Ads in Florida black-owned newspapers criticize the state Democratic Party
Look at a copy of the black-focused Capital Outlook or Florida Courier newspapers this week, and you'll see ads accusing the Democratic Party of failing to mobilize black voters for this year's presidential election.
"Will Republicans steal the presidency again while Democrats stand around and watch?" asks one ad, part of a protest by a coalition of black-owned newspapers across Florida that say they have been frozen out of commercial spending by the state's Democrats before a crucial election. (Click here to see the half-page ad Download halfpage5052webad.pdf.)
State Democratic party officials say Barack Obama's campaign has assumed control of their advertising operations for the presidential election and has placed advertisements in black-owned media.
The conflict comes at a crucial time for the Democratic Party and Obama, a history-making black presidential candidate who needs a large turnout of black voters in Florida to boost his chances of winning the state.
According to Vaughn Wilson, director of sales for the 14,000-circulation Tallahassee-based Capital Outlook, similar ads will run this week in black-owned newspapers such as the Westside Gazette in Fort Lauderdale and the Pensacola Voice, aimed at getting the attention of Democrats who purchase campaign ads for political races.
"We just wanted to inform people that the Florida Democratic Party was not reaching people by established means, and we didn't want what happened in 2000 to happen again," said Wilson, noting that Democratic party officials have already begun talks with the group, which may resolve their concerns.
But at least one black-focused newspaper in Florida isn't running the ads, concerned that explicitly criticizing Democrats for not advertising in their newspaper unfairly inserts their business concerns into Florida's presidential balloting.
"It's putting ourselves into the story in a way that might help or hurt a candidate . . . which is crossing a line for us," said Brad Bennett, a former Miami Herald reporter who now serves as executive editor of the South Florida Times in Fort Lauderdale.
"It seems as if the Obama campaign has gone to great lengths to reach out to the black press (in ways) we have not seen from the Florida Democratic Party," added Bennett. "But we don't want to insert ourselves into the presidential campaign."
Turns out, this is a longstanding gripe for black-owned media outlets in Florida. Black-focused radio station and newspaper owners say they get little political advertising from a party that enjoys near unanimous support from black voters in elections. But because these media outlets often have smaller audiences that are tough to verify, advertisers sometimes target black voters in more general media outlets.
An explosion of similar concerns in 2006 led to meetings with black media owners and some additional spending. But the Obama campaign's move to take over advertising in Florida may have led to a misunderstanding about where advertising dollars would come from in 2008.
"The Florida Democratic Party . . . has advertised and will advertise with these institutions in the future," said Leonard Joseph, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party. "We have an open door to talk about their concerns."
But Charles Cherry, publisher of the 70,000-circulation statewide Florida Courier newspaper and a leading voice in the protest, said the Democratic Party hasn't invested in the consultants and activists who have historic connections inside the state's black communities, starting with black-owned media.
"The black press and much of the black political culture has been shut out," said Cherry, noting that his newspaper isn't shy about supporting Obama's presidential run. "They want the black vote, but they don't want to pay for it through newspapers and advertising. They feel they don't have to market their product to a voter they're going to get anyway."