Pay Up, Honky

Kevin Hoffman, Scene (Cleveland), Jan. 5

“Black people, wake up!” shouts the ad running in local black newspapers. “Do not spend your money with Kohl’s Department Stores or T-Mobile Wireless . . . Help us prove their racist stereotypes wrong.”

From the hyperbolic tone, you’d think the companies had installed whites-only drinking fountains. But the outrage stems from something a bit more pedestrian. Black newspapers are crying discrimination because the two companies don’t spend enough money with . . . black newspapers.

City News and the Akron Reporter are running the ad as part of a nationwide effort organized by Les Kimber, whose California marketing agency sells advertising for black papers. “Essentially, a group of publishers have decided to use the boycott as a marketing tool in order to eliminate what we consider economic discrimination against black newspapers,” Kimber says.

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Upon closer examination, however, his civil rights struggle looks suspiciously like a shakedown.

To Kimber, it’s all about the color of a paper’s owner, not who actually reads it. He considers The Plain Dealer a white paper, though it reaches more than 193,000 black readers, according to the Media Audit, a national research firm. Though City News markets directly to blacks, its readership is only 47,300.

When it comes to major advertisers like Kohl’s and T-Mobile, these kinds of numbers do the talking. With multimillion-dollar budgets, they’re looking for large audiences and one-stop shopping. In fact, most national advertisers don’t do business with small white-owned papers either.

(T-Mobile does advertise in Scene, which has a monthly readership of 340,700, 22 percent of which is black, according to the Media Audit.)

Kimber’s argument also neglects a more fundamental problem with papers like City News: Black merchants are ignoring them just as much as large corporations are. City News offers a hodgepodge of wire service stories and op-eds on national issues, with the scantiest of local coverage. The issue containing Kimber’s ad was filled with recipes from Cleveland “celebrities,” including the peach cobbler specialty of Publisher James Crosby’s wife. The cover featured Plain Dealer columnist Sam Fulwood III, posing over a strainer of broccoli.

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