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Uptown native Andre Brown managed to pull something positive out of the summer of pandemic and protest.
The 28-year-old deeply felt the contrast between the time he spent protesting against racist police violence and the time he spent self-quarantining because of the coronavirus. It left him inspired to take action. So he started writing.
“I’m sitting in the house and said, ‘I want to contribute,'” Brown recalled. “There’s a lot of stories to tell.”
Six months later, Brown is the editor in chief of the new Black Philadelphia Magazine, a citywide print publication covering local culture and community from a Black perspective. The first issue was published at the end of December. It focuses on arts and entertainment, though that won’t be all the magazine covers.
Black Philadelphia Magazine can be viewed online for free or a physical copy purchased online for $6. Open it to find ads for small local biz, a profile about cover star Jimmy DaSaint’s journey from gun violence and the drug trade to entrepreneurship, eight rising artists to check out and a piece on the city’s police reform working group.
Publisher James Williams called Black Philadelphia a mix between the Tribune and Philly Mag.
“That’s what we’re capturing,” Williams said. “Why can’t we have a publication that focuses on good, Black-owned stores like we see in Philadelphia magazine,” he added, referring to the magazine’s “Best of” lists.
In a city that’s 44% Black, the readership is there, Williams said.
A former Philadelphia Tribune writer turned political consultant, the 46-year-old publishes the Uptown Standard, another fairly new print publication targeting a niche audience.
While placing campaign ads as a consultant in community newspapers like the South Philly Review and Northeast Times, Williams noticed there wasn’t a publication that catered exclusively to the political news of his Uptown region — Northwest neighborhoods like Germantown, Mt. Airy, Cedarbrook and West Oak Lane.
He cofounded Uptown Standard one year ago with a co-publisher. The first 8-page issue, all black and white, came out just as the pandemic struck.
In the spring, the publication joined the News and Information Community Exchange run by WHYY, Billy Penn’s parent company. The mutual-aid journalism collaborative provides networking, training, advice, support, and soon, a monthly stipend to program partners.
Today, the paper runs 20 color pages and is distributed in 75 locations with a circulation of 3,000, Williams said. It’s driven by ad revenue from mom-and-pop shops who can’t afford to advertise in the city’s more mainstream publications, or don’t see the point in advertising citywide.
Brown, who lives in Ogontz, became one of the paper’s first writers. Then he pitched Williams the idea of a magazine.
Landing one of the first Parkway encampment interviews
Brown didn’t plan to go into journalism. “I was never a writer,” he explained. “I just knew how to write.”
After studying sports administration at Lock Haven University where he took a number of communications electives, Brown found a job coaching track and field at Martin Luther King high, the rival of his Germantown High alma mater.
Pushed by the summer’s events into storytelling, Brown got a tip about the James Talib-Dean Encampment on Ben Franklin Parkway and landed what he said was one of the earliest interviews with actual encampment residents, who had been skittish to talk to the media.
“I was lucky enough to interview them, which was tense,” Brown remembered. “They were really scared [to talk to a reporter].”
After the story ran in Uptown Standard, publisher Williams received congratulatory calls on a job well done, Brown said. “Then he started trusting me. And he said, ‘You want your magazine? You got it.'”
Brown launched Black Philadelphia Magazine “from the muscle,” he said. Hardly anyone wanted to be featured in the brand new mag at first. They didn’t know what it was.
“I thought at one point maybe I didn’t want a magazine because it was so hard to get people to want an interview,” Brown said. That changed when the first issue dropped, he noted. “Everybody’s calling for interviews. Everybody wants submissions.”
Next up: Podcast and a mag about high school sports
Williams, of Uptown Standard, said he’s noticed opportunities for print media in Philly neighborhoods that are majority people of color.
There are few publications that tell the story of the day, he said, while providing an outlet for neighborhood business advertisers. So he’s taking that model and building it out.
He’s planning to launch a local high school sports magazine with Brown, and a weekly podcast.
Black Philadelphia Magazine should start being sold at some storefront locations shortly, and North Philly residents can look out for a new North Philadelphia Standard around June, Williams said.
For his magazine, Brown wants to focus on telling the extraordinary stories of regular Philadelphians, the ordinary stories of Philly famous folks, and shifting the narrative about Black Philadelphia — which holds a special place in his heart.
Of the city, Brown said, “There’s no place like this in the world.”