How a NYC Executive Order has provided a vital lifeline for community and ethnic news outlets

Via Unsplash

A 2019 initiative to mandate that agencies in New York had to spend at least half their print and digital advertising budgets on community and ethnic media has helped keep outlets thriving during the pandemic.

The takeaways:
  • Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York signed an Executive Order in spring 2019 stating that city agencies must spend at least half of their print and digital advertising budgets on community and ethnic media outlets. 
  • The outlets had to come from an approved list which included community and ethnic media outlets that “promote and exemplify the City’s many interconnected communities” such as the education department, health and hospitals, and the housing authority.
  • In its first year, EO 47 has delivered $9.9 million dollars (almost 84% of the city’s total ad budget) to more than 230 outlets serving the most vulnerable communities in the city.

To help agencies redeploy their budgets, the Center for Community Media at the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism launched the Advertising Boost Initiative (ABI). 

  • ABI liaised between community media outlets, city agencies and advertising firms to educate all sides on what ad campaigns were coming up, and the relevant diversity and reach of community media outlets.
  • Community media in New York is considered a vital source of news for communities of colour and the 37% of the city’s population – 3.1 million people – who are immigrants.

Did you know? Until this order, 1 in 5 local outlets in New York had never received any money from city advertising.

The results

EO 47’s timing was fortuitous, coming into effect at the beginning of 2020 just before the pandemic struck. It enabled many outlets to provide vital Covid-19 information to hard-to-reach communities, and also helped in areas with historically low voter turnout as the election approached. 

  • City ad spending replaced lost revenue from local businesses, allowing them to invest in new staff and technologies.
  • More than 185 outlets saw dramatic increases in ad revenues from city agencies, with one increasing by 32,000%.
  • For some publishers, the revenue enabled them to continue printing and distribution during lockdown as other advertising revenues from local businesses declined by as much as 90%.

The Haitian Times is one example of a community outlet that received more than $73,000 in city ad dollars in 2020, compared to $200 in 2019. This allowed them to hire additional reporters and editors, and invest in new equipment and software.

What next? A group of nearly 50 local publishers and editors have signed an open letter to New York City and State leaders asking them to support the EO 47 mandate and make it law.

  • The Centre for Community Media is now taking what they’ve learned in New York to see if it would work elsewhere in the country. First up on their list is Chicago.

Aside from potential political pitfalls around approved lists of media outlets, there are few downsides to orders like this. As the results have demonstrated, it improves investment in the local community, and the publishers working hard to support them.

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