LA Sentinel turns 90. How’s the paper faring in today’s media landscape?

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A reception desk is seen at the Los Angeles Sentinel. Photo by Shutterstock.

For 90 years, the Los Angeles Sentinel has been a voice for the city’s Black community, who felt ignored by mainstream outlets. It was — as the word ‘sentinel’ indicates — keeping watch on the city’s institutions and businesses, and how they treated the Black residents. 

“The Sentinel was not just a paper… not just giving you information about life in Black neighborhoods,” recalls Erin Aubry Kaplan, author and contributing opinion writer at the Los Angeles Times. “But [it] also was a political arm. It was a whole movement.”

Kaplan, whose father Larry was an influential columnist at the Sentinel for decades, remembers when the newspaper filled a vital niche in the LA media landscape, one that she believes it struggles to still meet today. It was once influential enough to mobilize its readers to boycott businesses that wouldn’t hire Black people. Now its staff of reporters, editors, and columnists is smaller, yet the needs of the Black community to be represented in journalism remain great.

“It's not just the community. It’s issues, it’s matters of race… which are now … part of everybody's lives, are in all of our politics,” explains Kaplan. “LA, which is really large and always [has] been hard to cover … we don't have enough coverage.”

Kaplan believes there is great resistance from conservatives to the idea that racial issues, and Black issues, are connected to the lives of all Americans. This might explain why trust of local media among white Americans is actually lower than among Black Americans, according to a study from Pew Research

“Maybe because the media lately, the mainstream media … it's been so demonized … and Black folks certainly know how that feels,” opines Kaplan. 

However, it’s uncertain whether Black readers will keep turning to the Sentinel in the future. Much depends on whether a difference remains in how the mainstream media covers Black people in the city. It was a difference that was once vast enough to enable the Sentinel to find a sizable readership. 

“It'd be great if we didn't need a Black press at all. If the country was covered as one country with racial dynamics being part of the country,” says Kaplan. “But we're still working towards that.”