Since 1934, the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder (MSR) newspaper has been committed to telling Black stories with honesty, integrity and optimism. When it originally started as two separate publications, the Minnesota Spokesman and the St. Paul Recorder, founder Cecil E. Newman recognized the lack of positive news coverage around his community and singlehandedly set forth to change that. Now, 87 years later, Cecil’s granddaughter Tracey Williams-Dillard has taken over as CEO and publisher, carrying on his legacy from their office in South Minneapolis.
The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder is the oldest Black-owned newspaper in the state of Minnesota and one of the longest-standing, family-owned newspapers in the country.
When MSR initially launched, one of the primary goals was to bring attention to the rich social scene within the Black community and to connect its readers to new opportunities in the process. “My grandfather was very good at finding positive stories, so he did a lot of social stories,” says Tracey. “A lot of his focus was [also] on his opinion page, and how he could right the wrong and try to help open doors for the African American community.”
Through multiple generations of involvement from family members, serving the community with honest journalism has remained at the forefront of the newspaper’s mission. “In terms of our integrity, it has taken us a really long way and allowed us to remain successful,” says Tracey. “From my grandfather down to myself, and my grandmother and my family in between, we all strived to make sure our values were held upon high standards.”
Tracy began playing an active role in the paper at a young age, sharing its uplifting message with others. She was only eight years old when she started working hands-on with the paper, and by the time she was 16, she was driving the paper to the printing press and later to the post office to be mailed out.
“My grandmother was big on wanting to bring us along as kids to kind of bring us into the fold so that we’d get used to the climate, so that hopefully one day one of us would be interested in taking [the paper] over,” explains Tracey, citing her early memories as highlights from her longtime involvement with MSR.
Over time, the newspaper has expanded its print format to a digital platform as well. Their online presence offers convenience and accessibility, especially for younger readers. To keep the news timely and relevant, Digital Editor Paige Elliott keeps the website updated daily. “When we put the information out there, [Paige] is able to keep it fresh and keep what’s going on right now relevant,” says Tracey. “The online has a lot more of a youth-oriented slant to it, because [youth] are digital. On our website, we try to have a balance for the younger readers and the older readers.”
While MSR shares stories of all kinds, articles that showcase Black-owned businesses have been particularly well-received. These stories cover interviews with owners, getting their perspective on what their business offers, any specialties they have and how they got started. Published almost weekly both on online and in print, readers look forward to learning about businesses and services they can support in their local community.
For those just starting a business, Tracey advises practicing patience, starting out small and choosing a location that’s close to your clientele. Once you’ve established a customer base, gradually expand from there. “Slowly start to bring new items in,” says Tracey. “Once people get in the habit of wanting to come to your venue, then you can grow. Try not to start big and overprice yourself trying to stay in the marketplace.”
That mindset has served MSR well as the newspaper is now a relied upon source of news that creates community connection, all sprouting from the values it was founded on 87 years ago.
Explore more inspiring stories from other featured business owners.