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Black media organizations face stark inequities in advertising dollars from political campaigns

“The one thing that the GOP and the DFL can agree on is that they don’t wanna support Black media. They might not agree with nothing else, but that one thing they have in common,” said Sheletta Brundidge, a Minnesota media personality and podcaster.

Sheletta Brundidge, a Minnesota media personality and podcaster: “The Democrats have us and don't care, and the GOP don't want us around.”
Sheletta Brundidge, a Minnesota media personality and podcaster: “The Democrats have us and don't care, and the GOP don't want us around.”

Several Twin Cities news outlets are feeling pushed aside when it comes to voter outreach efforts of various political campaigns.

This is not something new or instigated by one party, said Sheletta Brundidge, a Minnesota media personality and podcaster. Brundidge remembers when she was 9 years old in Houston, Texas, preparing the church by cleaning and cooking for politician campaign appearances. At the time, something felt odd about it, but she couldn’t place her finger on it.

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“As Black people, we welcome folks into our churches. That’s just what we do,” she said.

In the ‘80s, her church welcomed the mayoral candidate Kathy Whitmire, and she ultimately won the election in 1981, Brundidge said.

“She came and made all these promises, and then we didn’t see her for four years, and then she came again, and then we cooked and got ready, and she made all these promises, and then for four years we didn’t hear from her again,” she said.

Different landscape, same theme

This election cycle, Brundidge has been reminded of her childhood political experiences. Except for this time, her podcasting company, Sheletta Makes Me Laugh, is suffering as a result, she said.

Until last week, her company and other Minnesota ethnic media, including the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder and BLCK Press had not collected one dime of the estimated $145 million in political ad buys in Minnesota. When it did, the total was a “drop in the bucket” compared to overall ad buys.

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Sahan Journal, a news organization that focuses on communities of color, only received one ad buy leading up to the August primaries for the Hennepin County attorney race.

So Brundidge spoke to the DFL, and they told her they couldn’t do anything about it, she said. It’s not a party issue; it’s racism, she says.

“The one thing that the GOP and the DFL can agree on is that they don’t want to support Black media. They might not agree with nothing else, but that one thing they have in common,” she said. “Because the Democrats have us and don’t care, and the GOP don’t want us around.”

The DFL chair, Ken Martin, disagrees with Brundidge and said in his 12 years as chairman the DFL has made “small but important investments to ethnic media.” 

This year, Martin said the DFL invested $50,000 with the Minnesota Multicultural Media Consortium, which includes media organizations like Insight News, the Hmong Times, La Matraca News, Latino American Today, Mshale (a newspaper serving East African communities), the Circle (a newspaper serving the Native American community), KALY Somali Radio and La Raza radio.

He said $40,000 was also given to NewPublica, which goes to primarily Spanish-speaking outlets like Univision Minnesota and Telemundo Minnesota TV, among others. The $90,000 total in advertising dollars to ethnic media is a small chunk of the $18 million raised by the DFL this year, but that’s because advertising isn’t its main role, Martin said.

“Minnesota DFL, we are not the primary advertisers. The big spend on advertising is done by the individual candidate campaigns themselves,” Martin said.

Attempts were made to contact the Minnesota GOP, but it could not be reached.

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While other news outlets like WCCO and KSTP receive revenue from political ads, Black media organizations have not, Brundidge said.

Instead, politicians have been going to communal places, like churches, to gain support. Brundidge said that Keith Ellison, Mary Moriarty and other candidates visited her church last week.

Tracey Williams-Dillard, the CEO and publisher of the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, said the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder had not received any ad buys either.

“One would think anyone, politically or otherwise involved trying to reach the Black community would use vehicles that the Black community trusts to get their information from,” Williams-Dillard said.

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The Spokesman-Recorder has been a source of information for Minnesota’s Black communities since 1934. Its readers are “decision makers, influencers, and an affluent and educated audience,” Williams-Dillard said.

