Banner to accept city’s loan offer

Newspaper could resume publication by next month

Publisher Mel Miller said only a fool wouldn’t take the $200,000 loan. Publisher Mel Miller said only a fool wouldn’t take the $200,000 loan. (Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff)
By Megan Woolhouse
Globe Staff / July 18, 2009
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The Bay State Banner, Boston’s only black-owned newspaper, plans to accept a $200,000 loan from the city to stay afloat, despite criticism that the money could compromise its impartiality during an election year.

Publisher Mel Miller said yesterday that he never met with Mayor Thomas M. Menino to arrange the bailout loan, but when he learned of the offer, decided “only a fool wouldn’t take it.’’

“Let the Banner fail and deprive the community?’’ Miller, 75, asked yesterday. “That’s just foolish, and I’m not going to do that.’’

The newspaper, which was first published in the era of urban renewal and civil rights, has been an edgy and outspoken local voice since 1965. Menino has often been the target of editorials penned by Miller, including one that questioned whether the mayor should step down. Miller has also criticized the city for a lack of diversity in the Police Department and insufficient funding to develop poor neighborhoods.

The newspaper, which has a weekly circulation of 30,000 copies and has struggled with slumping advertising revenue, said last week that its last issue would be July 9. Miller has not disclosed the company’s revenues, but said he decided to close the operation because the paper was struggling financially.

Menino told the Globe Thursday that he had offered the loan, and said it was not an attempt to curry favor, but an effort to “help a business that is very important to the minority community.’’

Menino’s offer came a day after Harvard University law professor Charles Ogletree told the Globe that he had lined up investors to save the newspaper in the long term. Ogletree said yesterday that the number of investors interested in helping resurrect the Banner has grown from the initial 12. He did not identify them, but said he expects the publication to resume by August.

Ogletree also said that both the mayor and Governor Deval Patrick valued the paper because it offered a unique, local perspective.

“The mayor and the governor have both been very concerned,’’ he said. “They see the value of it in this community, even though it has been critical at times of both of them.’’

Menino said the city loan would be funded by the Boston Local Development Corp., a private nonprofit administered by the Boston Redevelopment Authority that has provided similar loans for other businesses including Boston Common Coffee ($100,000) and Geekhouse Bicycle Co. ($70,000). The funding will help the newspaper in the short term while it works with Next Street Financial LLC, a financial services company based in Roxbury, on a new business plan, Miller said.

Kelly McBride, an ethics specialist who trains journalists at the Poynter Institute in Florida, said publications that take public money to fund their operations whether in the form of a grant, loan, or tax break are risking public trust that they are impartial and independent.

“If they’re still getting loan money and this paper is covering the election, that could get pretty sticky,’’ she said.

Miller said his independence has never been an issue and will not be in the future.

“They say you’re compromising yourself,’’ Miller said. “I say, ‘I’m compromising what?’ I have lambasted the mayor every way but loose.’’

Megan Woolhouse can be reached at