Years in print:
Take Five Set Out to Offer Positive News
By Tom Wraussmann
Five years ago , Sylvester Brown, Jr. felt that the St. Louis black community should be served by a magazine that took a deeper, more positive look at the issues that concern African-Americans.
The result: Take Five, a magazine, says Brown, Jr., publisher and editor-in-chief, that focuses on finding solutions for the problems that face blacks in St. Louis and emphasizes the importance of people taking responsibility for their lives and their communities.
Take Five tries to be entertaining as well as informative, says Brown, Jr. It appeals to a variety of tastes, from jazz and pop music to literature and theatre.
Before starting Take Five, Brown took a class on ethnic portrayals in the media while taking commercial art classes at Florissant Valley Community College. There he studied Jewish, Oriental and black culture, among others.
“The professor said The Evening Whirl, basically a crime and glory paper, represents the black media image,” says Brown. “I challenged him and told him that there were positive images. But I looked around and saw that there was a void.
“I put together a cardboard newspaper prototype and went around to small black businesses trying to get them to support the paper and come up with $50 to $100 to publish the first issue,” says Brown.
In 1987, its first year of publication, Take Five, a tabloid, emphasized entertainment and had a circulation of 7,000. It was put out by Brown alone. Later Brown turned toward harder news coverage, emphasizing investigative reporting. Today the magazine combines news with colorful features, literature and entertainment.
Take Five’s free circulation is now at 15,000 and Brown feels that the magazine is on the verge of even more success. He attributes much of the change and growth to his staff and the many contributors to the magazine.
He said the addition of Senior Editor Jabari Asim two years ago was the most important addition. “He is one of the premier talents in the St. Louis area,” says Brown. “The literary section (which he runs) brings in talent from all over the country.”
(Originally published in the St. Louis Journalism Review 10/1992).
Take Five Will Be Missed
By Benjamin Israel
If you’re looking for a copy of Take Five, the paper that SJR editor Ed Bishop called the best alternative paper in St. Louis, and wondered whether it has folded, the answer is, “Not quite yet.”
Editor and publisher Sylvester Brown said he hasn’t put out an issue since November , but plans to publish a farewell issue in April.
“At my age, I’m just burned out,” Brown said. “It was just a grueling lifestyle. I wrote most of the articles.”
Brown founded Take Five in 1987 when he was a student at Forest Park Community College.
“We looked at ourselves as what the Riverfront Times was to the (St. Louis) Post-Dispatch: a little more investigative, a little more objective. I saw myself as a little bit more inclusive on African-American issues than the American.”
The November issue was an example. Coming out on the eve of the election, Brown and his managing editor and wife, Victoria Anton-Brown, devoted 20 of 23 pages of copy to the election. It led with an editorial Brown wrote saying that the Democratic Party takes African-American voters for granted.
Take Five published lengthy interviews with Democratic incumbent Sen. Jean Carnahan, Republican candidate for St. Louis County Executive Craig Borchelt, Secretary of Education Rod Paige about Jim Talent and Green Party activist Zaki Baruti. It opened its pages to articles by Democrats, Republicans and Greens, and Brown interviewed a variety of African-Americans about their feelings about the Democratic Party.
It was probably the most far-ranging discussion of the election a St. Louis reader could find in one local publication.
On the other three pages of copy, one was devoted to a story by senior writer Lori Reed about a march against police violence and two were devoted to entertainment stories.
What Brown said he avoided in all issues was the staple of papers like the American and the Ladue News, pictures of prominent people in fancy clothes at banquets. “I don’t like showcasing the corporate elite,” Brown said.
Over the years, Take Five opened its pages to activists like John and Susie Chasnoff of the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression, John Hickey of the Missouri Pro-vote and attorney Eric Vickers, and did some investigations of its own.
Brown is particularly proud of the paper’s coverage of how the police beat George Bell, a retarded man, in his own home. “We got the transcripts, found another witness who was beaten by the same sergeant.”
Referring to the North County woman who spent 16 years in prison for murder before a federal judge freed her in 1999, Brown said, “The Ellen Reasonover story, we did it about 13 years ago, and the Riverfront Times did it five years ago.”
Take Five also took on the exploitation of young boxers and the juvenile justice system, ad well as international issues. In the December 2001 issue, Brown devoted six pages to his critique of the war on terrorism and the war in Afghanistan, showing connections of our military actions to oil industry interest.
“I saw this as something that would make change as well as monitor change,” Brown said.
Brown said he and his wife took on public relations work to supplement their income from Take Five, which never made a profit.
“I’m not the best salesman,” Brown said. “I didn’t have the best political contacts. I didn’t have the best business contacts. The Argus and the American are part of the National Newspaper Association. They get national buys. When I talked to them, they weren’t accepting monthlies.”
Take Five served as an advocate for black-owned businesses, sponsoring shopping tours and championing Sterling’s Market.
“It’s been a wonderful, wonderful ride,” Brown said .
He’s selling ads for the farewell issue and may stage a reunion for its former writers including Jabari Asim of the Washington Post, Fred McKissack, Jr., of the Progressive and Margeena Christian of Jet Magazine.
(Originally published in the St. Louis Journalism Review 3/2003).