Jill Darden founded the Fort Worth Black News in 1997 when she was a new graduate from the University of Texas at Arlington.
Armed with her degree in broadcast journalism, she could not find any local news source that was covering her community without having a particular agenda.
“When I graduated, I looked for newspapers to answer questions I had,” Darden said. “What activities are going on, and how can I be a part of them? Who are the Black leaders, and what do we need to focus on?”
Because no publication at the time was answering those questions, she started one that did.
“Our mission is to inform and inspire – if we talk about a problem, we want to focus on solutions,” she said. “I don’t want to leave the readership without hope.”
UTA’s broadcast journalism program was, as Darden said, “training for writing for TV news – writing quickly and electronically.”
Over the years, she’s added virtual components to the written, first through cable television and now online with services that include streaming news and a digital publishing company. On the 25th anniversary of her business, she discussed how the business of news coverage has changed over a quarter of a century, and how some things stay the same.
“I was so young when I started,” Darden said. “The Fort Worth Black News and I grew up together. I feel I’m intertwined with the community. When the community hurts, I hurt.”
Darden credits her mother Chris Lott’s success as the editor and publisher of the Wichita Falls Black News when Darden was younger. Darden worked the delivery end of the business, keeping a dime of the 35 cents her mother charged for the paper.
“My mom helped me for nine years before she passed away,” Darden said. “She was my business partner, and she finished training me.”
The newspaper started as printed paper layout sheets that were glued onto a page with rubber cement.
“It took a lot longer, but it was fun,” Darden said. The paper’s transition to fully digital was delayed a little, she said, “because mom was really good at laying out by hand.”
The Fort Worth Black News transitioned, as most traditional newspapers have, when digital and social media came on the scene ––Darden now produces the monthly paper and uses a variety of social media to update readers between hard copy printing. Darden had the added advantage of previously adapting her print media into a cable television show, so she knew how to, as she said, “make my stories come to life.”
“Cable was a big thing 20 years ago,” she said with a laugh. The Fort Worth Black News ran as a local cable show in Fort Worth, and then on the Urban America Television Network for another 18 months. It was during the time her show was on the national network that she got to chat with media mogul Oprah Winfrey.
“It was Oprah’s Live Your Best Life tour at the convention center,” Darden recalled. “She told me that ‘God can dream a bigger dream for you than you can for yourself, so don’t put yourself in a box.’ ” Relatively newly graduated from college –“with the same degree that Oprah had!”– Darden says this was a big moment for her.
When I first started out, I was a young Generation X speaking to the generation ahead of me in life and their parents. We are living in a multigenerational marketplace now. Our readers range from boomers and older to millennials.”Jill Darden, publisher of Fort Worth Black News
Producing a physical paper along with a television show positioned Darden for the jump into the digital age. Over the past 25 years, Darden said, the demographics of Fort Worth – both age-wise and population-wise – have changed.
“When I first started out, I was a young Generation X speaking to the generation ahead of me in life and their parents,” Darden said. “We are living in a multigenerational marketplace now. Our readers range from boomers and older to millennials.”
Darden has found herself discussing systemic racism for over two decades, so the past few years haven’t really been surprising. She’s glad people are paying attention, and “they’re interested in doing what’s right.”
“I thought we were further along as a country than we were,” she said.
As the mother of a 14-year-old African American male, she’s had to have conversations that she hoped she wouldn’t.
“I thought we were past some of this,” she said. “I believe in good outcomes if we continue to do the work. I hope that we can make this a more tolerable, tolerant place before my son goes out in the world.”
The Fort Worth Black News 25th anniversary party is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 14 at Forest Hill Convention Center, 6901 Wichita St.
“We’re going to honor some people who have made a positive impact, and we’ll have vendor booths, music, some performers, and refreshments.” Coming out of the pandemic, Darden said that even having a slice of cake with supporters and friends is going to be a delight.
“In my 20s starting out, I thought about the long and great speech I might make in 20 years,” Darden said. “With all the changes and enduring my mom’s loss and the pandemic, I just say, ‘Thank God we made it.’”