The NAACP apologized yesterday to black community newspapers around the country for a perceived advertising snub at the recent Image Awards. Black publishers had expressed outrage that they’d been passed over on a symbolically important ad buy, but the NAACP says the papers were excluded accidentally due to a contractor’s mistake.
The dustup began when the NAACP neglected to place its 42nd NAACP Image Awards Magazine in several prominent black papers. The Philadelphia Tribune, America’s oldest and largest daily newspaper serving the African-American community, reported that it didn’t get the insert. The Los Angeles Sentinel, another one of the nation’s oldest and largest black newspapers, also didn’t carry it, along with other key markets, including Atlanta, Texas, New York, New Jersey and Chicago. The National Newspaper Publishers Association, which represents more than 200 members of the black press, began surveying members to see how many others missed out on the important ad buy.
Community newspapers have been among the hardest hit by both the recession and dramatic changes to the news publishing business that make their age-old business models difficult to sustain. A snub from the NAACP was salt in the proverbial wound.
"At the end of the day, this is not just about communication, this is about economics," said NNPA Chair Danny Bakewell, also publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel, in a statement. "The fact that they are buying the message from the white papers and they want us to convey the message free in black papers is insult to injury."
But NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous says nothing of the sort happened. Jealous explained that the organization has for the past five years contracted out the production and sales of the Image Award circular:
The advertising company originally conceived the guide and presented it as a fundraisier to the NAACP. It is solely responsible for selling the ads and handling the distribution. It pays the NAACP a licensing royalty which is used to support our ongoing diversity efforts in Hollywood. No advertising dollars are actually spent by the NAACP.
The NAACP does not condone the agency’s decision to exclude Black community newspapers. It is contrary to our explicit instruction, and we were not aware of the agency’s decision until after the guides hit the papers. Nonetheless, it was made for a publication that bears our name, and as CEO I take ultimately responsibility for it.
Jealous stressed his own history with the black press: He began his career as an investigative reporter for the Jackson Advocate and served as executive director of NNPA for several years.
But advertising is a particularly sensitive subject in today’s black press. While the publishing industry as a whole has been struggling, black papers have found it particularly hard to stay afloat. According to a National Association of Black Journalists report, the number of black publishers have declined from 14 in 2004 to nine in 2010, Hakim Hasan of NewsOne reported last year.
Even well-known magazines such as Ebony and Jet, two of the oldest and most reputable black magazines, are suffering from diminishing numbers of subscribers. In an interview with Public Radio International back in 2009, Colorlines.com editor Kai Wright expressed more concern with the plight of local black publishers than national black media. He said:
…the local newspapers that have an equally vibrant history, but have been troubled for some time now… and I believe they have an even more vital role in terms of the actual substantive thing that journalism has to offer to the world. They are the sorts of publications that are in the position to talk about things that don’t rise to the… national news, but are deeply relevant to the lives of black communities.
In Jealous’ statement, he said, "I have apologized to the NNPA and promised their leadership this will not happen again."