THE VOICE founded the Westside HIV/AIDS Regional Planning Council (WHARP) and served for four years on the city’s HIV Prevention Planning Group (HPPG), battling for money and programs to protect its readership against the deadly disease.
THE VOICE is also a founding member of the 25th District Police Steering Committee, pressuring the city to crack down on illegal private clubs, unlicensed taverns, in addition to freeing neighborhoods of the ever-present drug dealers and violent scourge of street gangs.
THE VOICE joined ministers and civic leaders in forming OPERATION SALVATION to provide support and advocacy for youth at risk. Newspaper staff members taught life experiences classes to Austin High School students. “We want to be involved in everything worthwhile in our community,” Jones says. Most recently, THE VOICE put its editorial muscle behind efforts to build the city’s first Wal-Mart store in Austin, against stiff union opposition.
The African American owned VOICE Newspapers were founded by ten local residents without personal wealth at a time when no one was investing in any projects on Chicago’s West Side, especially in a risky newspaper venture. “We started the newspaper on faith and a shoestring,” recalls Jones. “Each edition was paid for by small black and white business owners buying advertising. The advertisers had to pay the freight because we had no other money.”
It’s still the same today: small West Side businesses dominate THE VOICE Newspapers with their ads because ads in THE VOICE make their cash registers ring.!
At the beginning, even their printer gave THE VOICE less than a 20% chance of succeeding. Jones notes that 20% was still higher than the odds the newspaper’s founders gave themselves. “Some force must want us to accomplish something,” he says, sounding almost like a preacher. “Whether this is spiritual or not, I don’t know. But, it has brought us this far and it keeps us going day by day. Now we’ve doubled our bets by publishing two newspapers instead of one and we are printing them weekly. So, we don’t have a lot of time for looking back; we are too busy telling the great stories of the people of the new West Side!”