Friday, July 17, 2009

Will 'Banner' Waive Critiquing Mayor After City Loan?

SOTC 2009Image by christianrholland via Flickr

The day after Harvard Law Prof. Charles Ogletree purportedly lined up a dozen backers willing to pony up to pull the financially strapped Bay State Banner out of publication limbo, the good news keeps on coming for the 44-year-old newspaper that serves Boston's African-American community.

The Banner, with its estimated weekly circulation of 34,000, is in line to receive up to $200,000 in loans from the Boston Local Development Corp., a private nonprofit fund overseen by the Boston Redevelpment Authority, designed to aid small businesses in financial need, with the blessings of Mayor Thomas Menino. The Mayor defended the action as supporting a "business that is very important to the minority community." Earlier this month, Publisher Melvin Miller suspended publication and laid off a dozen employees in response to the precipitous decline in advertising revenues that is plaguing the entire newspaper industry.

However well-intentioned, the appearance of a cozy arrangement between a government entity and a news media outlet is troubling. Mayor Menino, already the longest-serving Mayor in Boston's history, is facing a re-election bid in November against three challengers. The Mayor's relations with Boston's black community have not always been smooth, and political cynics might suggest that the Banner bailout could bolster Menino's profile among African-Americans and offset any potential loss of voters in the Asian community who might favor mayoral candidate and city councilor Sam Yoon.

In May 2009, The Carrboro Citizen, in Chapel Hill, NC, asked municipal officials for a loan to stay afloat (see "TUOL" post 5/22/09) and the same issues I objected to there, apply to the Banner case. A news media outlet cannot be the "watchdog" over government when it is dependent on government officials to take it out for a walk. Any Banner editorial supporting a position taken by Menino, fairly or unfairly, might be perceived as "payback."

Moreover, Boston and Massachusetts revenues are woefully below previous estimates, so helping the Banner and other worthy private enterprises should take a backseat to more pressing needs that affect Bostonians, such as health care, runaway foreclosures, homeless, and the like.
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