Though the city is no longer fueled by steel industry taxes, and no longer ranks third in its number of corporate headquarters, in the more than 40 years Rod Doss has been with the New Pittsburgh Courier one thing hasn’t changed, the newspaper’s commitment to the community and to the product.
“It was a very uplifting experience to be in an environment with people so dedicated on a daily basis,” Doss recalled of his early days at the Courier. “They didn’t seek accolades. They were there to do the best job they could. It was very serious, very focused.”
When Doss joined the New Pittsburgh Courier in 1967, he knew nothing about the newspaper business, but he knew sales—and that’s why he was asked to come on board.
“I was recruited. I was working at Freedman’s Menswear store when Jackson T. Wright approached me about advertising sales,” he said. “I didn’t know anything, but I learned from everyone. They were happy to give their time, knowledge and expertise, and shaped me into a very effective salesman. That’s the real story—the people.”
Thanks to people like Wright, Jimmy Drake, Johnny Johnson—his wife Tokie Johnson, Bill Nunn Jr., Jim Lewis, Lucille Johnson, Hazel Garland and Carl Morris, Doss said he gained valuable life experience and learned about editing, graphic design, page layout, as well as sales.
More recently, Doss attributes the paper’s success to the current staff and his reliance upon his longtime associate and friend, Stephan Broadus, assistant to the publisher. “Stephan brings an industrious passion for the newspaper business,” Doss said. “I have accomplished so much more because of his able assistance.”
And of course, there was John Sengstacke, who created the New Pittsburgh Courier after the original Courier went out of business in 1966.
“I learned a lot from him, about everything,” said Doss. “Just an incredible man, the history of the New Pittsburgh Courier is largely his. He owned it from 1966 until 1997. Were it not for him, none of us would be here. It’s just that simple.”
And with such able assistance, Doss quickly progressed at the Courier, being promoted to advertising manager in 1970 and to vice-president of advertising in 1978. In 1983 he was named vice-president and general manager, and in 1997 he was named editor and publisher, the title he continues to hold today under the ownership of Real Times Media Inc.
Along the way, there have been the inevitable challenges. But Doss likes to say that challenges are opportunities—and Doss’ response to business challenges led to some of the most successful and profitable initiatives in the paper’s history. Perhaps, the most important of these occurred early on in his tenure when he got top management of the paper to change the paper’s publication from its historic Thursday publication date to Wednesday.
“It eliminated the resistance we had had from stores who said we came out too late for their weekend sales,” said Doss. “Once we did that Kaufmann’s, Gimbles, Hornes, Sears, A & P, and Kroger, which had been reluctant before, recognized the value of the Courier as an outlet.”
The Courier also put out “Touch of Fashion” sections in the Spring and Fall, which increased revenue from clothing designers and retailers, but, as with all Courier initiatives, there was more to it.
“Not only did it let these fashion houses know there was a readership here that was very fashion conscious, it was also a vehicle for employment because it opened doors for Black models.”
The Courier also sponsored an annual Top Hat Awards dinner that, depending on the theme, celebrated the achievements of Black military officers, millionaires, politicians, or medical professionals.
“That was Carl Morris’ idea, and it became one of the premier events in the city,” said Doss.
But not every initiative worked. A Tab called “The Entertainer,” couldn’t generate the advertising needed to keep it. And as corporations began to leave the city, retailers failed, merged or consolidated, sponsorship for many of those initiatives dried up.
But more recently, the Men of Excellence, Women of Excellence and the Fab 40 events and editions have proven highly successful. And because they involve nominations from readers, the community is involved and has a stake in the product.
The New Pittsburgh Courier still develops the news and issue driven campaigns, like the Double V and Anti-Lynching campaigns run by the original Pittsburgh Courier, aimed at engaging the community.
Among these were; the alignment with the Black Political Empowerment Project effort to get African-Americans to vote in every election, and more famously, the campaign to elect Byrd Brown as Pittsburgh’s mayor.
“That campaign didn’t really start that way. It grew out of a spread we did asking, ‘Why not a Black mayor?’ that highlighted several potential candidates,” said Doss. “But it was taken on by people in the community and some very serious, high-level meetings were held, and they chose Byrd.”
Currently, the New Pittsburgh Courier continues its campaign to stop Black-on-Black violence, with a death toll updated monthly, features on victims, survivors, neighborhood costs and initiatives to stop the violence.
“The issues may change, but the mission remains. As you’ve heard me say time and again, those words of John B. Russwurm, ‘Too long others have spoken for us, today we plead our own cause,’” said Doss.
“We are the counterpoint to others who would try to define us as a people and a community. We get to showcase people doing extraordinary things, who otherwise would not be recognized. There’s a lot out there that’s yet to be celebrated.”
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