Dr. Frances Toni Draper, chief executive officer and publisher of The AFRO-American Newspapers, has been named an Innovator of the Year by Local Media Association for her work to develop audience and engagement via strong local journalism. 

Each year, the Local Media News Innovator of the Year award recognizes local media executives who pioneer new concepts, experiment in new and creative ways, and deliver impactful results for their companies.

Under the leadership of Dr. Draper, The AFRO has grown to 663,000 followers on Facebook, 11,400 on Instagram (nearly doubling year over year) and 11,300 on Twitter. The organization has built upon national and local strategic partnerships, launched impactful initiatives and hosted events that catered to the Baltimore community. The AFRO’s amazing audience growth is a testament to the team’s strong commitment to local journalism.

The AFRO was selected as a Report for America newsroom to establish a “Black Business Spotlight” beat in the community. Expanding its physical footprint, The AFRO has broken ground on renovation to the historic Upton Mansion in West Baltimore, with an excavation team from the University of Maryland including Morgan State University students to examine the grounds. The AFRO also has recently proposed  a partnership with Baltimore City Public Schools in support of their “BMore Me: Our Stories, Our City” program and participates with LMA and nine other Black publishers from around the country in Word in Black, a collaboration focused on racial inequities in America.

In addition, Dr. Draper and the AFRO participated in LMA’s Lab for Journalism Funding and recently won 3rd place out of 16 publishers for its pitch to support education reporting. 

While social unrest was happening throughout the country in 2020, Dr. Draper saw the need to showcase Black excellence through a monthly special print edition called “We’re Still Here” that has garnered positive recognition from peers. In February, 2021, the AFRO  hosted an inaugural Black Business Matters Expo that highlighted Black-owned businesses and featured forums centered around topics like closing the wealth gap and building personal wealth. 

“Mrs. Draper is the heart and soul of the AFRO team and is truly a gem to the City of Baltimore,” said Jessica Dortch, news editor, The AFRO. “I am thankful to have a leader who looks like me and is humble, personable, hilarious and unapologetic about who she is and where she came from. I am a proud member of the AFRO family and it is an honor to serve and work with such a dynamic leader.” 

“It’s inspiring to work for someone who sees leadership in every team member and offers varied opportunities for growth,” said Dorothy Boulware, managing editor, The AFRO. “It’s also exhausting because in the AFRO world, nothing is beyond the reach of smart work and the willingness to do it for the first time.”

“The LMA team first got to know Dr. Draper through the Word in Black collaborative and later through the lab for journalism funding,” said Nancy Lane, LMA chief executive officer. “Dr. Draper’s leadership is evident on every call and in every situation. She is all-in and always willing to share her learnings/success with others in the industry. LMA is honored and excited to present this award to Dr. Draper, someone we all look up to and admire.”

“This award is a testament to the innovation and hard work of the entire AFRO team,” Draper said. “Working together, we’ve been able to build on past  successes and exponentially increase our brand awareness and profitability through partnerships and collaboration. I am grateful to LMA for their ongoing support. Thank you a for this prestigious (and totally unexpected!) award.”  

This award is sponsored by ppi.