With a quick swing, a crack of glass and a shower of Christian Bros. champagne, Mayor Tom Bradley last week christened the symbol of some ambitious plans by Publisher C. Z. Wilson for Wave Newspapers, which calls itself the nation’s largest black-owned weekly.
That symbol is a Goss Metro four-color offset press--representing a total investment of about $3.5 million--that replaced the letterpress that printed the Wave for 57 of its 66 years. Using that press, former UCLA Vice Chancellor Wilson, who with unnamed investors bought controlling interest in Wave Newspapers last March, intends to build the free-circulation, community-oriented paper into a catalyst for economic development.
Force in Community
“Unlike many small businesses, we can’t talk strictly bottom line, although we can’t ignore it either,” Wilson said in an interview. “We have to become a force for economic development in this community.”
Wave Newspapers publishes 14 editions with a controlled circulation of 250,000 in South-Central Los Angeles, Inglewood, Hawthorne, Westchester and Culver City.
(The Los Angeles Sentinel, which bills itself as the largest black-owned newspaper in the West, had a weekly circulation of 29,911 in March, 1984, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations in its most recent report on the weekly. All of the Sentinel’s circulation is paid, while the Wave’s is free.)
Although the newspaper circulates in communities with a large percentage of black residents, Wilson emphasized that the Wave sees itself as a multicultural newspaper and is carrying more news about the growing Latino and Asian populations in those areas.
The Wave also is planning to launch editions in new communities, possibly including Koreatown, Carson and Compton, Wilson said.
In addition to taking editorial stands, the Wave intends to promote economic development by acting as a sort of “broker,” Wilson said, bringing together the many participants needed to get a project moving.
For example, larger corporations can form joint ventures with small businesses in the area, he said. Another possibility might be staging job fairs with the Wave’s advertisers.
“We’re prepared to go out front with some planning and support” for such ventures, Wilson said. “We need to create an awareness of the opportunities in this community.
“We’re not talking about anything so visionary that no one can imagine it. We’re talking about very pragmatic things.”
To kick off its economic development campaign, Wilson said the Wave will hire two interns Jan. 1, and he challenged local businesses to “take the cue that we’re going to do something about creating opportunities for youths in our community.”
Until Wilson bought into the Wave, the paper had been without a publisher since Chester L. Washington died in August, 1983, at the age of 81.
Washington began building the Wave when he bought the Central News and Southwest News, two small South-Central Los Angeles weeklies, in the 1960s. Over the years Washington acquired or created several more weekly newspapers, adding “Wave” to most of the mastheads and varying editorial content and advertising in the different editions.
In 1984, Wave Newspapers had revenue of $7 million, and it has maintained a 30% annual growth rate over the last five years, Wilson said. He declined to reveal profit figures.
“The story of the Wave is the story of a small enterprise that’s determined to grow but remain in the context of its environment,” Wilson said.
Wilson said he hopes to double the company’s revenue in three to four years. Other plans during the next several years include:
- Increasing the combined editorial and advertising staffs from 24 to 50. Total employment is now 30 to 40.
- Adding sections on business and family news.
- Moving toward a mixture of free and paid subscriptions.
- Publishing special editions on the job market, education and health and hair care. A special edition on education was published last Wednesday.
Wilson dislikes the terms “throwaway newspaper” or “shopper” when applied to the Wave.
“I think we’re going to be much more than a throwaway. We already are,” he said.