THESE ARE hard times for newspapers, so much so that owners of papers big and small are taking once-unthinkable steps to survive. The Bay State Banner’s decision late last week to accept a $200,000 loan from the City of Boston may keep the business going for now, but the loan also creates major ethical dangers for the paper.
Faced with slumping advertising revenue, publisher Mel Miller said that he was getting ready to shut down the newspaper, long a vital news source for Boston’s African-American community. When word got out, Harvard University law professor Charles Ogletree started lining up investors to save it. Meanwhile, Mayor Menino offered a loan, which he described as an effort to “help a business that is very important to the minority community.’’
The community that the Banner covers is also very important to a mayor who is running for reelection. Miller insists that his newspaper will continue its traditionally tough coverage of the Menino administration. Maybe it will. But that is only one part of the journalistic conundrum. By letting Menino rush to the Banner’s rescue, Miller is letting the mayor score points with voters in a way no rival can duplicate.
Menino may have the noblest of intentions, but incumbency is what gives him the power to fulfill them. The loan comes from the Boston Local Development Corp., which is administered through the Boston Redevelopment Authority.
In accepting Menino’s offer, Miller told the Globe that “only a fool wouldn’t take it.’’ Letting the Banner fail, he said, would “deprive the community.’’
The Banner’s value to the community lies in its independence. Even in desperate times, it would be foolish to squander that independence by accepting the mayor’s offer of a loan - especially in an election year.