“It appears that they’re just not interested in this audience. That’s the message that I get. When you don’t talk to me, you’re not interested in me as a person, as a community,” Williams-Dillard said. “A lot of our audience would be the voters.”

Meanwhile, many campaigns treat media outlets with predominately white audiences differently.

“Y’all (campaigns) don’t want to make an investment in Black media to find Black voters. Y’all don’t do this to white churches. You don’t go up in the white church every Sunday for two months asking people to vote for you. You are strategic with white voters. You hire an ad agency, you place media buys with iHeartRadio and KARE11 and WCCO, and you make sure that those white voters would see your commercials, but Black voters, you don’t spend a buffalo nickel,” Brundidge said. “You go up in the churches on Sunday and parade in front of the congregation and ask them to vote for you.”

That is inequity, Brundidge said.

“Why can’t you make the same investment in Black media that you make in white ones if the Black voter is just as important to you as a white,” she said. “It wasn’t that they were coming to our churches because they care about us and they love us. No, they’re bypassing Black media, not buying ads.”

Brundidge petitions

Brundidge decided to reach out to pastors and get them unified to stop the campaigning at churches. Many of them, like the Rev. Charles Gill of Pilgrim Baptist Church in St. Paul, the Rev. Brian Herron of Zion Baptist Church in Minneapolis, and Rev. Steve Daniels, Jr., of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in St. Paul, were receptive and started taking action, she said.

Rev. Charles Gill
Rev. Charles Gill
“This has been going on for generations. This ain’t new. It’s a cultural thing, and it stops here,” Brundidge said.

She said those reverends took a stance, especially after Brundidge explained how it was affecting her business and others.

“They called and had the same questions, ‘So tell me how this is gonna impact your business.’ I won’t have a business; I won’t be able to stay in business. I won’t be able to feed my kids and put them in college. If y’all keep letting these people in here for free, they don’t have a need to advertise with me to reach Black people,” Brundidge said.

On Wednesday, Alliance for a Better Minnesota announced that it would be launching a statewide ad-buy for BIPOC media outlets.

Rev. Brian Herron
Rev. Brian Herron
“If the churches had not supported our effort, this would not have happened. These politicians rely on getting into and having access to Black congregants on Sunday mornings to promote their message, to tell them to get out to vote. And when those pastors stood by me and asked the question, ‘Are you supporting Black media? And if you don’t, you can’t come in here.’ It forced them to do the right thing,” Brundidge said.

Both Brundidge and Williams-Dillard said the ad buy resulted from the community’s push for diverse spending. However, it is not an amount near equal to what other news organizations are receiving.

Rev. Steve Daniels, Jr.
Rev. Steve Daniels, Jr.
“Unfortunately, it took that (advocacy) to get that response. I think that this should have been automatic from the beginning,” Williams-Dillard said. “When you’re planning on a budget that speaks to the population of people of all colors, then everyone should be included in the original conversation of the ad buy. It shouldn’t be a forced issue because someone’s calling you out.”

The ads support Democratic candidates like Gov. Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison and spread across outlets like Univision, Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, North News and Sheletta Makes Me Laugh podcasts.

The total amount is in the five-figure range, according to Marissa Luna, the executive director of Alliance for a Better Minnesota. Luna said that the funding stream is a mix of previous funds and a new batch of funding that came in recently.

When asked about the timing of the ad-buys and how that aligned with Brundidge’s advocacy, Luna said, “It really just came down to doing it as soon as we could with resources that became available.”

Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder ended up getting an ad buy of $1,800 – a “small little ad buy that is insignificant to the larger picture,” Williams-Dillard said. Brundidge, whose podcast is getting $3,600, shares the same sentiment.

“It’s nothing. It’s crumbs. That’s what we’re getting. We’re getting the leftovers,” Brundidge said. “This victory is not necessarily a financial win, but it is a breakthrough, and it’s a shift. They’re not gonna be able to go into those marketing meetings with those ad agencies and ignore Black media.”