Pine Bluff entrepreneur and activist Michael McCray and veteran Arkansas political and business journalist Wesley Brown this week launched an online news outlet, Arkansas Delta Informer, with a mission to portray Pine Bluff and the Arkansas Delta as a region primed for economic development and cultural tourism.
McCray and other unrevealed investors unveiled arkansasdeltainformer.com on May 14 as Pine Bluff’s only Black-owned independent news portal. Brown, a former Tulsa World and Stephens Media journalist who is now publisher of the Daily Record in Little Rock and Black Consumer News, his own online portal, was named publisher and executive editor of Arkansas Delta Informer and is working to hire an editor.
McCray, trained as a lawyer, has an extensive media and marketing background and has been active in his native Arkansas ever since returning from serving in Washington with the Clinton administration. “As a community advocate, I saw we were having a problem, and it was really mainly bad news.” Actual news reports of crime, drugs and poverty combined with bad word of mouth to present “what didn’t appear to me to be a full picture of what was going on in my community,” McCray said.
And while he said the Delta Informer won’t shy away from bad-news topics, it won’t be interested in reporting a daily tally of stabbings, shootings and mayhem. “We will look at these issues from a different perspective, perhaps an ultimate viewpoint.”
Brown, who will continue his other jobs, said there’s a clear need for positive stories. He plans to write some, identify others for other staffers and build up coverage. He expects to devote about 10 hours a week to the new endeavor, which is raising startup capital for a full-time editor, reporters and a freelance budget.
“We wanted to have a fuller story, that Pine Bluff and the Delta are rich with culture and heritage, full of landmarks, music and dance, and history,” McCray told Arkansas Business in a telephone interview Tuesday. “We want people to see that, and to see this is a great area to visit or settle or do business.”
The Delta Informer also plans to seek associate membership with the Arkansas Press Association over the next year as an online news organization.
“I’m always looking for more money,” McCray joked when asked about the venture’s financing. “We do want to have a model that will include investment from the community, and we have some investors coming in. I just don’t want to get too deep into finances. Our model is to allow for members of the community to invest, but their will also be a tier of ownership included.”
McCray said that a few years ago “a major investor said that the biggest detriment to outside investment in Pine Bluff” was negative “if it bleeds, it leads” reporting. He said coverage has improved somewhat since the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette subsumed the daily Pine Bluff Commercial two years ago, folding it in as part of the bigger statewide paper.
Still, news consumers do not get enough alternative viewports, he said. “Our goal is to bring better news and improve media literacy in our community." He said Brown will develop the new website’s local, state, regional, and national news coverage, focusing on “unbiased and upbeat stories about the region's people, places, politics, and cultural peculiarities.
“We’re a mainstream outlet for news, just with a different perspective,” Brown said in a phone interview, taking a contrarian view to McCray’s description of the Delta Informer as a modern heir to fabled black newspapers of the 20th century like the Chicago Defender, the Memphis World and, of course, the Arkansas State Press, led by Daisy and L.C. Bates. “Lack of diversity in Arkansas newsrooms is a real problem,” the former Hope Star reporter said; for years, he was the only black reporter at the Tulsa World.
“I’ve been working on the Informer project for about a month, working with a web developer, helping to build the site and finding news sources,” said Brown, who switched primarily to business and financial writing in the 1990s. His Brown on Business column was once a weekly feature in the Pine Bluff Commercial.
“I am going to work with the Arkansas Delta Informer to help them to get advertising and hire an editor and a couple of freelancers. I’m going to write some stories,” Brown said. The alternate perspective is crucial these days, he said. “Look at the news out there now: Buffalo shooting, critical race theory, voter ID. Mainstream media haven’t done a good job conveying how harmful this is to Black people. To have a former president going around telling lies about how the election was stolen. Black voters are getting hurt, and white reporters and the white media are not doing a good job telling the story.”
McCray said that plenty of U.S. destinations that draw tourists and dollars with their casinos, shows, restaurants and hotels have problems similar to Pine Bluff’s, but their images don’t take the same toll on their bottom lines.
“Let’s look at Hot Springs, New Orleans, Las Vegas, all places where people go to be entertained, to spend money on leisure, to enjoy great food and great music. These places also happen to be some of the most dangerous places in America. We get coverage painting us as dangerous, but not the coverage about our good, our music, the cultural history and Civil War history. That part is missing. The part where Pine Bluff and the Delta are good places to do business gets left out. And that means nobody wants to visit, nobody wants to invest if the slant is constantly negative.
“The editorial angle we’ll take is what local people are trying to do about these problems.”