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Betty Franklin-Hammonds: Cultivating community
Betty Franklin-Hammonds directs The Madison Times to cast a wide net

This article originally appeared in Isthmus June 20, 1997

In the summer of 1996, The Madison Times added a front-page slogan: "The Paper That's More Than Black and White."

"We were trying to look at the big picture and figure out what we needed to say," says Betty Franklin-Hammonds, publisher of the Madison weekly. "And this advertiser said, 'You know, the paper is really about more than black and white.'

The phrase, thought Franklin-Hammonds, captured the essence of the paper.

An offshoot of The Milwaukee Times, The Madison Times has a circulation of about 7,000. In August, it will celebrate its sixth anniversary.

The Times originally patterned itself after its parent paper, with coverage aimed at African Americans.

"When I got into this, I welcomed the opportunity because I don't feel the daily papers provide a balance, especially when covering the African American community," says Franklin-Hammonds. "If all you hear or read about African Americans is negative, then that affects what you think. You need to balance the bad with the good, with other things that are going on. If that means we often carry stories that never show up anywhere else, that's just fine."

But the paper's focus has broadened with time. "Madison's a different town than Milwaukee," says Franklin-Hammonds. For one thing, our African American community is very small, about four or five percent of the overall community."

The paper's perspective is global, tapping into the city's pool of international students, professors and researchers for stories about Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Says Franklin-Hammonds: "The Times tries to be a real community newspaper with news of interest to everyone."

Hammonds was working as executive director of the Urban League of Greater Madison in 1990 when she received a call from Hermetta Williams, the state's director of minority businesses. Williams was calling on behalf of Nathan Conyers, the publisher of The Milwaukee Times, who was interested in starting a Madison edition.

"Betty had been working on the Urban League's newspaper and had gotten it going again after a lapse," says Williams. "So when Conyers contacted me I thought she could help."

Hammonds-Franklin and Conyers asked the board of the Urban League to back the paper but were turned down flat.

"I have to admit I was a bit taken aback by their decision," says Hammonds-Franklin. "I thought it was a great idea, but the board said they feared the project would interfere with their goal to provide direct service to the community. When I called to tell Conyers of their decision, the first thing he said was, 'So, what about you?'"

Hammonds smiles as she tells this story, but acknowledges it was not an easy decision. "I really had to examine myself," she says. "I talked it over with my husband. I would have to quit my job, and I wasn't sure I had the skills, but somehow Conyers talked me into it."

At first the Times was filled mostly with Milwaukee-related information; articles about Madison were culled from press releases and announcements Franklin-Hammonds received at the Urban League. But it soon became clear that Madison needed its own paper.

In August 1991, the Times set up shop in the Madison Enterprise Center, an east-side business incubator sponsored by Common Wealth Development. Common Wealth, a nonprofit community development corporation, shared services and technical support with the paper, and leased space below market rate. Last year, the paper moved to Common Wealth's second-stage incubator, Main Street Industries.

Hammonds attributes much of the paper's success to Common Wealth's support, which she considers to be proof-positive of the community-business alliances she champions in her editorials.

A self-described conservative, Franklin-Hammonds believes that self-determination and private-sector involvement in the community are key to African American advancement. "If there's a message in my editorials, it's that people, particularly African Americans, have to look more to themselves to solve problems within their own communities," she says. "I write a lot about business ownership and creating jobs. I think people have become too trusting of our government to do it all for us," she says.

A businesswoman herself, Franklin-Hammonds runs a real estate company with her husband, Al. She says there were examples of self-determination all around her while a child of the '50s in segregated Tampa.

"We lived in a neighborhood where many of the people owned their own homes, their own businesses."

Hammonds' father, a bank courier, was her role model. "My dad was the person I was most proud of. He had a good eye for business, and we owned our own home."

Hammonds says that her parents refused to accept that she and her brother and three sisters couldn't be a part of the American dream. "In my family, college was a given. I just understood from an early age that I was going to go," she says. "My dad passed away in 1956 and left my mom with five kids to raise, but I never associated his passing with not going to school. My mom always encouraged us.

"We all went to college, and we did it without taking out loans," she says.

After receiving a master's degree in social work from Florida State University, Franklin-Hammonds' employment possibilities back home appeared slim. In 1970 she moved to Wisconsin to work in the juvenile justice system.

Hammonds landed a job as a social worker at the Oregon School for Girls, where half of the girls were black. "I felt I could bring a certain level of empathy to the job, perhaps add something from my own background," she says.

Though an active member of the local Democratic party, Franklin-Hammonds says she's been accused of sounding a lot like a conservative Republican. "People expect that if you are a Democrat you are liberal, but I know my conservative personality comes through in my columns."

"Take W-2," she says, referring to the state's new welfare program. "I believe a lot in self-determination. Too often people want to take the easy way out. Dependency must be addressed; it's a mind-set."

But she is concerned about the potential fallout of the massive overhaul. "My fear is the level of functioning we want people to have to take care of themselves and their families may be unrealistic. If you didn't make it past the 10th grade and have a third-grade reading level, what kind of job will you get? Where is the training going to come from? What do we as a society feel we owe kids? I think the next two years will bear out some theories and sort out what works and what does not."

Again, Franklin-Hammonds sees hope in actions taken by grassroots groups: "In Madison, I'm encouraged by the number of community-based efforts trying to make a difference, especially those that support the achievements of African Americans."

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