RALEIGH, N.C. (NNPA) - Black publishers of the National Newspaper Publishing Association (NNPA) are concerned that there is nothing "designed" in President Barack Obama's $787 billion stimulus package to do business with struggling Black newspapers in this flailing economy.
"While we publishers wholeheartedly applaud the president's efforts of making certain economically devastated communities of color are able to benefit from the billions of dollars within the stimulus package, it is unclear whether any of the money has been earmarked to otherwise help educate the very communities serviced by the Black media, as well as how they are to access the myriad of opportunities," NNPA Board Chairman John B. Smith, Sr. wrote in an April 23 letter to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel; President Obama's Special Advisor Valerie Jarrett, and U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.
With opportunities to use the proven outreach mechanism of NNPA's more than 200 Black-owned newspapers to educate those in need on how to take advantage of the money flowing into their communities, Smith, publisher of the Atlanta Inquirer, added that the omission of the Black Press from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was "most disheartening and perplexing." He made reference to remarks made at a recent White House Black Press teleconference with Van Jones, special advisor to the president on green jobs.
Jones told Black reporters that officials with the U.S. Commerce Dept. were "very enthusiastic and excited" about using "their existing mechanisms to make sure that there is outreach to those parts of the country that may need more information" about the American Recovery and Investment Act.
But he also made clear that for now that doesn't include advertising in African American newspapers.
"There is nothing in the recovery package as designed to accomplish… advertising [in Black media]," Jones replied when asked by a journalist.
That's not sitting well with NNPA publishers, many of whom, during an NNPA Region 2 meeting hosted by the North Carolina Black Publishers Association in Raleigh, N.C. April 17, said that while they certainly applaud the president's efforts to make sure economically devastated communities of color are able to benefit from the billions contained in the stimulus package, it makes no sense that none of those dollars are earmarked to help educate those very communities through their media about how to access those opportunities.
"Any tangible economic stimulus to African American communities across our nation should begin with the institution that has carried the torch for these communities throughout our nation's history," said Paul R. Jervay, Jr. publisher of The Carolinian Newspaper in Raleigh.
At that meeting, NNPA Black publishers from Alabama, Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina, led by both Chairman Smith and Dorothy Leavell, chairwoman of the NNPA Foundation and publisher of the Chicago and Gary Crusader Newspapers, agreed that their dire concerns about the economic future of the Black Press must be made clear to both the Obama Administration and the Congressional Black Caucus.
''It is unclear in the Black community where to go and what is available to help Black families and Black businesses, the very communities that we serve,'' Leavell said. ''The Black Press has participated in teleconferences and have sought information locally, yet there are no clear answers to these two queries.''
Leavell says this quest for information will continue.
''The NNPA Foundation, whose mission is to provide educational outreach to our publishers, as well as the communities we serve, will continue to vigorously reach out to the Obama Administration to make sure that our community and our industry is a part of this stimulus and avoid what has been the norm that we are outside looking in and devoid of stimuli,'' Leavell concluded.
Others agreed that just as other businesses are benefitting from the stimulus money, the Black Press should also be respected for the viable business that it is.
"Saving the Black Press is paramount to all communities we serve," said Fran Farrar, publisher of The County News in Statesville.
The fact that the Recovery Act omits African American newspapers seems to violate a campaign commitment that President Obama made directly to the Black Press exactly one year ago this week in North Carolina.
It was April 29, 2008, during the hot Democratic primary race for the presidency when then frontrunner Sen. Barack Obama, during an exclusive NC Black Press Presidential Roundtable in Winston-Salem, assured Black newspaper publishers that he was well aware of the struggles of African American newspapers, and if elected, would do what he could to assure more access to federal contracts and advertising.
"One thing specifically we can do in terms of federal procurement is just to break up some of these contracts. They are just too large," a video of the session shows Obama telling Black publishers, noting that when it came to legal advertising, the federal government traditionally does business with large newspaper chains, but not small independent enterprises.
"When it comes to legal advertising… legal notices many [Black newspapers] would be interested in, I do not think it's saving a whole lot of money to simply do it with one big [newspaper] chain, as opposed to break up some of that work and make sure that everybody is able to access it," the future president said.
If Obama needed any assurance that the White House has historically worked to help sustain the struggling Black Press, his Democratic opponent, Sen. Hillary Clinton, would have obliged.
The day before in Greensboro, Sen. Clinton told members of the NC Black Press Association that her husband, former President Bill Clinton, made sure that the Black Press was an essential part of his outreach to African Americans.
"I would push very hard to get back to women and minority-owned businesses getting more set-asides and more business from the federal government," Obama's future secretary of State told Black publishers and reporters on April 28, 2008.
"When Bill was president, he had an Executive Order [to] actually advertise in Black newspapers, because how are you going to get to the population that you want if you ignore the vehicles that actually communicate with people?" Sen. Clinton, during the videotaped session, is seen saying.
Indeed, during his eight years in office, President Bill Clinton issued at least three Executive Orders instructing various federal agencies to "assist SDBs (socially disadvantaged businesses), HBCUs (historically Black colleges and universities), and MIs (minority institutions), as applicable, to develop viable, self-sustaining businesses capable of competing on an equal basis in the mainstream of the American economy."
Black-owned newspapers qualify not only as "minority institutions," but "socially disadvantaged businesses" as well.
"Our collective plight remains on floundering terrain, in general, without the leverage available to compete equally for federal dollars," NNPA Board Chairman Smith wrote in his White House/CBC letter.
Based on that Clinton Administration history, Black publishers say the question now is whether President Obama will at least meet that standard through the stimulus package when it comes to the Black Press.
In a March 6 White House teleconference with Black reporters, Valerie Jarrett, Obama's senior advisor on intergovernmental affairs and public liaison, inadvertently made the case for the Black Press to expect more.
"[Pres. Obama's] base within the African American community came out wholeheartedly [during the 2008 presidential election], and the agenda that he's set forth is one which will benefit the population as a whole, but also, because all of these [economic] problems, as I've said from the onset, have a disparate affect on the African American community," Jarrett said.
But Black publishers are concerned that without any design in the recovery package for Black media, they'll have no leverage locally or otherwise to compete for advertising to inform their respective communities about recovery package opportunities beyond reporting, despite encouragement from Jarrett.
"I think small businesses should educate themselves about the recovery package to find out the kinds of opportunities that will be available because of the kinds of dollars that will be coming down the path," she said, "and they should be aggressive about going after those dollars.