BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. It seemed like an ordinary enough business proposition triggered by demographics. A new Florida broadsheet newspaper called the Gainesville Guardian aimed at the 43 percent black community of East Gainesville. It also could have been seen as a boon to that community, which previously had no media outlet attuned especially to a black audience. But news of the new weekly quickly provoked an angry response because the publisher of the Gainesville Guardian is the city's daily, the Gainesville Sun, owned by the New York Times Company. By the time the first issue of the Guardian rolled off the presses on Wednesday, the Times Company stood accused of carpetbagging in Gainesville, taking money out of the pockets of black publishers. Among the more strident critics has been George Curry, editor in chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, which represents 200 some black papers. This week he wrote, "Black people don't need the New York Times or any other white owned media company to speak for us. We do that quite well ourselves." He joins me now. George, welcome to OTM.
GEORGE CURRY: Okay. I would disagree with your description of me as being strident. I'm a well reasoned person.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay. [LAUGHS] Well, fair enough. I'm quoting your column. "It is arrogant and ridiculous to think that newspapers that primarily portray African Americans as criminals, athletes and entertainers will suddenly be able or willing to present African Americans in their full complexity." Do you think the New York Times Company newspapers, especially the Times itself, is racially tone deaf, given to stereotypes, dismissive of the black community?
GEORGE CURRY: Well, I mean, those are your words, not mine. What I would say is this, that we have failed miserably as an industry to reflect America as it is, in our coverage and in our staffing levels. The New York Times, for example, its primary circulation area has about 30 percent people of color. Its new staff is about half that amount. The black press was founded with a totally different mission than the white press. It was founded in 1827 primarily to address the whole question of lynching and the lack of equal rights, and that's been its mission throughout. The New York Times does not have the same mission, and nor should it. And so I'm saying that they cannot do what they're not really trained to do or have an interest in. Their interest is very simply economics.
BOB GARFIELD: You've said I'm quoting again here "Equally culpable are companies that refuse to advertise in black owned media but are willing to place ads with white owned publications, broadcast and Internet outlets targeting African Americans. They should be publicly exposed and boycotted. In fact, every black newspaper should identify them each week so that African Americans will be able to support only corporations that respect and support them."
GEORGE CURRY: I said it for African Americans, I said it for Latinos, I said it for Asian Americans, as well. In two years, the annual spending rate for people of color will be roughly five trillion dollars. It'll be almost one trillion for African Americans alone. So you have companies come in, and they want you to be great consumers. They also have a responsibility beyond just taking in our dollars, and that's my point.
BOB GARFIELD: Are you suggesting the corporations are institutionally racist somehow, that they're not advertising in black owned papers because they're black owned?
GEORGE CURRY: See, again, those are your words, not mine. What I am saying, and I say it very clearly, they have a responsibility to advertise in mediums used by their consumers. You look at survey after survey that show that African Americans, Latinos or Asian Americans trust their publications more than the daily press. And so I'm saying that I don't think that advertisers who are relying and exploiting and targeting certain segments of the audience like African American, should avoid advertising in the newspapers and radio and TV stations. That's just simply fairness.
BOB GARFIELD: Fair enough. But how does the New York Times publishing a newspaper for a predominantly black audience affect what advertisers are doing at black owned newspapers?
GEORGE CURRY: With the clout that the New York Times has, when they move in they already have a relationship with the major advertisers in that region, and when the advertisers have a choice between spending money with the New York Times or that local black press, my fear is that they're going to exclude the black press.
BOB GARFIELD: Your position troubles me because if black audiences are to be addressed only by black owners, isn't that, in effect, putting a "Colored Only" sign on media properties?
GEORGE CURRY: You missed the point. That's not what I said. What I said was that companies that exploit and target segments of the economy, i.e., African Americans, Latinos and Asians, should advertise in the mediums that they trust. I'm not saying only advertise there, but I'm also saying don't exclude them if they're trusted and respected by their readers.
BOB GARFIELD: Doesn't the fact that newspapers are addressing the demographic shifts with properties aimed to serve individual ethnic communities, doesn't that suggest a future that will be more representative of various constituencies that make up America?
GEORGE CURRY: Not necessarily. If you're talking about the Gainesville paper with having a circulation of 10 thousand versus the local paper having a circulation of 47 to 50 thousand, what are you really, really serving there? That's not the solution to me. The solution is make the regular local paper representative of the entire community. I think it is an attempt to absolve themselves of their main responsibility, and I don't think they're doing it for editorial reasons. I think they're doing it for economic reasons.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, George, thank you very much for joining us.
GEORGE CURRY: Okay. Thank you, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: George Curry is editor in chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and also a frequent contributor to NPR's News and Notes with Ed Gordon. Joining us now is the publisher of the Gainesville Sun and the new Gainesville Guardian, Jim Doughton. Jim, welcome to On the Media.
JIM DOUGHTON: Thanks for having me.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, what do you make of all of the fuss?
JIM DOUGHTON: Well, I think some of it has been a bit overblown. The Guardian coming out this week, it's a community weekly newspaper. It's sort of part of our fundamental strategy to reach out to a broader market, and especially trying to reach non subscribers to the daily Gainesville Sun. East Gainesville does have a very high ethnic black population, and so naturally we're going to serve that in the same manner that you would serve an area if we had a high retiree community that lived in East Gainesville.
BOB GARFIELD: We spoke to George Curry. He said that he believes, at least in part, that the Gainesville Guardian is an attempt for the New York Times Company to cover the black community in the weekly paper so it can only continue doing a shabby job covering the black community in the daily Gainesville Sun.
JIM DOUGHTON: The Gainesville Sun has won two Pulitzer Prizes, which is unusual for a newspaper this size, and both of those were on editorial writing on African American issues. So we're proud of that. With that said, it's fair to say that most mainstream newspapers could do a better job of targeting the different ethnic audiences. So I am not going to say that we have done a perfect job in that regard because we are spread out over such a large geographic area. But I am proud of the record of this newspaper in terms of the positions that we've taken on African American issues in the past and will take in the future.
BOB GARFIELD: One of the reasons that some critics seem to be seething is what they perceive as the certainty that the New York Times owned Gainesville Guardian will have more success getting advertising dollars than black owned newspapers have been in trying to reach the same audience. Do you think they're right in those suspicions?
JIM DOUGHTON: I think if we were coming in and there was already an existing publication there that we were perhaps trying to compete directly with, I could understand more of that concern. There was no one serving this market.
BOB GARFIELD: Another thing that Mr. Curry said was that the role of the black newspaper is slightly different from that of the mainstream newspaper, in that it incorporates both a news function and an advocacy function. As you have devised the Gainesville Guardian, will it embrace the values that other black papers have embraced throughout the United States?
JIM DOUGHTON: I think that's a real fair question. The answer to that would be no, we won't be advocating any point of view. We'll continue to listen to the community and see what suggestions they have. And we'll probably, you know, as we do with all products, modify those as we move into the future.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, Jim, thanks very much for joining us.
JIM DOUGHTON: Okay. Thank you so much.
BOB GARFIELD: Jim Doughton is publisher of the Gainesville Sun and the brand new, hot off the presses Gainesville Guardian.