The Challenger, USFSP Poynter Library strengthen partnership

Cleveland Johnson, Jr.


BY JAMES A. SCHNUR, Contributor

ST. PETERSBURG — Thanks to the efforts of Rep. Darryl E. Rouson, The Weekly Challenger and the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg (USFSP) have established a partnership to preserve the newspaper’s archives and sustain African-American newspapers throughout Florida. An upcoming event celebrates this collaboration.

Monday, Nov. 7, the Poynter Library will host a reception to celebrate the donation of historical newspaper issues and photographs from the Challenger. Rouson will be recognized for his leadership to secure funding for the initiative, along with members of the Johnson family for their efforts to publish the newspaper since its inception in 1967. The reception will take place in the library’s atrium at 1 p.m.

twc_johnson01Catherine Cardwell, dean of the library, will welcome those in attendance. USFSP Regional Chancellor Sophia Wisniewska and Poynter Institute President Tim Franklin will follow, offering remarks about the partnership. After these remarks, the USFSP library will recognize Rouson and members of the Johnson family for their roles in building this partnership.

The newspaper’s relationship with USFSP has grown over many years. Students from the USFSP Neighborhood News Bureau frequently write stories for The Weekly Challenger, as well as other local publications. As they learn the skills of reporting in the classroom, they apply their knowledge in ways that benefit this newspaper with a variety of news and feature stories.

The funding secured by Rouson preserves the content of The Weekly Challenger as a record of the African-American community’s growth and expansion. The first historic issues and photographs of The Weekly Challenger arrived at the Poynter Library in March 2013 in seven large containers. Funding for this initiative began in July 2016. Since then, the library has acquired additional images and digitized issues of the newspaper.

twc_johnson02During the next year, the Poynter Library will place these newspapers and some photographs into a new digital archive that will allow users throughout the world to read historical issues of the Challenger. Moving forward, the newspaper has allowed USFSP to place issues in the digital archive six months after their original publication. The website for this archive,, will be launched in the near future. Stay tuned for that!

Another important part of the relationship between USFSP and the Challenger involves sustainability. Working with experts at Poynter Institute and other venues, the newspaper will build upon its strong presence within the African-American community by examining how to reach new readers and expanded markets. As newspapers expand their online presence, they must balance digital accessibility to the news with the needs of those readers who still prefer the ink and paper of the printing press.

twc_openhouseadYou can also play a part in this historic relationship. The library and the newspaper are looking for earlier issues of The Weekly Challenger that will help us complete the collection. If you have issues of the publication in your possession from the 1960s through the 1990s, please consider contacting Jim Schnur, the special collections librarian at the Poynter Library. You may reach him at (727) 873-4094 or

When Cleveland Johnson, Jr. started The Weekly Challenger nearly 50 years ago, he created a paper that met the challenge of serving our readers that the four daily newspapers in the area at the time—the St. Petersburg Times, St. Petersburg Evening Independent, Tampa Tribune and Tampa Times—mostly ignored. A half-century later, three of these papers have ceased publication, with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times) serving as the regional daily news publication. Thanks to you, The Weekly Challenger remains vibrant and vital.

Through our partnership with the USFSP Poynter Library, the Challenger will remain an important voice in the community for many years to come.

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