Mayoral Candidates: City Overlooks Local Press

Mayoral candidate Bill Thompson and presumed candidate John Liu, both products of immigrant communities, reacted with dismay to findings by the Center for Community and Ethnic Media that the city skimps on running ads about its programs and services in publications outside of the mainstream eye.

City Comptroller Liu, a Taiwanese-American, said in a statement that the city has to take advantage of its diverse media landscape:

Comptroller John Liu mingled with members of the community and ethnic media at the reception to celebrate the launch of CUNY’s Center for Community and Ethnic Media. (Photo by Skyler Reid/Voices of NY)

“When almost 40 percent of New York City’s population was born outside of the U.S. and a quarter speaks little or no English, the City cannot continue to put 82 percent of its advertising budget into mainstream, English-language publications if it wants to reach all New Yorkers. Its failure to take advantage of advertising opportunities in New York’s plentiful ethnic and community media doesn’t cut it. We must do much, much better.”

The report released March 3 found that the Bloomberg Administration shortchanges the more than 270 community and ethnic publications in the city by spending 82 percent of its $18 million annual ad budget in just five mainstream English-language publications. The ads are used to convey messages about health, education, transportation, economic development and job openings in city agencies.

In an opinion column printed below, Caribbean-American Thompson, a former city comptroller, criticized the current administration’s approach, saying that it “deprives communities of important information and access to their government.”

Former city Comptroller Bill Thompson writes that the city is “ignoring” the community and ethnic media. (Photo by Brock Stoneham/Voices of NY)

There’s an old saying in politics: “you go where the voters are.”

The idea is to always reach out to individuals and communities and never take any group for granted.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what our city government is not doing by ignoring community and ethnic media, a central vehicle of communicating with millions of New Yorkers who rely primarily on this segment of the press for information.

According to an eye-opening report by the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the City University of New York School of Journalism, community and ethnic newspapers have been systematically overlooked in advertising dollars, even as millions of dollars have flown into “mainstream” newspapers like the New York Times and the New York Post.

The report points to about $18 million in taxpayer money that’s spent on advertising, mostly public service announcements and notices of government job openings. Despite the fact that nearly 55% of New Yorkers rely on community and ethnic newspapers, these outlets receive only 18% of the City’s ad budget (the remaining 82% goes to the “big newspapers”).

The current policy doesn’t just shortchange local press; it deprives communities of important information and access to their government. The effect is particularly bad for immigrant communities where large numbers of resident speak multiple languages and rely exclusively on news media in their native language. For example, the report points out, that Spanish-language press received less than 4% of the advertising dollars, despite Latinos making up 28% of New York City’s population.

This is not merely disturbing; it’s dumb!

New Yorkers who speak Russian, Mandarin, Hindi, or any of the dozens of languages that make up our city’s uniquely beautiful cacophony deserve just as much information as their neighbors who don’t speak those languages. The same applies to readers of newspapers that cater to African American communities.

This has to end. And when I’m mayor it will. I’ll start, as the CUNY reports suggests, by instructing all agencies or employees in charge of placing ads to include minority and community newspapers in their buys.  I am not talking about symbolic buys, but real ones.  I’ll bring to City Hall, twice a year, as I used to do when I was comptroller, the publishers and editors of community and ethnic newspapers to make sure we are treating them fairly on ad buys and flow of information about government and its initiatives.  I’ll make sure my commissioners meet these pillars of our free press so ad buys are not dependent on fancy packets of information or who you know but on the work and influence these newspapers have of communities throughout our diverse city.

As the grandson of proud immigrants from the Caribbean, I have seen first-hand the role that ethnic media plays in New Yorkers’ lives. For so many of us, ethnic and community news outlets have been our primary source of news and information at one time or another in our lives. They are the lynchpin in connecting our past, present, and future.

Ethnic and community newspapers serve a great purpose for New Yorkers. They should get their fair share of government support and our communities should get their fair share of information. When I’m mayor, I will see to it that this happens.

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