NYC Ad Spending Initiative Boosts Community News Outlets

December 2020

   The Haitian Times: Haitian American Candidate Earns Staten Island Progressive Action Network Endorsement (Leonardo March)
   The Haitian Times: Haitian American Candidate Earns Staten Island Progressive Action Network Endorsement (Leonardo March)


As 2020 saw a pandemic, census, and election converge on New York City, a visionary action by the local government saved one of the city’s most powerful — and long overlooked — tools of civic engagement: its community media sector. A May 2019 executive order mandated that city agencies allocate at least 50 percent of their print and digital advertising budgets in the trusted news sources of the New Yorkers their public information campaigns most needed to reach. In its first year of implementation, the executive order far outperformed its own expectations, delivering 84 percent of the budget, nearly $10 million, to more than 220 outlets serving New Yorkers in every neighborhood in all five boroughs in 36 languages besides English.

This funding couldn’t have come at a more critical time, as community media outlets lost their primary sources of revenue and distribution systems when local businesses shuttered during the lockdowns to contain COVID-19. This initiative is the first and only time a local government has marshalled this existing resource and reinvested it in its community media, and could prove a valuable model to localities nationwide.

The Center for Community Media located at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism launched the Advertising Boost Initiative (ABI) in January 2020 to act as a liaison between community media outlets and city agencies, as well as the advertising agencies they engage. ABI Program Manager Darlie Gervais connected publishers in community media with city agency marketing directors and ad agency representatives, developed training and consultative resources to help them prepare for city advertising, and kept them apprised of upcoming city advertising campaigns. She supported city agencies by familiarizing them with the diversity and reach of the city’s community media outlets. This is ABI’s independent report on this extraordinary success story. Here are some of our key findings:

  • In fiscal year 2020, New York City agencies placed $9.9 million worth of advertising in print and digital community media outlets (print and digital make up 75 percent of the sector) out of a total budget of $11.8 million.
  • This amounted to 84 percent of the city’s total print and digital advertising budget, compared to 18 percent in 2013, when the Center for Community Media conducted our first study of equity in city agency advertising.
  • The city has approved 233 community media outlets to receive funding from city agencies. More than 220 outlets received funding under Executive Order 47 in fiscal year 2020. CCM maintains and updates our own directory of more than 300 community media outlets in the New York City metro area.
  • Fifty outlets in CCM’s directory received advertising from the city for the first time ever.
  • More than 185 outlets saw dramatic increases in their ad revenues from city agencies, and many saw jaw-dropping increases, with one increasing by 32,000 percent.
  • In spring 2020, CCM conducted a survey of community media outlets and  84 percent of respondents reported losing advertising revenue from local businesses, and at least a quarter of these by more than 75 percent. City advertising largely replaced this lost revenue.
  • In fiscal year 2020, 47 outlets in the city’s directory of community and ethnic media received between $10,000 and $30,000 from city agencies; 28 received between $30,000 and $50,000; 37 received between $50,000 and $100,000, and 19 received more than $100,000 from city agencies. Seventy-six received $10,000 or less.
  • Compared to 2013, more funding went to more outlets, and from more city government agencies. In fiscal year 2013, four city agencies spent 50 percent of their print and digital advertising budgets on community media outlets. In fiscal year 2020, 35 agencies achieved this 50 percent threshold.
  • The community media in New York are a vital source of news for communities of color and for the 3.1 million immigrant New Yorkers, almost 37 percent of the city’s population.

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