SAN FRANCISCO – Seattle may be the first in the nation to require its contractors to include ethnic media in their community outreach plans, city officials say. The move boosts the visibility of ethnic media, but some of those news outlets say it is unclear if it will result in more ad dollars.
Mayor Mike McGinn announced the policy change last month, which calls for consultants proposing city-funded projects with a community outreach component to incorporate ethnic media in their outreach and advertising plans.
Robert Cruickshank, senior advisor to the mayor, said the policy ensures that city-funded projects such as building initiatives, public health campaigns and community projects, will be publicized in ethnic media.
"We want to reach the people we serve," he said. "If there's a new building for example, we want everyone in that neighborhood to know about it."
Cruickshank called the new policy a "sensible" move for the city, adding that it has made strides to reach a growing population of immigrants, many of whom rely on non-English publications for their news. About a third of the city's residents are minorities, with Asians making up 13.8 percent and Hispanics making up 6.6 percent.
Martha Montoya, publisher of the Spanish-language newspaper El Mundo said the move is groundbreaking and validates the role ethnic media play to inform their communities.
"I've never seen a mayor do this," she said, adding that ethnic residents in the city turn to ethnic news outlets rather than mainstream news sources such as The Seattle Times to stay in the know.
"People go to the content they feel comfortable with," Montoya said.
Cruickshank says the mayor's office first proactively reached out to local ethnic media to publicize the 2010 Census.
Since then, he says, ethnic media outlets such as Runta, Northwest Vietnamese News, Northwest Asian Weekly, and Univision have met on a regular basis with the mayor's office to discuss ways that the city could better support ethnic media as key news outlets as well as small businesses. The media representatives expressed frustration over being overlooked by city consultants in the past. They said they wanted more information about plans and projects that might affect ethnic populations.
Charles Lam, editor of Northwest Asian Weekly, said city officials caused an uproar in recent years among residents of South Seattle -- an area predominantly of people of color – because city contractors failed to hire local workers in a series of redevelopment projects, including the renovation of the Rainier Beach Community Center in 2011.
"It's caused a lot of stink," Lam said. "This is a case where it would have been nice to be involved and know before rather than after."
Muhamod Yussuf, editor of Runta, a Seattle-based bilingual Somali and English newspaper, says that communications between the mayor's office and his newspaper have improved over the past three years.
"They know what we do and the importance of ethnic media," he said. However, city consultants who are not based in the mayor's office have not been required to share the mayor's values. Now consultants will be required to translate their news releases into relevant languages and budget for ethnic media ads, if necessary.
Some ethnic media say the mayor's policy is an important step, but won't boost the bottom lines of most ethnic media outlets. Julie Pham, co-owner of Northwest Vietnamese News says, "It is really good that the city is doing this. But the difficult thing is that the pie is still small."
City officials say that it would be "impossible" to quantify how much the city as a whole spends on media advertising, because each department comes up with its own budget for community outreach. As such it is difficult to estimate the financial impact the new policy may have, if any, on ethnic media.
Some ethnic media publishers say they question whether this latest move by the mayor is largely symbolic, and one intended to gain votes from Seattle's ethnic communities, ahead of a hotly-contested mayor's race in which three challengers are hoping to make it past the Aug. 6 primary.
However, Montoya, the El Mundo publisher, points out that the mayor's proposal may indirectly have a positive financial effect on media outlets simply by putting ethnic media on the public radar. She says she hopes that if the mayor's office continues to advocate for these news outlets, ethnic media will begin to get more advertising dollars from larger companies.
Despite the policy's uncertain financial significance, it will help ethnic media stay on top of important local news.
As Magdaleno Rose-Avila, Director of the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs says, for him the meaning of the mayor's new policy is clear: "It's just a matter of respect."