By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: Bay State Banner

The formerly independent Bay State Banner

In their wonderful little book on media ethics, “The Elements of Journalism,” Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel identify independence as such a touchstone that it comprises two of their nine points:

4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power.

Today the Bay State Banner ceases to be an independent newspaper. By accepting Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s offer of a $200,000 government-administered loan, publisher Melvin Miller has compromised his 44-year-old weekly, which covers Greater Boston’s African-American community.

Miller tells the Boston Globe that he’ll still criticize Menino if he thinks it’s warranted. But that’s not the issue. Now, even if he blasts Menino, readers will have a right to wonder what calculations went into that — indeed, whether the Banner was being critical of the mayor just to prove that it could.

The Banner loan is neither unprecedented nor is it the end of the world. Several decades ago the late David Brickman, owner of the Malden Evening News, accepted government redevelopment money in order to build a new headquarters as part of an effort to rehabilitate Malden Square. The News continued to be a valuable local resource for many years to come. But there was a lot of criticism even at the time.

The general, inviolable rule is that government and journalism can’t mix because journalism is meant to be an independent check on government. That’s why recent suggestions to bail out the struggling newspaper business have largely been met with hoots of derision.

Miller may be right when he says accepting the loan is preferable to letting his paper go out of business. The Banner may continue as an important community outlet. I hope it does. But something was lost when Miller said “yes” to Menino.

More: John Carroll has similar thoughts.

The definition of a bad idea

Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s proposal to prop up the Bay State Banner with a $200,000 loan administered by the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Talk about a conflict of interest. No word on whether Banner publisher Melvin Miller is on board. Let’s hope not.

A banner day for the Banner?

The Bay State Banner may survive. According to the Boston Globe’s Meghan Irons, Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree (photo) says he has lined up a dozen investors to save the weekly newspaper, which serves Greater Boston’s African-American community. Ogletree says the Banner, founded 44 years ago by Melvin Miller, who’s still the publisher, could resume publication next week.

Meanwhile, the Phoenix’s Adam Reilly takes a closer look at the Banner and finds it to be “uneven.” But though Reilly pays lip service to the notion that the Banner is a community paper rather than the African-American equivalent of the Globe or the Boston Herald, I think he gets a little too hung up on the Banner’s shortcomings in comparison to major media outlets.

The real point of comparison ought to be with neighborhood papers like the Jamaica Plain Gazette, the South End News and the Dorchester Reporter, as well as ethnic papers like El Planeta, the Boston Irish Reporter and the Boston Haitian Reporter.

I don’t want to make it sound like I’m intimately familiar with what those papers publish every week; far from it. But I do know that neighborhood papers are where you go for church and school announcements, news about local businesses and the like, which you rarely see in either of the city’s dailies. Whenever I’ve picked up a Banner, that’s what has stood out.

Of course, a weekly newspaper isn’t the only way of covering a neighborhood or an ethnic community. New England Ethnic News, for instance, offers an online compendium of the city’s ethnic newspapers, including the Banner.

In addition, a couple of years ago, there was a serious proposal to launch a Web-based news service for Roxbury, with content to be provided by citizen journalists who’d be recruited for the task. Perhaps the smartest idea was to tie the Web site to a local-access cable program.

It never got off the ground, which was a shame. But if the Banner revival falls short — or even if it doesn’t — we’re likely to see some online experiments in reaching out to Boston’s neighborhoods.

Photo of Ogletree (cc) by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Bay State Banner in limbo

The Bay State Banner, which serves the region’s African-American community, has shut down while editor and publisher Melvin Miller seeks investors. The Phoenix’s Adam Reilly has the details, here and here. Universal Hub and the Boston Globe have covered the story as well.

Miller, a lawyer who founded the Banner in 1965, has kept it alive through sheer grit and determination. As you can see from his bio, he’s had a wide-ranging career, and has served on a number of non-profit boards, including Boston University’s. The current executive editor is Howard Manly, a veteran journalist who’s worked for the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald and WGBH-TV’s “Greater Boston.”

Miller’s closest brush with media moguldom, to coin a word, was as vice president and general counsel at what is now WHDH-TV (Channel 7), owned by a cross-section of community leaders headed by David Mugar from 1982 to 1993.

Mugar and company had hoped to emulate the success of WCVB-TV (Channel 5), which in the 1970s established itself as one of the best and most-admired local television stations in the country. But the Channel 7 group was never able to pull it off, and ended up selling to Miami-based Ed Ansin.

The Banner’s Web site is still alive. Boston needs a locally owned African-American media outlet. Let’s hope someone who can afford to wait out the advertising meltdown will step forward.

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