Bay State Banter

News that the city of Boston has offered a financial bailout to the shuttered Bay State Banner produced reactions that ranged from sunny proclamations by the mayor to shell-shocked acquiescence by the Banner’s publisher to eggshell analysis from local chinstrokers.

The story, first reported by the Boston Globe, has Mayor Tom Menino stating that the $200,000 loan is not an attempt to garner favor from the Banner (which has been critical of Menino in the past).

‘‘This is about me helping a business that is very important to the minority community,’’ Menino said. ‘‘I will step up anytime and help any business in this city. I’m trying to help a business survive. Tell me if that’s wrong.’’


That’s wrong.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If you’re in the news business, you do not want to invite any government types into your house. Before you can say “camel’s nose under the tent,” they’ll be kicking their shoes off and making a baloney sandwich.

Unfortunately, local chinstroker reaction to the Globe story was, well, restrained. Sam Tyler of the business-backed Boston Municipal Research Bureau said:

“I think the Banner plays an important role in Boston and the Boston community, but I don’t think it’s an appropriate use of public funds.”

Lou Ureneck, chairman of the journalism department at Boston University (where I am a mass communication professor), told the Globe:

“Clearly, the Banner is a community asset, and it’s in the interest of all residents of Boston for the paper to keep operating . . . But it is highly unusual for a government entity to loan money to a newspaper.”

Actually, it’s more than highly unusual – it’s highly suicidal. But that doesn’t seem to faze Banner publisher Mel Miller – who, to be fair, has single-handedly kept the Banner afloat for almost 45 years. Unless my ears betray me, though, he told WBUR that he sees no conflict in taking money from the city his paper is supposed to watchdog.

It’s all too reminiscent of the classic story about the Baltimore alderman who owned a local bar and also sat on the city’s Alcoholic Beverages Commission. Asked if that wasn’t a conflict of interest, the alderman responded, “How does that conflict with my interests?”

Here’s another question: Why – given that Boston is a majority minority town – doesn’t the black community have a stronger power base here? Why do Boston’s prominent African-Americans routinely rise to the top of charitable groups and non-profit organizations, but rarely attain political power either locally or statewide? And why, in the end, does the paper have to rely on the white mayor of Boston – instead of the black community – to rescue it?

Maybe the Municipal Bay State Banner could look into that.

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5 Responses to Bay State Banter

  1. However well-intentioned, the appearance of a cozy arrangement between a government entity and a news media outlet is troubling. Mayor Menino’s relations with Boston’s black community have not always been smooth, and political cynics might suggest that the Banner bailout could bolster Menino’s profile among African-Americans and offset any potential loss of voters in the Asian community who might favor mayoral candidate and city councilor Sam Yoon.

    In May 2009, The Carrboro Citizen, in Chapel Hill, NC, asked municipal officials for a loan to stay afloat. The same issues apply to the Banner case. A news media outlet cannot be the “watchdog” over government when it is dependent on government officials to take it out for a walk. Any Banner editorial supporting a position taken by Menino, fairly or unfairly, might be perceived as “payback.”

    Moreover, Boston and Massachusetts revenues are woefully below previous estimates, so helping the Banner and other worthy private enterprises should take a backseat to more pressing needs that affect Bostonians, such as health care, runaway foreclosures, and the homeless.

  2. Aaron Read says:

    “A news media outlet cannot be the “watchdog” over government when it is dependent on government officials to take it out for a walk.”

    That presupposes that any of these media outlets are truly in a watchdog role anymore. I would say there has not been a true watchdog over government for at least a decade, arguably not since the early 1980’s.

    And if this loan troubles you, why does CPB-funded WBUR not trouble you?

    • jcarroll7 says:

      Thanks for the question, Aaron. Actually, CPB funding of WBUR does trouble me, as does CPB funding of PBS stations. I’ll elaborate in a post.

  3. Pingback: CPBgone « Campaign Outsider

  4. Pingback: Hang the Banner!

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