In His Own Words: Bernie Foster, Publisher, The Skanner News Group
Drawing on his experience as a freelance photographer and advertising executive, Bernie Foster published the first issue of The Skanner in 1975. More than 30 years later, The Skanner continues to be an integral information source among communities of color.
With a readership of 75,000, The Skanner reports news, entertainment, business and sports. Foster, a past two-term president of the West Coast Black Publishers Association and a member of the National Newspapers Publishers Association, launched The Skanner’s Seattle edition in 1990.
Over the years, The Skanner has won many accolades from the West Coast Black Publishers Association and the National Newspapers Publishers Association. The Skanner News Group also won the Small Family Business of the Year Award in Oregon from the Austin Family Business Program at Oregon State University.
Also an important part of The Skanner News Group is The Skanner Foundation, a nonprofit involved in promoting education through scholarships and technological training.
In His Own Words, Bernie Foster talks about The Skanner’s creation story and accomplishments.
“Information is a Catalyst for Action”
Our mission statement for The Skanner is “Challenging people to shape a better future now.” Not tomorrow, not next week, not next year – NOW. We believe that what people have to say is important and they deserve to be heard. Information is a catalyst for action, and often results in changes. You may or may not like that change, but that’s what the spread of information does.
Just like the weatherperson that tells you there’s going to be clouds and rain. It’s up to you whether you want to wear a raincoat. What you do with the information is up to you. That’s the power of sharing information: it can bring about change.
We always try to publish stories that have the potential to impact the greater good. As publisher, you’d think I’d have the last say-so for the paper, but I don’t. I have reporters and editors that are good at what they do, and all are very strong-willed. I ask them: what’s the greater good?
A Voice for People of Color
I got started in newspapers because I wanted to take pictures. Our neighbor ran a newspaper called The Crusader. I had a brand new camera, and I began taking pictures at high school games. The first time I got a photographer’s pass, I felt like I was Big Cheese. The editor showed me how film was developed. That was fascinating, to see pictures come alive before my eyes.
I was in the service for eight years. I was in Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan and Seattle. In Seattle, I made a deal with an editor of a black paper. I told him that if he buys the film and give me a press pass, I can take pictures and get them developed. I was in the Air Force, and had every Thursday off. I did a lot of sports photography for the paper.
I sold advertising for a paper in Seattle in the 1960s. I got really good at it. I understood the market and what people wanted. I worked in advertising for about nine years and managed to work my way up to second-in-command. I helped start newspapers, and created relationships with businesses that wanted to reach out to black folks. I got to know a whole lot about the newspaper business.
When I decided to start The Skanner, the goal was to have a voice for people of color. There wasn’t a really strong voice for our community. I also wanted to show that people of color can run a newspaper that is of high quality.
Taking a Stand
Understanding the community was the most important element of starting The Skanner. At first, it was important not to take on anything too controversial. All that we did was a lot of positive stuff, light stories. I was still learning the community.
One of the first things I did was ask people, “Who are the three most important people in the black community, people I should get to know?” Then I asked: “Who should I stay away from?”
|The Skanner News Group won three honors at the 2008 National Newspaper Publishers Association national convention. Pictured from left: John Smith, Sr. NNPA President; Dorothy Leavell, Chairwoman of the NNPA Foundation; Mario Price; Bernard V. Foster, publisher of The Skanner; Larry Waters, Miller Brewing Company; Danny Bakewell Jr., publisher, The Los Angeles Sentinel; Dawne Gee, NBC 3-TV news anchor; and James A. Washington, publisher, The Atlanta Voice.
What I did was go to the three named “worst” people first. To this day, I still talk regularly with these folks.
The people I was told to stay away from are the ones who are doing important, cutting-edge things. They were doing things that people have issues with.
I have a great respect for people who stand for and advocate for something. I may not always agree with what they’re advocating for, but the important thing is that they stand by their values.
Too many people straddle the line and take no issues. They are like leaves on a tree, blown by the direction of the wind. I guarantee you that they’re going nowhere, because they want to be everything to everybody.
The Skanner has been around for over 30 years. This is a constantly changing business. Newspapers are doing a 180 degree turnaround to stay profitable. In our business, I make decisions based on what’s best for the group. The prime consideration is what’s good for our readers, to give them a better product everyday. We want our readers to get a better understanding of the issues, so that they can make informed decisions.
Life is always a challenge. I don’t believe in resting on my laurels and growing complacent. I also don’t believe that one really ever “makes” it. If you become complacent, I guarantee that someone else will come along and steamroll right through you.
Summer 2008 Colors of Influence ||
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