Political ads keep community papers afloat

The Chicago Defender is one community paper that still enjoys a loyal readership and political ad revenue.

The Chicago Defender offices.

For years now, newspapers and magazines have been dealing with a decline in advertising, including a drop in political advertising. There is an exception to that, however. Candidates still see value in periodicals that serve specific communities, including Spanish speakers and African-Americans.

“I think that many campaigns consider these as relatively inexpensive ways of reaching people that they may not be able to reach otherwise,” says Felipe Korzenny, who heads the Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication at Florida State University.

That makes these newspapers popular with local candidates, and no-brainers for national candidates who get a lot of bang for their buck.

“Newspaper advertising budgets are a rounding era in campaign budgets,” says Ken Goldstein, an expert on election ads at the University of San Francisco. Still, many newspapers are not eager to leave any money on the table, and they play up their ability to help advertisers target specific segments of the population.

“In some ways, newspapers were the Internet before the Internet was the Internet,” Goldstein says. In a way, micro-targeting, which is in vogue right now, started with these smaller print publications.

Chicago Defender publisher Cheryl Mainor is the first woman to run the paper in its 109-year history. The Defender, she says, continues to have a loyal readership among African-Americans in Chicago and around the country.

“We have been able to stand where others who are more generalized have fallen,” Mainor says.

The newspaper has covered and engaged with local politics from the very beginning. It was founded during the Great Migration, and Mainor says she expects there will be “a significant amount of political advertising” ahead of city elections in the spring. Aldermen see the paper as a way to reach their constituents, and state and national politicians know it is a way to reach specific voters — something that is hard to do with TV ads.

“When you place an ad in the publication that they read, that they trust, that they respect, and you’re asking them for their vote, now you’re actually talking to them,” Mainor says.

According to media analyst Ken Doctor, with Newsonomics, papers like the Defender are attractive for another reason. Campaigns spend a lot of time going after undecided voters, “but that voter who has made up his or her mind, but is not yet sure they are going to the polls, is equally important — mathematically equally important.”

And part of mission of the Chicago Defender has been, and continues to be, to get its readers to vote.

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

The Chicago Defender offices.

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