By George Curry
Since 1897, the New York Times has boasted that it publishes “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” That slogan, created by Adolph S. Ochs, the original owner, still appears on the masthead of the Times each day.
On the front page of last Sunday’s edition, the New York Times carried a story under the headline, “Pillars of Black Media, Once Vibrant, Now Fighting for Survival.” It was a flawed, shallow critique of the Black Press and, to be blunt, was not fit to print.
My problem with the story was not so much what was written, but what was left out. Jesse Jackson has long declared that text without context is pretext. Now, I finally know what he means.
The premise of the story, as the headline suggests, is that the Black Press is fighting for its survival. News flash: That’s been the case since the first Black newspaper, Freedom’s Journal, was first edited in 1827 by John B. Russwurm and Samuel Cornish – 70 years before Adolph Ochs came up with his slogan for the New York Times.
The story correctly observes that many Black media outlets have been purchased by White-owned companies: Black Entertainment Television, created by Robert L. Johnson and his then-wife, Sheila, was sold to Viacom in 2001 for nearly $3 billion. In 2005, Ed Lewis, Clarence O. Smith and their partners sold Essence, the premier Black women’s magazine, to Time, Inc.
The story failed to mention that Black-oriented digital outlets also are now in non-Black hands. For example, The Root, created by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Donald E. Graham, former publisher of the Washington Post, was sold last year to Univision Communications. The site went from being owned by Graham Holdings Company, a majority White company, to one that carries the tagline, the “Hispanic Heartbeat of America.”
The larger failure was not addressing the importance of Black-owned and operated media.
It is no accident that when Freedom’s Journal was launched, its editors declared: “We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us…”
As long as Black media outlets are owned by Blacks, it’s likely that they will be speaking for Blacks. However, once they are owned by others, there is no guarantee that they will remain as vigilant or not have their voice diluted. It’s one thing to be “Black-oriented.” It’s quite another to be “Black-owned.” In my book, it’s best to have both in order to effectively serve the bests interest of African Americans.
If you doubt this, imagine the reaction if a Chinese-owned company purchases Univision with the pledge that it will continue to be the “Hispanic Heartbeat of America.” There would be more than a handful of doubters.
The issue is not race or ethnicity per se – it’s an issue of trust. African Americans trust the Black Press and distrust the White-owned corporate media.
A 2012 study by Nielsen found:
*Ninety-one percent of Blacks believe that Black media is more relevant to them;
*Eighty-one percent believe that the products advertised in Black media are more relevant to them;
*Seventy-seven percent of African Americans said Black media has a better understanding of the needs and issues that affect them and
*Seventy-three percent believe Black media keeps them in touch with their heritage.
Yet, many major advertisers shun the Black Press, mistakenly thinking they can obtain the same results through general market media.
In its 2013 report titled, “Resilient, Receptive and Relevant: The African-American Consumer 2013 Report,” Nielsen projected that Black spending would rise from $1 trillion to $1.3 trillion by 2017.
“Companies mistakenly believe there are no language barriers, that a general market ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy is an effective way to reach African-Americans,” the Nielsen study said. “Just the opposite is true.”
Nielsen said advertisers allot only 3 percent of their $2.2 billion yearly budget to media aimed at Black audiences. Yet, they have the nerve to question the viability of the Black Press while ignoring their own culpability.
A Federal Communications Commission report, quoting one Congressperson, said:
“Ad agencies and their clients are refusing to advertise in media owned by blacks and other minorities. This means that in many cases Black media are being bypassed for advertising placement, even though they possess higher numbers in groups being targeted by the ad agency.”
According to the 2013 Nielsen study, Fortune 100 companies not ranking in the top 20 advertisers with Black media included: General Electric, Citigroup, IBM, Philip Morris, AIG, Home Depot, Bank of America, Fannie Mae, J.P. Morgan Chase, Kroger, Merck, State Farm Insurance, Hewlett-Packard, Morgan Stanley, Sears Roebuck, Target, Merrill Lynch, Kmart, Freddie Mac, Costco, Safeway, Pfizer, J.C. Penney, MetLife, Dell Computer, Goldman Sachs, UPS, Prudential Financial, Wells Fargo, Sprint, New York Life, Microsoft, Walt Disney, Aetna, Walgreen, Bank One, BellSouth, Honeywell, UnitedHealth Group, Viacom, American Express, Wachovia Corp., CVS, Lowe’s, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Coca-Cola.
Cheryl Pearson-McNeil, a Senior Vice President for Nielsen, said it best: “Until we do a better job as consumers in the choices we make and invest in companies that invest in us, we are not going to have any changes.”
Now, that’s fit to print.
George E. Curry is President and CEO of George Curry Media, LLC. He is the former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA). He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, georgecurry.com. You can also follow him attwitter.com/currygeorge, George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook, and Periscope. See previous columns at http://www.georgecurry.com/columns.