In the Spring of 2019, the mayor of New York signed an executive order that became a lifeline for community newsrooms across the city. Executive Order 47 mandated that city agencies spend at least half of their print and digital advertising budgets in the community press, a powerful — and desperately underfunded — media sector.
The city ad dollars helped keep these essential sources of trusted information alive during the convergence of three major news events: the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 presidential election, and the U.S. Census. In its first year, EO 47 succeeded in delivering $9.9 million dollars — nearly 84 percent of the city’s total print and digital ad budget — to more than 230 outlets serving the most vulnerable communities in the five boroughs. Some 21% had never received a nickel of city advertising before then.
The successful redeployment of city resources was a direct result of efforts by the Center for Community Media at the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. Details of how CCM’s Advertising Boost Initiative (ABI) assisted local news outlets are contained in a new report released today.
With funding support from the Charles H. Revson Foundation and Corporate Supporter Citi Community Development, CCM launched the ABI in January 2020 to serve as a liaison between community media outlets and city agencies, as well as the advertising firms they engage. ABI program manager Darlie Gervais connected publishers with city marketing directors and ad agency representatives. She developed trainings and consultation services, kept them apprised of upcoming city ad campaigns, and familiarized them with the diversity and reach of the community media.
As a result, city ad spending replaced lost revenue from local businesses and led to investment in new staff and technologies. At The Haitian Times, for example, the more than $73,000 in city ad dollars received in 2020 (versus barely $200 in 2019) allowed for the hiring of additional reporters and editors and purchase of new equipment and software.
The financial infusion into these news organizations maintained them as vital information sources in areas with the highest rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths and large concentrations of front-line workers. The city was also able to use these outlets to reach undercounted New Yorkers during the Census and neighborhoods with historically low voter turnout during the 2020 election.
“The revenue from New York City agencies…helped us tremendously, especially when other advertising revenues declined by over 90 percent,” said Kamlesh C. Mehta, publisher of The South Asian Times, which serves Indian and South Asian communities in greater New York and worldwide. “Because of it, we continuously produced, printed, and distributed the newspaper during the toughest time in lockdown.”
Graciela Mochkofsky, executive director of CCM, said the Advertising Boost Initiative was a win-win: “New York City ads were a crucial source of revenue that provided the lifeline that has been pulling community media through the COVID-19 crisis. From the city’s perspective, advertising with community media is a smarter use of its ad dollars.”
She added that “CCM is taking what we’ve learned in New York to create a model for cities across the country. We are already working with our Chicago partners and preparing to work with another city.”
In the meantime, four dozen local publishers and editors signed an open letter to New York City and State leaders urging them to support the EO 47 mandate and make it into law.