Alumnus launches newspaper to tell Africa’s stories

The founder said the newspaper is in response to Western media misrepresenting Africa.

by Bryce Haugen

Ladu Jada Gubek is a Sudanese immigrant, poet, teacher, University alumnus and, as of this month, a newspaper publisher.

He’s also blind.

But to Gubek, that’s more of a physical barrier than a mental one, he said.

After developing the idea over the past year, the 2002 University journalism and English graduate launched New World African, his own newspaper. The first issue of the free bimonthly publication appeared on newsstands Nov. 2. The newspaper is distributed predominantly at businesses in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, which has many East African residents. It is also available at Coffman Union and in some suburbs.

Gubek said he strives to fill the paper with “fresh stories from Africa,” both good and bad, that mainstream media overlook.

“They don’t tell the success stories of Africa,” he said at his south Minneapolis office, tucked in a maze of conference rooms at a community center. “The Western media has misrepresented Africa for years.”

Among other content, the first issue, written with the help of several freelance journalists in the metro area and Africa, provides news about a plane crash in Nigeria, the Twin Cities’ mayoral elections and United Nations activities in Somalia. So far, Gubek said, he’s distributed 10,000 copies.

This isn’t Gubek’s first job in journalism. Over the past few years, he’s covered politics for Insight News, Minnesota’s largest black newspaper.

“(His blindness) comes across to me as an asset,” said Al McFarlane, the newspaper’s publisher, who once asked Gubek to review an Africa exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Gubek’s blindness, caused by the measles at the age of 10, provides him a unique passion and perspective, McFarlane said.

“What he desires himself as a person without sight is what he desires of all human beings who are deprived of human rights,” he said. “He says no barrier is acceptable, and he says it in his own life experience, and he says it in what he writes.”

Born in 1974 during a break in the decades-long Sudanese civil war, Gubek lived in relative peace in the mainly Christian south until 1984, when the truce with the Muslim-controlled central government collapsed.

Facing persecution for his religious beliefs, he said he fled to the north with his family “to save my life.”

“My entire life has been war,” he said. “When I was a teenager I developed awareness of the problem and began fighting in one way or another.”

As a youth, Gubek spoke out against rules that limited blind Christians’ access to social services, he said. But voicing those views, he said, made him a potential target for assassination.

So he came to America via an Ethiopian refugee camp, settling in Minneapolis so he could attend the University, use public transportation and live independently, he said.

He said he’s adjusting to his new job bit by bit, targeting advertisers ” New World African’s only revenue source ” and spreading word about the paper.

It’s not been easy, he said, but “things are coming along. I’m sure it will grow.”

Gubek faces an uphill battle, said Sherrie Mazingo, a University journalism professor who, in the 1970s, became the first black reporter for the Minneapolis Star.

“I think general advertisers will find it more advantageous and more feasible to advertise in the traditional black press,” she said.

Mazingo said that because the African immigrant community is quite small, market forces, rather than race, present his biggest challenges.

“The color of money is the color that matters,” she said.

Minneapolis-based real estate broker Cassandra Gooden placed two ads in the first issue of New World African. She said it’s been a sensible business investment, given the word-of-mouth way information spreads throughout the immigrant community.

“As the Somalian community grows here in Minnesota, it has been good for my business to educate people and get them into the housing market,” she said.

But with Minnesota’s three black newspapers all struggling, the market is likely too saturated for another paper, Mazingo said.

McFarlane, whom Gubek called a personal mentor, said he looks at the situation differently. Though they target a similar demographic, New World African isn’t a competitor per se, he said.

“The more voices the better,” he said. “That’s how you grow the market.”