Government agencies already spend billions of dollars on advertising. But little of it goes to local news organizations. What if governments were nudged to spend more of that advertising with local newsrooms?
In 2011, the Federal Communications Commission report Information Needs of Communities identified “advertising policy” as an under-discussed, noting that the Federal government alone likely spent $1 billion on ads. The report recommended targeting federal ad spending toward local press.
In 2013, the Newmark School of Journalism at the City University of New York released a report finding that 82% of the money spent by the city on print and digital advertising went to The New York Times and other city wide publications, rather than to the 95 ethnic and community publications. The journalism school’s Center for Community Media, with the support of the Revson Foundation, pushed the city to improve. On May 22, 2019, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed Executive Order 47, requiring that city agencies spend half of their print and digital advertising budgets on community media outlets.
This Ad Boost Initiative had a meaningful positive impact on local media. In 2020, 84% of the funds went to community media – providing a key lifeline, especially during COVID. In 2019, the Haitian Times received about $200 in city advertising; in 2020, they received $73,000, including public health and census ads. “We were able to hire freelancers to beef up our coverage, to increase the hours of our social media director and to bring on a managing editor as well as a copy editor,” says Gary Pierre-Pierre, publisher of the Haitian Times.
Other cities and states are now looking into this approach. In the fall of 2022, the city of Chicago announced that it would follow the Ad Boost model, putting 50% of its advertising toward ethnic and local media.
There are risks to the approach. Safeguards need to be in place so elected officials don’t use the advertising funds to reward or punish local news organizations, as has happened in other countries.