Sunday, January 28, 2024

TMJ4 faces backlash for asking Black business owners to pay to appear on air during Black History Month

From JSOnline:

Drake Bentley
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The Morning Blend logo

Milwaukee's NBC affiliate TV station stirred up some ill feelings after marketing an opportunity to local Black-owned businesses to appear on a morning program during Black History Month, but only if they were willing to pay $1,000.

WTMJ-TV sent marketing emails to several Black business owners in the area offering an opportunity to appear on "The Morning Blend," TMJ4's daily lifestyle program, which airs weekdays at 9 a.m.

The email included an attachment with a Black History Month graphic that noted how important it is for the program to highlight Black-owned businesses during February.

"It is important to The Morning Blend to highlight black-owned businesses during Black History Month to celebrate their contributions, promote diversity, amplify voices, tell their story, and foster inclusivity and understanding in the community," the attachment read.

Flyer circulated to Black business owners in Milwaukee area by TMJ4.

Business owners who pay will get a copy of the segment. "This is a great opportunity to tell your story and reach the members in your community," the attachment read.

It offered that a business' "investment" would be $1,000, which the email said was a discounted price.

“If you're going to invite us to celebrate Black History Month then we shouldn't be charged to come in to celebrate Black History Month,” said Tomira White, owner of Delicious Bites on Wauwatosa's east side.

Tomira White, owner of Delicious Bites, at 6538 W North Ave. in Wauwatosa.

TMJ4's station manager, Gregg Schraufnagel, told the Journal Sentinel that "The Morning Blend" is a lifestyle program, not part of the news division, and that it is common for content to be sponsored on the program. "That’s always been the format of the show," he said.

"The Morning Blend" has been on the air for 18 years.

Schraufnagel declined to get into the specific details of show's makeup, how many of its segments are sponsored, its typical practices for reaching out to possible guests, or whether the program has charged for Black History Month segments in the past. "Things are evolving all the time," he said.

"We will all learn from this."

But he noted that "we absolutely do not charge for anyone to be on the news or for any news coverage, ever."

It's widely considered unethical for a news organization to pay sources for information or access, a practice advised against by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Kimberly Adams, owner of Signature Sweets, has appeared in multiple forms of media including on Food Network. She posted to Facebook on Wednesday about the emails, spurring many other Black business owners to come forward to express that they'd also received the email and felt insulted by it. Her post was shared dozens of times and had received almost 100 comments as of Friday evening.

"You know, typically when someone's celebrating or honored they're not paying to be celebrated or honored," White said.

Schraufnagel called White Friday afternoon to apologize for the marketing efforts, White said. "I did really appreciate that," she said.

"I reached out to members of our community who voiced an opinion about it, to explain the nature of the show, that it's paid content, and to express that we regretted the tie-in to Black History Month," he told the Journal Sentinel. "Everyone I spoke with was understanding."

Drake Bentley can be reached at or 414-391-5647.


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