T he ink was hardly dry on the last edition of The Washington Star when publishers began moving to fill te void left by the afternoon newspaper. The suburban Journal newspaperannounced they would begin to publish five days a week. The new publisher of Teh Baltimore Sun, Reg Murphy, advised Washingtonians that they were "not losing a Star, but gaining a Sun."
A couple of questions remain unanswered, though, even as the rush to supplant The Star continues: Can't Washington, a 70-percent black city, support a quality black-oriented newspaper? If The Star, as many say, was important to the black community, then wouldn't it be logical that a black-oriented venture fill that void?
The Afro-American, the city's major black-oriented newspaper, has not announced any expansion plans. Neither has Calvin Rolark's Informer. Eugene Garner, publisher of a thin tabloid called the Washington Talk, announced plans to go daily with a paper called the Washington Call -- but Garner has planned to go daily before, and has not yet been able to bring it off.
A new group, headed by public relations specialist Ofield Dukes, a former aide to the late Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey, has made plans to begin a newspaper that would aim for a much larger slice of Washington's relatively affluent black community than any other black-oriented local publication has reached in years. The organizers say the venture is not in response to the death of The Star, but rather an attempt to do something that has been needed for a long time.
"We've been working on this for a year," Dukes said. "We're very, very busy doing this, and it will come off. It's just a matter of timing."
Dukes said his project, a twice-weekly newspaper focusing on Washington's black community, is not intended to compete with the existing local black press. He said, rather, that he hopes to reach the black readers who do not read black publications. He figures that there are a million potential readers out there; the question is how to grab them.
"If you don't have a publication that meets the interest needs of people, then people don't read it," he said. "The resources are here. Washington is the communications capital of the world. You can find some of the best young talented writers from Howard University. This is one of the best advertising markets in the country."
The idea, he said, is to produce a publication that would compete in quality more with established newspapers like The Post than with the rest of the black press. The emphasis would be on sophisticated reporting and commentary that would better reflect the "changing needs of the readers" than current black-oriented publications.
"If you understand the role of the black press as leadership, advocacy for change, full service, excellent coverage of the community -- that's something we haven't had in Washington for a long time."
Why not? "That's a puzzling question," Dukes said. "The Afro has its own internal problems. And you've got to keep up with the readers."
Key to the problem of starting a black-oriented newspaper is the question of finances: any newspaper must secure enough of a circulation base to justify advertising rates that can sustain the venture.
Dukes has an idea on this point as well: selling one of the paper's two weekly editions like any other publication, and distributing the other issue free to an increased number of households. Free distribution of one issue a week would guarantee circulation, which advertisers translate into potential buyers for their products. Dukes calls this kind of arrangement "the wave of the future for the black press."
Eventually, he hopes, the newspaper could branch out into cable television, a national news service, and other ventures. But first it's got to survive. Dukes is confident, but the recent history of the black press here and across the nation suggests that it won't be easy.