Still Standing: ‘The Weekly Challenger’ celebrating 46 years of service
By Staff Writer
The Weekly Challenger is an African-American owned newspaper in print since 1967. Mainly serving Pinellas County, Florida, it has thrived as a folksy paper that publishes news that the larger daily papers ignore.
The late publisher Cleveland Johnson, a native of Thomasville, Ga., started working as a salesman in the early 1950s for the Weekly Advertiser owned by M.C. Fountain. After years of working under Fountain, Johnson acquired the business in 1967, changed the name and rebranded it as a weekly newspaper catering to African-American news in the Tampa Bay area.
During the first two decades of ownership, Johnson expanded the paper from just a few pages to 32, eight of them in color, seven with full-page advertisements. The paper closely followed events related to school desegregation, and kept up with national corporations, noting which ones would hire Black employees. When Johnson died in 2001 at the age of 73, obituaries were published in newspapers as far away as Honolulu, Hawaii.
After his death, his widow, Ethel Johnson, stepped in as publisher. Now 12 years later, The Weekly Challenger is still the voice of the black community in Pinellas County, and after a cavalcade of general managers, Johnson’s youngest daughter, Lyn Johnson, has taken over as publisher.
Since her short time at the helm, becoming manager in February of 2012, Johnson has brought readership up by focusing strictly on community news, adding national news only to the website.
“If you want national news, turn on your computer or television,” said Johnson, “but if you want to read news about what’s going on outside your front door, then pick up a Challenger.”
Since the more aesthetic re-design, which took effect in September of 2012, Johnson continues her plan to bring the Challenger into the 21st century. She aims to strengthen its online presence by adding more interactive features to the newly designed website and introducing video news clips.
“I hope to continue the legacy my father built for years to come and to ensure that the voice of the local African-American community is not stifled.”