Employee union faults Times Union on racial insensitivity

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COLONIE — The union representing many Times Union employees is taking newspaper management to task over an advertising pitch keyed to Black History Month.

The Albany Newspaper Guild characterized the pitch as exploitative and tone-deaf, and said many Black members of the community found it racist and offensive.

The sales pitch offers ads to run (at a cost of $875 to $3,100) in a special section the TU will publish Feb. 21 to honor Black History Month, with stories about the Black Experience in the Capital Region. The pitch said special packages are available to members of Black chambers of commerce and local churches.

The Guild’s Diversity Committee called for management to issue a sincere public apology. It said Black businesses were being asked to pay exorbitant prices to run ads in a predominantly white newspaper during a period designated to honor the Black community’s achievements and legacy.

It said Black business owners had suffered disproportionately during the pandemic of the past year and said the TU was being “tone deaf to the economic plight the community has faced due to systemic racism, and harmful to a community that our newspaper has already caused so much harm to historically.”

The Guild sent its letter to management late Tuesday and posted the missive publicly Wednesday.

The newspaper and the union do not have a happy relationship. The Guild says its members haven’t gotten a raise since 2007 and are working under terms imposed by the newspaper more than a decade ago. There have not been any contract negotiations recently and none are scheduled, Guild President Mandy Fries said.

She said, however, that the newspaper management has acknowledged the Guild’s criticism on the Black History Month ad campaign and is working on a response.

“I’m eager to see what that response is, but I’m happy that the executives of the Times Union responded so quickly,” she said.

The Guild Diversity Committee offered its own set of suggestions for response by newspaper management, including: give free advertising to Black-owned businesses for the remainder of Black History Month; create a reparations-based sliding price scale for ads placed by persons of color after the month is over; donate profits from the special section to local organizations that support Black communities; and hire a person of color to interface with communities of color.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Times Union Publisher George R. Hearst III published an open letter to readers and customers addressing the situation:

“An email sent last week from the Times Union’s advertising department regarding an upcoming Black History Month special section elicited criticism from a number of Black-owned business owners and organizations that received it. We intended no offense, but now recognize that some members of the community found this advertising solicitation unwelcome, even inappropriate.

“For that, we apologize unreservedly.

“This section is being produced by our newsroom, and the advertising department’s outreach to potential customers was, as always, broad. We were not exclusively soliciting Black-owned businesses to advertise; an array of local businesses and organizations have been invited to participate. Still, we should have been more sensitive and precise in our communication.”

Hearst said the newspaper would donate proceeds from the special section to nonprofits active in the Black community. 

He also said the TU has increased efforts to foster a diverse and inclusive internal culture; has established a mentoring program focused on women and people of color; conducts training in reducing unconscious bias; is working to forge relationships with Black readers and black-owned businesses; and is working to build a diverse newsroom.

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