City of Chicago commits to spending ad dollars in minority community media

by Fred Kuhr

The City of Chicago is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to supporting minority community media, including LGBTQ media.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who is a lesbian, signed an executive order last month designating that city departments allocate at least 50 percent of their annual advertising spending to community media outlets. This is an effort that the Chicago Independent Media Alliance (CIMA), of which LGBTQ publication Windy City Times is a member, has been advocating for since 2020.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot

“Chicago is one of the most diverse cities in the world, and it’s only right that city government honors that diversity by supporting community and ethnic media outlets,” said Mayor Lightfoot in a statement. “Through this equity-based executive order, we will ensure that city communications and information on programs are accessible to all of our residents — no matter their circumstances. This effort will also serve as an economic boon for many of our local media outlets, and strengthen the city’s relationship with the communities they represent.”

With this executive order, the city demonstrates its commitment to equitable access to vital information about city services and resources, according to CIMA.

“We are so excited Mayor Lightfoot is taking this first big step toward creating a more equitable playing field for the city’s marketing and advertising spending. We urge all city, county and state agencies to follow this lead,” said CIMA founder, Chicago Reader publisher and Windy City Times founder Tracy Baim. “This decision will not only ensure that Chicago’s local media can grow and support more voices, it will ensure that Chicago can be a blueprint for other cities.”

“Chicago is a leader in hyperlocal journalism. This is a significant step for advancing equity of voice in Chicago and beyond,” said Jhmira Alexander, president and executive director of Public Narrative, a nonprofit organization based in Chicago that connects neglected communities with the media to promote better news coverage. “Agency marketing and advertising dollars will offer community media outlets the chance to increase their capacity for coverage and innovation in better serving the different communities in our diverse city.”

Chicago’s local media outlets have been advocating for this effort since October 2020, when CIMA — a project of the Reader Institute for Community Journalism linking more than 60 community media entities representing more than 80 outlets — began the work of replicating a study of New York City governmental advertising conducted by the Center for Community Media at the City University of New York (CUNY) Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. The New York project resulted in an Executive Order signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in mid-2019. In 2020, the first year of full implementation, there was a multi-million-dollar shift to community and ethnic media.

“The Newmark J-school is thrilled to learn that Chicago is following in the steps of New York City and creating a more equitable landscape for community media,” said Graciela Mochkofsky, dean of the CUNY Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. “The New York City executive order and now permanent law, supported by the work of our Center for Community Media, allocates government advertising dollars to the myriad of newsrooms serving communities of color and immigrants in New York. This has strengthened the sector, effectively allowing thousands of people to stay informed and civically engaged.”

For the Chicago project, CIMA hired Sam Stecklow — journalist and researcher currently at Invisible Institute — who conducted a FOIA investigation of advertising spending by city, county, and state agencies. Unlike New York City, Chicago and sister city agencies do not handle advertising in a central fashion. Thus, FOIA requests were made to all city departments and sister agencies, other local agencies that are run by appointees of the mayor of Chicago, and city-affiliated nonprofits that are run by appointees of the mayor of Chicago.

CIMA co-directors Yazmin Dominguez and Savannah Hugueley created the City of Chicago Marketing Report summarizing the investigation results. Overall, it found that, from 2015 to 2020, while 47.4 percent of advertising from city agencies was in community media, that only translated to 18.8 percent of total dollars spent. For what the city reported, 38.8 percent was spent in community media, but that was just 13 percent when viewed on dollars spent.

“This executive order has the opportunity to be a game-changer for Chicago’s local outlets,” said Dominguez. “A more consistent and solid flow of advertising dollars will equate to stable newsrooms resulting in secure resources to fund and uplift more on-the-ground and investigative reporting.”

As part of the executive order, the Office of the Mayor will maintain a list of local media that exemplify Chicago’s interconnected communities. Agencies will also be able to utilize the Chicago Independent Media Directory created by CIMA. Featuring outlet statistics and audience demographics, this free media directory includes a growing list of Chicago’s independent and local media outlets in one central website.

Volume 24
Issue 8

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