San Francisco Lawmakers Support Spending Ad Dollars With Community Media

San Francisco lawmakers agreed that the city agencies should make better use of independent community media for outreach.

A panel of four people
A panel organized by Common Cause called Local Voices on Local News held on March 13 featured San Francisco Public Press Executive Director Lila Lahood, Accion Latina Executive Director Fatima Ramirez, San Francisco State University Journalism Department Chair Jesse Garnier and host Common Causes's Maya Chupkov. | Ingleside Light

San Francisco Supervisors Tuesday passed a resolution recognizing the importance of ethnic and community journalism and that the city should strengthen its relationship with community and ethnic media outlets.

Part of the resolution includes urging city departments to spend more outreach and advertising dollars on community and ethnic news media outlets rather than using third-party vendors — a recommendation from a report released by California Common Cause, a nonpartisan policy and advocacy organization.

“Democracy depends on robust independent journalism, and robust independent journalism depends on thriving community- and neighborhood-centered news outlets,” said Supervisor Matt Dorsey in a news release. Dorsey was the main sponsor of the resolution.

“With the San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ passage of this resolution today, we’re expanding on our city’s commitment to its diverse communities by supporting the diverse community-based journalism that’s part of it,” Dorsey added.

The report titled “Local Voices on Local News: Community Perspectives and Policy Recommendations for Strengthening San Francisco’s Journalism Ecosystem” released in February looked at the community and ethnic journalism community landscape and held focus groups in different languages (English, Chinese Spanish and Tagalog) for several months with San Franciso residents to find what their needs are in reading local news.

“Local news is critical to our democracy, and we know that San Franciscans are hungry for more,” said Maya Chupkov, media and democracy program manager at California Common Cause in a news release.

One of the recommendations in the report was the idea of city departments shifting some of the advertising money they spend to independent media publishers that would help provide resources for community and ethnic media news outlets to stay afloat.

The report said community journalism news media outlets play a critical role in the media landscape as they report and cover news stories in the community and neighborhoods that are not necessarily the main focus of major news outlets in San Francisco.

“This investment in local media has proven successful in New York and Chicago, and will likewise ensure that our city government supports and communicates directly and effectively with readers of underserved ethnic and community media,” said Michael Yamashita in a news release, who is the publisher of the Bay Area Reporter newspaper.

At the request of Dorsey, the Budget and Legislative Analyst released a report last December to provide options for creating a program to direct more advertising spending to these types of outlets. The BLA report said 98 media outlets were operating in the city, but only seven publications were approved by the Board of Supervisors for an advertising contract to publish legally required notices for fiscal year 2023-24.

The BLA report looked at other cities that have programs where advertising and outreach expenditures go to community news outlets. Cities, namely New York, have codified into law that at least 50% of all print and digital advertising — excluding legally required notices — be spent in community and ethnic media outlets. A list of media outlets was compiled and an office within the mayor’s office was created to monitor the program.

The BLA gave city officials policy considerations if they were to pursue such a program like New York, including a vetted directory of community and ethnic news outlets and setting a mandated percentage of advertising that would go towards these news outlets. Additionally, the BLA stated the city would need to clearly define what is considered advertising, establish a system to track how spending will be tracked and reported and determine which community and ethnic media outlets can qualify as a city vendor.

San Francisco State University Journalism Department Chair Jesse Garnier said there should also be other criteria established to prevent political interference if community and ethnic journalism outlets were to receive money from the city government. The journalism department is acting as a local independent monitor to help with the city’s plan to prioritize advertising dollars to ethnic media outlets and independent news publishers.

The Bay Area Independent Community Media Coalition, which is being led by California Common Cause and includes several community and bilingual publications in print and online in the city, is advocating for a policy solution that would increase the amount of advertising the city spends in local community and ethnic media outlets. The Ingleside Light is a participant, and — despite publishing bonafide journalism for an eager hyperlocal every week — it cannot participate in the city’s outreach advertising because the rules have not been modernized for the digital age.

“We are energized to work with the city, ethnic and multilingual media outlets, and local community publishers to carry out recommendations from the report. This should help ensure city messaging on programs reach all residents, in all communities, through known and trusted outlets,” Garnier said.

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