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After 25 Years — And Despite A Pandemic — Wichita's Only Black Newspaper Continues To Thrive

Carla Eckels

For this month’s In The Mix, Carla Eckels speaks to The Community Voice.

It’s no secret that newspaper circulation has been declining in recent years. Black newspapers mirror trends in the industry overall — but there’s one paper based in Wichita that’s keeping its head above water.

In its 25 years of existence, The Community Voice has seen its share of ups and downs.

"Ours is one of the — up until COVID — was one of the few papers with a growing circulation," said Bonita Gooch, the paper's editor-in-chief and publisher.

Gooch decided to launch the paper statewide about five years ago. It can now be found in cities including Hutchinson, Topeka and Kansas City; it even crossed the border to Kansas City, Missouri, to meet a demand for the Black newspaper.

"We’re doing well (there)," Gooch said. "In fact, we have, I’d say, equal distribution in the Kansas City market as we have in Wichita."

Gooch says more newspapers could have been distributed, but since it’s a free paper, she limits it.

"If we can’t support it more with advertising, we weren’t going to put out more papers, but we could have because they just go," she said.

Even with a website, Gooch says many people still want the print edition of the biweekly paper.

"They do!" she said with a laugh. "We keep saying, 'Why don’t you read it online? Why don’t you read it online?' (because) then we can print less, which is less expensive.

"But our people just say they want to read the paper. 'We like hard copy and we just want to pick it up and hold it.'"

Credit Carla Eckels / KMUW
The Community Voice front pages from over the years.

Gooch says though revenue is down, the work is up. A couple of small grants have helped; a membership program is underway. The paper also includes special sections in hopes of gaining advertisers.

"We’ll do topics like financial freedom, we did one recently (called) 'You and the Law,'" Gooch said. "We’ll do health issues, because health, we talk about that in almost every issue because health is so disproportionality impacting our community and so we try to keep help in our pages. We talk business, a lot of things."

And Gooch says she appreciates any feedback she gets from readers.

"I was in Kansas City and I did (an issue) on homeownership last year," Gooch said, "and a lady walked up to me and she said, 'Thank you. I bought a home now because of you. I just want you to know that the homebuyers issue gave me the information I needed.'"

Credit Carla Eckels / KMUW
Gooch with coworker Elaine Guillory, who oversees graphic design and booking for The Community Voice.

The entire operation is run by Gooch's small staff of six, which includes one full-time reporter besides herself.

"Our team is a small hardworking team of people. This publication doesn’t, I don’t think, looks like the size of people who put it together," Gooch said. "I think that we put out a much bigger paper than what we really are and that comes with just everybody working hard to make it happen."

To gain more support, the staff is currently working on a year-long series on the criminalization of poverty "and how being poor disproportionally impacts people in the court system."

"This is a solutions journalism," Gooch said, "looking at answers to this issue."

These kinds of efforts reflect the newspaper's tagline: "A trusted voice from the community's perspective."

Credit Courtesy
A staff photo from 2000

"(Readers) trust us from over the years to deliver them something from their perspective that’s meaningful to them, so they understand it from, what does that mean to me? How does that affect our community?" Gooch said. "Yes, they’re increasing the property taxes, but what does that mean to me? What are we going to get for that? Yes, Medicaid expansion, but what does that mean to me? 

"So, we step back and really explain issues to our community and that’s why I think we have such a loyal following."

A following that's grown for 25 years — though Gooch acknowledges it didn't happen overnight.

"We had to build that up, you know," she said, "and we keep working to be better each and every issue."

It’s what Gooch strives for and attributes as part of her success.

"Too stubborn to quit," she said. "It’s a joy to do something that you feel like you are making an impact in the community and you feel like it’s meaningful. I get up every day, I love it, I love what I do."

Listen for a new In the Mix every month on KMUW's The Range

Carla Eckels is Director of Cultural Diversity for News and Engagement at KMUW. She produces and hosts the R&B and gospel show Soulsations and brings stories of race and culture to The Range with the monthly segment In the Mix. Carla was inducted into The Kansas African American Museum's Trailblazers Hall of Fame in 2020 for her work in broadcast/journalism.