Corporations fail to honor pledges to Black media

(top, l-r) Batala McFarlane, Georgia Fort, and Tracey Williams-Dillard; (middle, l-r) Mukhtar M. Ibrahim, Tawanna Black, and Sheletta Brundidge; (bottom) Jonathan Johnson /Courtesy of the Center for Economic Inclusion

The Center for Economic Inclusion held a Zoom meeting earlier this month with local leaders of Black-owned media to discuss whether or not pledges some large corporations made in the wake of George Floyd’s murder to invest in Black-owned media have materialized. Among corporations that made pledges are Target, General Mills, Nestle and DoorDash.

The panel was hosted by Tawanna A. Black, founder and CEO of the Center for Economic Inclusion, and co-moderated by Jonathan Johnson, who works as the Center’s business development and strategy lead. According to the Center, top corporations only spend .3-.5% of their advertising budgets in Black-owned media. And despite the pledge 20 corporations made to raise this to two percent, the panelists universally agreed that this had not been implemented.

“Nobody has received any of the ad buys that they promised after George Floyd died,” said Sheletta Brundidge, founder and CEO of Shelettamakesmelaugh.com. “They put out the news releases. They said they were going to do it, and then nothing happened. 

“And then our local media turned around and said, ‘Where are the receipts? Where’s the money?’ When they put out the news release saying they were going to do two percent of their ad buys, they could have said where their money was going. 

“They didn’t say anything because they hadn’t planned on doing anything. And then when someone finally asked the question, they said, well, they don’t know. They don’t care enough about our community to be honest about it, and they know that nobody’s going to call them out on it.”

Brundidge mentioned a specific effort she made to talk with an organization that had invested in a White-owned media outlet to get them to talk about diversity and inclusion. She asked for the meeting to see if the company would be interested in partnering with Black-owned media. No one from the company ever showed up, only emailing Brundidge after the fact to say they had been double booked. 

“[The companies] will tell me they don’t have money for advertising, and then I look up and they’ve got a commercial somewhere else talking about racial diversity and inclusion with a majority-owned media outlet,” Brundidge said. She added that with all the Fortune 500 companies based in Minnesota, the lack of sustainable support is embarrassing.

Batala McFarlane, the publisher of Insight News said audiences can help influence corporate investments in Black media by going “straight to the companies, and ask them, how much are you directly spending on Black-owned media in Minneapolis?”

Many of the panelists brought up the fundamental business sense behind supporting Black media. “If you’re not willing to talk to me through the media which I listen to or read, then you really aren’t trying to talk to me, and you don’t want my business, and you don’t value me as a consumer,” said Tracy Williams-Dillard, publisher and CEO of the MN Spokesman-Recorder. 

Georgia Fort, journalist and founder of BLCK Press agreed, mentioning the recent Target campaign to get more Black-owned businesses’ products in their stores. “Those are products, oftentimes hair products, skincare products, that are designed and created for our community.

Watch the Reckoning for Wealth Equity: Investing in Black Media and Black Voices for Change conversation

“You mean to tell me that you are going and marketing those products in the Star Tribune, the Pioneer Press, on WCCO radio?” said Fort. “Do you really think you’re going to reach your consumers there? No, absolutely not. Your consumers are reading our publications, are listening to our podcasts, are reading our articles on our websites. I mean, it just makes sense. It’s good business. It’s smart business.”

Mukhtar M. Ibrahim, founding executive director and editor of the Sahan Journal, also mentioned the changing statistics in Minnesota, which has gone from 83% White to 74% White today. “So we know these are really growing communities who will make up a sizable portion of our state in the coming decades.

“[They] are revitalizing cities across the state, are bringing richness to our culture and economy and politics. And we are hitting that audience and also doing the real work of producing journalism that the rest of the media ignores or overlooks and sometimes misrepresents.” 

Ibrahim said that having a niche inside such a growing community would seem to make them an inviting target for investment. But this has not been the case.

Fort added, “We’re not here looking for a handout or charity. We’re running a business, and so for us it makes sense for us to go after corporate ad dollars,” especially as they look to grow their business. “If we’re not even receiving two percent of ad dollars, how do we survive?” she asked. 

“Our work is a service, but that doesn’t mean we take a vow of poverty—nor should we,” said McFarlane.

According to Fort, even other ways of gaining revenue, like monetizing through social media content, can have issues. She suggested having ads inserted in content through Youtube or Facebook once eligibility requirements are met. 

But for Black-owned media this can be difficult, as companies can choose not to advertise with you if they view your content as controversial, especially on civil rights and racial justice content. So these pathways to alternative revenue are simply not viable. Black-owned media need corporate advertising.

“Make sure that you use your voices internally to get your corporations to stand up and do what’s right,” said Williams-Dillard, addressing those working within these corporations. She also felt that pessimism may impede timely action. “I cringe when I hear ‘For us to do this it’s gonna take another two to three to five years.”

Ibrahim said that larger system changes need to be accomplished in order to support local journalism. “I believe local journalism is indeed truly a civic infrastructure that needs real investment. If we don’t inform the communities, then that vital resource won’t be available. This work is really hard work that needs real investment from foundations, from the corporate world, from government, from major donors and everyone else.”

Brundidge proposed holding corporations accountable for their promises as a solution: “We’re going to sit at the table that you sit at and we’re going to expect you to split that money up the way you said you were going to split it up in that news release after George Floyd died and give us our proper share and pay us what we’re worth to advertise to the people who are keeping your company in business who look like us.”

About RB King

RB King is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. She welcomes reader responses to kaysi003@umn.edu.

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