Rojas, Don 1949–
Don Rojas 1949–
Journalist, business executive
Don Rojas is an internationally respected journalist and intellectual. As the founder of The Black World Today, the only internet portal dedicated to serving the black community worldwide, he is also considered a visionary. With a career that stretches from Caribbean politics to European journalism to American business, Rojas is a fascinating figure and a role model to aspiring African American journalists.
Though his roots are in the West Indies—a group of Caribbean island nations not far off the coast of Venezuela, South America—Rojas attended college in the United States at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. There he studied journalism and communications before embarking on an illustrious career shaped by both his liberal political leanings and his commitment to providing high-quality journalism aimed at African-American and minority audiences. Two of his early jobs illustrate his dual aims. One of his first positions was assistant director of communications for the National Urban League. Following his stint there Rojas became an assistant editor at a Baltimore, Maryland based African-American newspaper. Baltimore would eventually become his permanent home.
In the late 1970s Rojas temporarily returned to his native West Indies where he served as editor-in-chief of the national newspaper of the island nation of Grenada. At that time a Marxist government has assumed power—the People’s Revolutionary Government of Grenada—led by charismatic Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, “We Leader” to the people of Grenada. Rojas became the press secretary to Bishop and was at the forefront of Grenadian politics during the early 1980s political uprisings which culminated in the imprisonment and murder of Bishop and the intervention of the United States military. Prior to this political instability, Rojas successfully organized the first conference of Caribbean journalists and the first conference of Caribbean intellectuals, both held in Grenada. Rojas left Grenada in 1983. Since then, Rojas has edited several books about Grenadian revolution and the events leading to Bishop’s death.
Rojas next move took him to Prague in the former country of Czechoslovakia. There, in the mid-eighties, he served as an executive for the International Organization of Journalists. His job entailed assisting member journalists and other media workers in North America and the Caribbean. During this time Rojas organized the first tour of Eastern Germany, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union exclusively for African-American journalists. His work on the international front of journalism afforded him the opportunity to become the only black journalist to cover the 1985 summit meeting between U.S. president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Rojas returned stateside in the early 1990s and took on the position of executive editor and assistant to the publisher for the New York Amsterdam News. At the time, the Amsterdam News was the largest black owned newspaper aimed at a black audience in the country. This position would give Rojas powerful leverage in the black communities and among those businesses and politicians who wanted access to this audience. Unfortunately, as he would later find out, because
Born in October 1949; married Karen Codrington; three children. Education: Studied Journalism and Communications, University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Career: Communications For a New Tomorrow LLC, founder, president, CEO, which owns two major Internet portals: The Black World Today and The Black World Radio Network, 1996-; NAACP, communications director, 1993; New York Amsterdam News, executive editor and assistant publisher, early 1990s; International Organization of Journalists, Prague, Czechoslovakia, executive, mid 1980s; national newspaper of Grenada, West Indies, editor-in-chief, 1979-83; Press Secretary to Grenadian Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop, 1979-83; National Urban League, assistant director, Communications; Afro-American newspaper of Baltimore, assistant editor.
Awards: The Black World Today nominated for Webby Award, 1998; Rojas named one of the “Silicon Alley Dozen,” 1999; Recognized for Outstanding Contribution to Journalism, The Institute of Caribbean Studies.
Addresses: Home —Baltimore, MD; Office— The Black World Today, 729 E. Pratt Street, Suite 500, Baltimore, MD 21202, Phone (410) 539-6547, Fax: (410) 521-9993; Email —[email protected]
some groups considered the Amsterdam News alternatively anti-Semitic and dangerously liberal, this position, along with his role in Grenada, would come to be used against him.
In 1993 the newly appointed head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Dr. Ben Chavis, selected Rojas to serve as his communications director. As one of the most powerful positions in the NAACP, the communications director is responsible for all public relations and communications, both within the organization and with the public. Because there were many within and without the NAACP that wanted to see Chavis ousted, Rojas’s appointment almost immediately began to be used against Chavis. Rojas was called out as being a “dangerous leftie,” according to www.zmag.org His role in the revolutionary government of Grenada was also used to show his unfitness for the NAACP. The Jewish community, long supporters of the NAACP were concerned about his past at the New York Amsterdam News, because of the perceived anti-Semitic leanings of the paper. Chavis’s position was doomed almost from the start and his term was ended after only 16 months.
Following his tumultuous tenure as communications director of the NAACP, Rojas settled soundly in Baltimore, Maryland with his wife Karen Codrington and their three children. There he began a career in the private sector. In 1996 having surmised the potential of the Internet as a news medium, Rojas founded the first black-oriented Internet portal, The Black World Today, (www.tbwt.net) becoming its president and CEO. According to the website, The Black World Today is just one part of Rojas’s multimedia company called Communications for a New Tomorrow, “dedicated to the reporting and dissemination of relevant news, views and useful information about people of color communities around the world.” In 1998 The Black World Today was nominated for a Webby Award, the cyber-world’s version of an Academy Award. It was in the running against communication powerhouse sites CNN and Time.
Running The Black World Today has not always been an easy endeavor. According to The Industry Standard Magazine, in 1999 Rojas faced serious difficulties in obtaining investments to keep the site running. Many factors were pointed to in explanation; Rojas’ lack of business savvy was one. “I’m not a businessman by training or propensity,” he admitted to the magazine. Another is that investors want to know there is potential for revenue when funding a site. A spokesperson for the New York New Media Association, an internet investment group who chose to award $1.2 million in funding to bikini.com rather that The Black World Today said of Rojas, “He was smart and articulate, but he didn’t have his revenue stream crystallized.” Finally, many saw the inability to gain funding as yet another example of a business world afraid to invest in a black-targeted venture. “We don’t want to point fingers or say They’re all a bunch of racists, ’” Rojas told the magazine, “But there’s a trivialization of a growing market here.”
As of 2002, The Black World Today is still a leader in black-oriented websites. Funding, while still a struggle has materialized and the company continues to grow. There is hope for Rojas that he may accomplish his dream that “apart from my family, TBWT would be the greatest achievement of my adulthood,” as he remarked to The Industry Standard Magazine. He has already won over the site’s enthusiasts and cultural critics with honest, informative reporting and an esteemed staff of writers and editors.
Green Left Weekly, December 6, 1995.
Industry Standard Magazine, July 12, 1999.
The Institute for Caribbean Studies, www.icsdc.org/
The Black World Today, www.tbwt.net
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