For good reasons, the editorial and business sides of news operations are kept separate. Journalists call it the "separation between church and state." Readers must know that the integrity of what they're reading has not been compromised by the purchase of an ad or any other economic considerations. That's the basic hallmark of good journalism.
Therefore, listening to a Congressional Black Caucus panel discussion on advertising last week was unfamiliar territory for me. Even so, it quickly became obvious that the issue of economic reciprocity — companies and ad agencies take billions of dollars from us each year, yet doggedly refuse to advertise with media outlets that have the most credibility with African Americans — is part of a larger issue.
Whether it's the refusal of some companies to advertise in Black newspapers, employ Black ad agencies or adopt a we-know-it-all attitude, African Americans are getting shafted. And it affects African Americans in so many ways.
Carol H. Williams, for example, spoke of the personal indignities.
"I look at the papers and see the things that are written about a lot of counterparts and CEOs and presidents of agencies that I hired — I hired them," she recounted. "There are four presidents and two CEOs now in mass marketing that I hired when I was in mass marketing. They get more press than I do."
Clearly pained, she continued, "These people have put nothing on the air, or their commercials are from (advertising) campaigns that I created. Yet they sit on top. And I have to walk into meetings and listen to them dictate to me about the stuff they don't even know and will never understand."
Adonis Hoffman, senior vice president for the American Association of Advertising Agencies, said it is a fact that some advertisers can reach Blacks without going through Black media. While that is technically correct, it ignores some important considerations. First, numerous surveys show that African Americans give more credibility to ads that appear in Black publications. Second, a company that advertises in a White-owned publication could be speaking to anyone; however, when it advertises in Black outlets, it is demonstrating that it values Black consumers and is making a specific appeal to them.
Even though they are more trusted by African American readers, Black newspapers are relegated to the back of the advertising bus. And some publishers are fighting back.
In Florida, a coalition of Black-owned newspapers and TV and radio stations has decried politicians — both Democrats and Republicans — for ignoring them. Blacks make up 11 percent of the Florida electorate, according to the Media Audit, a Houston-based research company. However, according to the Washington-based Center for Responsible Politics, of $11 million spent in 2004 on Florida congressional races, only $22,000 went to the Black press.
So far this year, less than 1 percent of money spent on congressional races in Florida has gone to Black-owned media.
"If they want to have a conversation with Black Florida, the place to do it is in the Black-owned media," Charles W. Cherry II, a member of the Florida Black-Owned Media Coalition, told the Miami Herald.
In New York City, advertising agencies are slowly signing settlement agreements with the New York City Human Rights Commission.
This summer, NAACP President and CEO Bruce Gordon disclosed that Target department store officials were so arrogant that they refused to complete an NAACP questionnaire about their Black employees and the use of Black vendors.
Blacks need to confront these economic terrorists. For my money, I would start with Target. If enough of us returned their credit cards, stayed out of their stores and told them why, it wouldn't be long before they would be begging for a another chance to advertise with the Black media and complete the NAACP survey.
I am not stepping foot into another Target store until they change their tune. Are you willing to join me?
George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service.