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Unreal Deal

Even a Courier writer wonders what it's doing linked to the Trib.

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In early August, the New Pittsburgh Courier announced what they called a "historic partnership" with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Those who subscribe to the Sunday Trib will get a full year of the Courier along with it, and vice versa.

The partnership is obviously aimed at a circulation boost for both. But the Courier dating the Trib? For some, it's the equivalent of Tavis Smiley befriending Bill O'Reilly, given the Trib's parent -- right-winger Richard Mellon Scaife -- and the black community's Democratic and liberal base.

"The Courier ought to be ashamed of themselves for aligning with an old rag like the Tribune-Review," says City Councilor Sala Udin (D-Hill District). "I know [Courier founder] Robert L. Vann is turning over in his grave over that."

Maybe not. Vann was a staunch Republican when he began the Courier, having been an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention of 1924 and helping Republican candidate Calvin Coolidge become president. The paper was also unmistakably Republican, since blacks en masse were more in favor of the party that begat Abraham Lincoln.

Later, however, Vann did switch to the Democrat's side, as did most blacks, and it has pretty much remained that way until today (at least in theory, since there are many black elected officials who call themselves Democrats but vote Republican). Which is why some are confused about the New Courier deal.

"My assumption has to be that the deal has at least a marginal return for each entity," says Diotrophes Thomas, a Courier columnist. "Otherwise, it means that one or both papers are being run by idiots."

Stephan Broadus
, assistant to the Courier publisher Rod Doss, says the deal creates "added value to the readers, that's all." The Courier also created a new online edition this month.

But what of the strange pairing with a blatantly conservative newspaper?

"Quite honestly we haven't had anybody -- maybe one or two current subscribers -- who have declined the Trib, so I don't see that as an issue," says Broadus. "I read the Trib from time to time and they have some good African-American writers. You can talk about owners' and publishers' political leanings but they still put out a decent product."

According to Doss, it's just one of many partnerships they have pursued and will pursue in the future. Just before the Trib deal, the Courier linked up with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for another of their self-billed "historic partnerships" when the two jointly published a special edition for the national Urban League convention here in July.

Last year when the Sengstacke chain of black newspapers (including the Courier, the Chicago Defender, the Michigan Chronicle and the Memphis Tri-State Defender) was bought by Real Times, Inc., CEO Thomas Picou said he would be changing the papers' voices from liberal to his self-coined "conservative independence" (see News Briefs: "New Pittsburgh Courier Sale Imminent," Nov. 6, 2002). Broadus says, however, that Picou's earlier intentions have nothing to do with the Trib deal.

Says columnist Thomas, "It would be great if blacks were crawling out of the woodwork to praise [the Courier] for the decision, but we're not. I'm not overly enthused by the Trib's coverage of issues. However, the paper is good for spills ... and works great for paper-training dogs."

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