The Daily Northwestern

City to re-evaluate advertising policies following petition

Ald. Brian Miller (9th) attends a City Council meeting. At a meeting Monday night, Miller responded to residents' concerns about Evanston Now, a news website.

Ald. Brian Miller (9th) attends a City Council meeting. At a meeting Monday night, Miller responded to residents' concerns about Evanston Now, a news website.

File photo by Daniel Tian

File photo by Daniel Tian

Ald. Brian Miller (9th) attends a City Council meeting. At a meeting Monday night, Miller responded to residents' concerns about Evanston Now, a news website.

Kristina Karisch, Assistant City Editor

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The city will review its advertising policies after some residents requested the removal of city ads from the news website Evanston Now, aldermen decided Monday.

A petition, published in January, called on a number of Evanston businesses to cancel their advertising on Evanston Now’s website, criticizing the site’s coverage “for reporting that exacerbates racial injustice in our community” and its moderation of the comments section. By the time of publication, the petition had 246 signatures.

“(Evanston Now has) blamed the victims of racism for their victimization, reinforced racist myths, used racially insensitive language, and published incendiary, racist (comments),” the petition reads.

Evanston Now is a local online news site founded by Bill Smith (Medill ’70, ’71) in 2006. Smith, who serves as editor of the site, declined to comment to The Daily on the situation. In an article published Tuesday morning, Evanston Now defended its policies, saying the site “welcomes the perspectives of people with a wide range of views in its comment section … but it has clear guidelines banning racist remarks and other forms of speech that a reasonable person would consider offensive.” The story, which quotes Smith, was published with the byline “Evanston Now.”

At the Administration and Public Works Committee meeting on Monday, several aldermen spoke in favor of looking into how the city decides where to place advertisements. At the moment, advertising is managed on a case-by-case basis, and often by various departments, assistant city manager Marty Lyons said at the meeting.

Ald. Brian Miller (9th) brought up the issue of advertising during a committee discussion of the city’s payroll and bills list, which the committee was set to authorize. He said he wanted to discuss the payment to Evanston Now as he has heard and agrees with concerns expressed in the petition regarding “racially biased” content and comment filtering on the site.

“It’s a problem that should be addressed,” Miller said. “We shouldn’t be spending taxpayer dollars on content of this nature.”

In Tuesday’s story published on Evanston Now, titled “Miller loses on media ‘racism’ claim,” Smith was quoted refuting both the basis of the petition and Miller’s comments.

“Evanston Now publisher Bill Smith said the claims by Miller and the (petition organizers) are false and defamatory,” the article reads. “Evanston Now has explored a range of social issues in the community in its stories in a fact-based and carefully-researched manner, Smith said.”

Heather Sweeney, one of the co-writers of the online petition, urged the city to remove its advertising from the website at the meeting on Monday, saying Evanston Now’s style of reporting was in contrast to the city’s goal of being “inclusive and equitable.”

She cited the site’s use of the term “illegal immigrants” as one example of Evanston Now’s reporting. The Associated Press, which publishes a widely-used stylebook for journalists, stopped using the term in 2013.

Smith’s defended the use of the term in the comments section of one of his articles in 2016, writing, “(The) argument that we should sanitize language to favor a political position makes sense for propaganda. It is without merit for news reporting.”

Sweeney said the reporting on Evanston Now reinforces stereotypes and that she hopes a possible loss of advertising will prompt the site to reexamine its coverage.

City documents show that as a part of the bills list, the city owes $480 to Evanston Now for street cleaning reminder advertisements. Lyons said the city chose to advertise on Evanston Now’s site because of its subscriber reach of more than 50,000.

Committee members decided to authorize the bills in full for the time being, but added that they will move the issue to the Rules Committee for further discussion and policy reevaluation.

Twitter: @kristinakarisch