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Media company gets $5 million deal with Orr

Hiram Jackson

Hiram Jackson

By Zenobia Jeffries
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr gave $5 million to local media group, Real Times Media. The two contracts were approved for the week of Aug. 12 by Orr, while city council was at recess.

Real Times Media is the parent company of the Michigan Chronicle, Chicago Defender, Pittsburgh Courier among several other media properties.

The contracts were brought to the city council table Sept. 3 — not for council approval, but for their information.

Councilwoman Joann Watson found the contracts “stunning.”

“I have consistently been one who has supported businesses that reflect the demographics of the city residents but I did not see this coming and did not know when it got bid,” says Watson. “It’s not transparent, which concerns me.”

“Certainly it would seem curious,” says Wayne State University head of journalism Jack Lessenberry.  “This should be a bid or transparent with the public on how this particular vendor was chosen.”

Real Times Media was awarded a $4.1 million media advertising contract, and a $900,000 contract to “provide financial assistance for construction, renovation and rehabilitation” to Paradise Valley Real Estate Holdings, which will lease office space to Real Times Media.

In February, according to the Michigan Chronicle, Real Times announced it is moving head quarters to 1452 Randolph in Harmonie Park — the old Dell Pryor Gallery. The new 18,000 square foot project will, at least partially, be funded by federal dollars, at the approval of EM Orr.

According to the Michigan Chronicle, Paradise Valley Real Estate Holdings is made up of a group of African American investors and Hiram Jackson, the holding company’s resident agent, who is also publisher of the Chronicle.

The $4.1 million contract, if fully executed, could mean the city could buy multiple pages of advertisements every week in the Michigan Chronicle for the full year.  It is not clear what type of messaging Orr or the city plans to do with the newspaper.

The $4.1 million would represent a significant revenue boost for the weekly publication. According to a pension board proposal in 2006, Real Times Media’s total sales was $9.8 million for all of its media properties, including the Michigan Chronicle, Chicago Defender and Pittsburg Courier.

This is not the first time Real Times Media or publisher Hiram Jackson have received public money. During Kwame Kilpatrick’s administration, in 2007, Real Times media received $7.5 million from the General Retirement System (GRS). At the time, the pension fund invested in the media property’s project which had an estimated market value of zero dollars, according to GRS reports.

In 2001, Jackson also took on a $24 million contract with the Detroit Public Schools which was never completed. Jackson and GlobalView Technologies, which bought Clover Technologies was to wire the schools with fiber-optic cable to ready the buildings for the technology of the time.  As reported by the Michigan Citizen in Sept. 2004, Clover Technologies went bankrupt before it completed the federally-funded DPS contract for the installation of voice, data and video systems in classrooms and offices.

Some question if the multi-million dollar advertising contract will impact coverage of the African American-focused weekly. Gov. Rick Snyder and EM Orr have both been publicly criticized by the Detroit NAACP, unions and community stakeholders for their use of emergency manager policy in Black cities and public entities. EM policy has disenfranchised half of the state’s Black population.

When the community spoke out against EM Kevyn Orr who told the Wall Street Journal Detroiters are “dumb, rich and lazy,” the Michigan Chronicle ran the emergency manager’s full apology.

“To render a full unabated atonement and to explain himself, Orr reached out to Bankole Thompson, editor of the Michigan Chronicle, on his cell, the result of which led to a visit by Orr, in what turned out to be a penetrating, thought-provoking interview that made his positions clear,” reads the introduction of the front-page interview with Orr.

Calls to Council President Saunteel Jenkins and member James Tate were not returned by press time.

Spokesperson for EM Orr, Bill Nowling, did not respond to multiple media inquiries.


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