Community Blindspot

Study of NYS agency advertising practices reveals lack of transparency that leaves community media business sector and audience overlooked


A newsstand in Queens, NY (Photo by Anokha Venugopal)

Executive Summary

Over the past year, the Center for Community Media’s (CCM) Advertising Boost Initiative (ABI) has investigated the advertising expenditure trends of New York State agencies.

This in-depth study of $216 million spent across 90 advertising campaigns by six key state agencies revealed an alarming trend: a paltry 2.6% of these funds, amounting to $5.6 million, has reached community media since 2015.1 This despite community media’s audience size in the millions, their robust coverage of local issues and the trust they have earned from underrepresented communities. 

This disparity is particularly glaring when compared to New York City’s 2019 executive order and subsequent legislation, which channeled a notable percentage of city agencies’ print, digital and broadcast advertising budgets into community media. This strategic allocation reinvigorated community outlets as potent instruments for civic engagement.

Our findings strongly suggest that New York State would benefit from adopting an approach similar to New York City’s successful model. This would be pivotal toward creating more inclusive, diverse, and engaged media ecosystems across the state. A comprehensive policy would work toward increasing not just the amount of advertising funding that would go to community media but also the number of outlets receiving ad dollars. This, in turn, would broaden the reach of ad campaigns to residents across the state from a variety of backgrounds and spur increasing transparency in the ad distribution process, making agencies accountable for their spending.  

It’s important to emphasize that these community news outlets are not just media organizations; they are small businesses. Supporting them stimulates small, independent, locally owned businesses and employers that contribute to the local economy, and boost civic engagement by reporting on important issues such as education, local elections and other underreported local matters. By advertising in community media, state agencies can target and reach underrepresented communities left out of state messaging critical to New Yorkers civic, social, and economic lives.

Here are some of our key findings:

  • NYS agencies spent over $905 million on state-contracted advertising agencies from FY 2012 to 2022.
  • CCM analyzed $216 million spent on 90 advertising campaigns by six New York State agencies. 
  • Community media only received 2.6% ($5.6 million) of the $216 million spent on media buys.
  • Of the $216 million, traditional media received the most dollars at $133 million or 61.5% of the total.2
  • In media placements we analyzed, the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance spent 0% of the $3.9 million budget directly on community media outlets. 
  • The Office of Children & Family Services spent only 0.8% ($17K) of $2.2 million on community media outlets, based on media placements we analyzed. 
  • State agencies’ combined spending on media placements in social media, tech and ad-serving/targeting companies amounted to $42.4 million, or 20% of the total ad dollars – almost eight times the amount that community media received.3
  • The Department of Labor spent 29% ($144K) on community media outlets, based on the $497K in media placements we analyzed. Of the six agencies who gave us records, the DOL spent by far the most on community media.
  • New York state is home to a substantial concentration of community and ethnic media. Many organizations have their own directories for the community and ethnic media they serve. These include:
  • New York State is becoming increasingly multiracial and multicultural.
    • From 2010-2020: 
      • Residents of Hispanic and Latino origin increased by 16%, comprising 19.7% of the population.
      • Residents of Asian origin increased by 36%, comprising 9.6% of the population.
    • The most recent Census estimates say that 30.5% of New Yorkers speak a language other than English at home. 
  • A 2001 comptroller’s audit of advertising practices of nine state agencies/authorities found that the state “has no laws or regulations to establish guidelines for the types of advertising State agencies and public authorities should conduct, to promote accountability for advertising expenditures.” 
    • One exception was passed in 2007, prohibiting the appearance of elected officials in advertisements made with public funds.
Given what we know is achievable in terms of equity for community media, CCM hopes this report makes a similar impact on New York State law that its 2013 study had on New York City Law 83. 

CCM urges state policymakers to demand transparency in ad spending of state agencies and hold state agencies accountable for the fair allocation of advertising dollars among community media outlets to reach the communities they serve.



1 The Gaming Commission was the only agency that provided data from 2015-2023. Department of Agriculture and Markets data spanned 2016-2020; Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance data provided covered dates from 2018-2021; Department of Labor gave CCM data from 2020-2023; Office of Children and Family Services data spanned dates from 2019-2022, and the Board of Elections provided only October and November 2020 for analysis.

2 These totals include both “traditional” media and “unspecified traditional” media. We gave the “unspecified traditional” label to media buys that did not include specific outlet names, which the state categorized as “mainstream” media outlets.

3 This combined total includes $1,260,326.67 in “unspecified digital media,” for which the Department of Agriculture and Markets did not identify a specific outlet.

4 Within the more than 700 members in NYPS’ network, 266 community news organizations participate in their Newspaper Advertising Network, listed here.

5 MOECM Citywide Marketing Directory & CCM estimates.

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