So far, he says, his willingness to attack problems in print has not affected advertising. "Maybe if it did, I'd have to tone down my opinions. I hope not, but I don't know."
Clayborne has nurtured The Broward Times from a fledgling tabloid with a circulation of only a few hundred in its first weeks a decade ago to a niche broadsheet that offers unapologetic opinions and revelations on the front page, with a smattering of black community news inside. In 1993 the paper's circulation was 7000, a figure that more than tripled to 22,000 by 1997. Now the circulation is 48,000.
His earnings have followed a similar upward curve. In his first year, he grossed $47,000. That total is now close to $1 million. Where is this money coming from? The Man. "I've depended mostly on white advertising," Clayborne explains, pointing to full-page displays from Publix, banks such as Washington Mutual, and public-service agencies funded by state or federal money that lobby against drug use, teen pregnancy, or other problems.
Clayborne stresses that "white advertising" hasn't meant a "white" voice. In 1994 he ran a story that included mug shots of four bank presidents, all white. The story questioned why none of them employed even a single black executive. When the banks all withdrew their advertising from his paper, Clayborne ignored them, refusing to bow to their demands that he represent them as progressive.
Many in the black community acknowledge that Clayborne has always said exactly what he pleases. In 1996, business strategists at the Sun-Sentinel considered publishing a weekly paper aimed at the black community, a move that might have threatened Clayborne's business. He countered with the following headlines: "White Boys At Sun-Sentinel To Put Black-Owned Newspapers Out of Business," and "Sun-Sentinel, Bunch of Greedy Bandits: If they believe so much in diversity, why haven't they had a black publisher?"
Clayborne admits that his criticisms of white management four years ago might appear hypocritical to some now. Following his attack the Sun-Sentinel folded its tent and quietly retreated from the 1996 plan. Last week, company managers refused to comment on their reasons for backing away at the time.
Sun-Sentinel publisher Bob Gremillion announced the current content-sharing deal in August by calling it "an initial step." The company would not comment on any forthcoming additional steps; Clayborne is less reticent, freely acknowledging the possible sale of The Broward Times. Even if that deal fails to materialize, Clayborne allows that his existing Sun-Sentinel deal might not play well in light of his sharp attacks on Carlton Moore. Clayborne, after all, nailed Moore in print for taking the big-business campaign contributions of white businessmen.
"But this is a business," Clayborne counters, distinguishing his own role from that of Moore, an elected official. "It's first a business. And I have no intention of letting [The Broward Times] go if the paper won't retain its editorial voice. We're talking about that, so I don't see it as hypocrisy."
The Sun-Sentinel also nosed around The Westside Gazette a couple of times, says publisher Bobby Henry. That is why he remains deeply suspicious. "They talked about a "relationship,' but you don't come in to take over a business when you talk about a relationship," he says. "A relationship has to be a state of mutual benefit. It should be good for everybody. So why don't they prove their good intentions by throwing a full-page ad from Burdines my way, or doing something like that? They never have."
To Clayborne, who saw the New York Times Company acquire plenty of small media businesses, the Sun-Sentinel move makes sense. "Why do you think the Sun-Sentinel is interested in maybe spending two or three million dollars on some little ten-page weekly like mine? Because they're looking ahead to their markets; they see the browning of Broward County. In 10 years or 20, more than half the population will be minority members, a lot of Hispanics, more blacks. And a lot more of the black middle class. They're not dumb, they want to secure a foothold on that market."
John Christie, who until recently served as vice president of planning and strategy at the Sun-Sentinel, confirms Clayborne's opinion about the big daily's long-term plans. "Keith is an intelligent guy," Christie says. "He's a little controversial, but I'd say his judgment is extremely accurate."
Clayborne's move, however, could raise questions even among such admirers as Terry Lewis. "I'm concerned about a free black press, which emerged historically because the white press didn't cover the black community," admits Lewis. "But look, Time-Life owns 49 percent of Essence Magazine; Emerge is out of business. The point is, things change, and it's a business. I just hope Keith maintains control over content. If not, if he becomes just a subsidiary [of the Sun-Sentinel], then that may not be good."