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Omaha Magazine

Terri Sanders heads Omaha’s Black-owned Newspaper

Dec 01, 2021 12:52PM ● By Kara Schweiss
terri sanders in front of omaha star facility

Photo by Bill Sitzmann    

 When Terri Sanders was officially named publisher of the Omaha Star newspaper in late 2020, it was a significant achievement in a time when women still occupy only around 25% of top newspaper positions, according to a 2019 Women’s Media Center report. 

What’s even more remarkable is that the Omaha Star has had a woman publisher at the helm since it was founded in 1938 by Mildred Brown and her husband, S. Edward Gilbert. Brown’s niece, Marguerita Washington, took over publication upon Brown’s death in 1989, and when Washington became terminally ill in 2015, the publication’s advertising and marketing director, Phyllis Hicks, stepped in to serve as interim publisher, followed by editor Frankie Williams in 2019. Sanders became interim publisher in spring 2020, carrying forward the Omaha Star’s legacy of female leadership. 

“I don’t know that it is a deliberate choice but it is luck of the draw, and that’s what always has happened,” Sanders said. “I think now it’s
a tradition.”

The Omaha Star is the only remaining African-American newspaper in Omaha and the only one still printed in the state of Nebraska. Sanders said it’s also believed that the newspaper is the only one in the country to have been started by an African-American woman.

The paper is unique in another way, Sanders said. It’s been owned since 2019 by a nonprofit organization, the Mildred D. Brown Memorial Study Center (MDBMSC), founded by Washington in 2007. Sanders became executive director of MDBMSC at the same time she became publisher of the
Omaha Star.  

“That is a new model in newspaper publishing,” she said. 

Along with owning the newspaper, MDBMSC hosts the Junior Journalist Program to provide practical experience to high school students interested in the field and manages the Omaha Star’s extensive archives. In the interest of creating other revenue streams, Sanders plans to soon introduce merchandise featuring historic photos and issues, and the Omaha Star Copy Center now offers a spectrum of printing services to the public. Sanders is also assertively promoting the publication to the community at large. 

“Any opportunity I have to make a news story about the newspaper, I do; that has gotten me on local news, I’ve had some internet shows interview me,” she said. “It’s important for people to know about the Omaha Star.”

There have been other changes under her leadership, too, Sanders said. 

“I have added columnists. Dr. Richard Brown through Creighton University [Center for Promoting Health and Health Equity] writes frequently, there’s Michael Green from EverGreen Capital Management, and we have a steady columnist through Velma Sanders [no relation] who writes in the religious section,” she said. “And I am continually looking for news.”

She means positive news, as the publication has focused on since the beginning, Sanders said. 

“I describe the Omaha Star as ‘a community newspaper that highlights the good news in the community,’” she explained. “You can find out anywhere who shot who or whose house burned down. But how many times do you get to find out what student just got a full-ride scholarship, or what 12-year-old just wrote a book that now appears on Amazon? We pick that good news up and tell everybody…all of those things that are of interest to our subscribers and readers.” 

News is not just limited to North Omaha,
she added. 

“We also focus on news in our city; we’re not limited because our readers are not just North Omaha readers. They’re from all over,” she said. “Because we are the only Black newspaper in the state of Nebraska, we need to cover everything.”

Sanders said the newspaper has a robust subscriber base and remains primarily a print publication, although it’s seeing more online pickup through its website (theomahastar.com) and digital publishing platform Issuu. Readers can purchase the Omaha Star at retail and service outlets in and around North Omaha and at the newspaper’s offices at 2216 N. 24th St. 

The paper transitioned from a weekly to a biweekly in 2016, but Sanders said she’s readying to change it back. 

“In 2022, the plan is to return to a weekly newspaper,” she said. “We want to be the cutting-edge news.” 

Sanders’ background is clearly a perfect fit for pushing the Omaha Star forward. She has a bachelor’s degree in public relations and journalism from Creighton University. She’s a self-described “serial entrepreneur” with a history of successful ventures, from event management to technology concierge services. She’s been associated with several North Omaha entities, including the Great Plains Black History Museum (vice president of marketing/development and executive director) and the Omaha Economic Development Corp.’s Fair Deal Village MarketPlace (site manager).  

“I have always worked in the community,” she said. “I laugh and say, ‘the only jobs I’ve ever had are on 24th Street.’” 

Ernest White, a MDBMSC board member and American National Bank executive, has worked with Sanders on numerous projects throughout the years. 

“If I need somebody to turn something around, she’s my first call. She’s my go-to person,” he said. “She’s done amazing work at the Star.” 

MDBMSC board member Cynthia Gooch-Grayson, who is also Metropolitan Community College’s associate vice president for equity and inclusion, noted Sanders’ dynamic nature. 

“She’s passionate about the mission, she’s a lifelong resident of North Omaha and she’s always been involved in the community,” Gooch-Grayson said. “I think she is really advancing the legacy of Mildred D. Brown.” 

“I actually knew Mrs. Brown, so I feel it’s an honor and I certainly strive to carry on the legacy she established,” Sanders said. “It is a joy to come to work every day; I enjoy what I do and the people that I meet.”

Visit theomahastar.com for more information.

This article originally appeared in the November/December  issue of B2B Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.