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Protecting community interests

4/4/2012, 8:05 a.m.

Protecting community interests

There is considerable opposition to attacks against OneUnited Bank by Rev. Gregory Groover, pastor of Charles Street AME Church. Some are also concerned, as in the letter below, about a possible conflict of interest in the editorials because the publisher is a director of the bank.

The rules governing when a newspaper publisher must notify readers of a potential conflict of interest were established decades ago. Back then, publishers were heavily involved in community affairs, and they were well known. Boston Globe publishers Wm. Davis Taylor, followed by his son Bill O. Taylor (1955-1997) were prominent Boston leaders. During this time Hap Kern was the publisher for the Herald Traveler. With such extensive activities it would have been awkward, inefficient and of little value to list the publishers’ involvement in every issue that their newspapers might cover.

Consequently, the general rule is that publishers do not provide a statement unless the decision on a public issue would have substantial financial benefits for them. Writers published on the op-ed page customarily submit relevant biographical information to be printed below their opinion.

It is well known that publishers usually have the authority to approve or reject all editorials, and they decide on political endorsements. The reputation of the newspaper depends on whether these decisions are fair. The quality of journalism is far more important than the frequency of publisher’s disclosures.

Although it was not required, it was noted after the editorial of March 29, 2012, entitled “Discrediting financial prudence,” that the publisher is also a director of OneUnited Bank. This was done to inform readers of the publisher’s special qualifications to rebut an op-ed piece in the Boston Globe. As might be expected, Rev. Groover’s attack on the bank has created an opportunity for journalists to take aim at OneUnited, an important African American institution.

The first black-owned banks were established in 1888, but the institution never flourished. Unity Bank and Trust Co., Boston’s first black bank, was established in 1968, but it soon ran into financial difficulty. State banking commissioner, the late Frieda Koplow, appointed Melvin Miller as her conservator to stabilize operations to prevent the bank from being closed.

In addition to serving as Banner publisher, Miller managed Unity Bank from April 1973 to February 1977. The effort was successful and Unity Bank was recapitalized and reborn as the Boston Bank of Commerce. It was later renamed OneUnited Bank in order to have a more universal appeal when the bank acquired branches in Miami and Los Angeles. OneUnited is now the largest black-owned bank in the country.

None of the work as publisher, conservator or bank director has been adequately remunerative. The publisher’s shares of stock in the bank are little more than the statutory requirement. Consequently, there is no potential windfall to report.

An effective black press is as important as sound black banks. The “deeply concerned clergy” are to be commended for taking the time to think through the issues and to respond. American society is so complex today that the only way blacks can thrive and progress is to work together and rely on honest, cooperative effort.

When considering the Charles Street Church problem in retrospect, it should now be obvious that the bank could not bring a default lawsuit unless there had been a default. The law protecting the privacy of banking accounts prevented any open discussion on the issue without a release by the debtor.

When considering the magnitude of the damage that officials at Charles Street Church might do to a major black institution if their hostile campaign against OneUnited Bank is successful, it is hard to understand how the rhetorical opposition in Banner editorials can be criticized as “somewhat aggressive and a bit unbalanced.”

This is indeed a learning moment to understand what is necessary for progress.