August 19, 2013

A new #ethics low for a #newspaper: #OCRegister fail

Initially, the purchase of the core of old Freedom Communications (disclosure: I once worked for the Odessa American), above all, the Orange County Register, sounded great.

New owner Aaron Kushner talked about making a stronger explicit commitment to print publishing, among other things.

Then, we found out that a lot of the expanded print copy was going to be advertorial. Now, it wasn't going to be with traditional big business, but instead, with colleges and universities in the area. But, they're still institutions needing news coverage, and $825,000 per year might dissuade a lot of negative coverage, especially since the advertorial stuff was supposed to be about PR for the three colleges in question.

Now, the OCR has taken the next step into an ethical swampland,

The Register is "brokering" the process of selling naming rights to a city of Anaheim transportation hub.
Kushner defended the arrangement as just a new twist to traditional advertising sponsorships that speaks to the media company's commitment to the region's future.

Freedom Communications would have the exclusive right for 12 months to solicit corporations for the opportunity to display their names on the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center or ARTIC, a nearly $200-million structure that would house the city's train station, a letter of intent from the city states.

In order for the deal to be complete, the City Council must approve it.

Kushner acknowledged that the company would receive a cut of the revenue from any successful sponsorships.

"Effectively, we are acting as an additional source of marketing muscle to try and bring private support to this project, because our mission, we believe, is to help Orange County grow," Kushner said. "We believe this is an important project."
How can a paper objectively cover whatever biz wins the bid? That's even without it taking a cut of the marketing sales pie.

And who knows what other facilities the City of Anaheim wants to "brand" in the future, and ask Freedom to handle the branding, for that matter?

Imagine, say, that Dallas or Fort Worth wanted to put a corporate name on its zoo and asked the Star-Telegram or Morning News to handle the marketing hunt, and give itself 10 percent in the meanwhile.

It also makes me wonder why Kusher has started a competitor to the Long Beach Press-Telegram. Is it really about news coverage, or it is about siphoning up advertorial $$ from Cal State-Long Beach, naming rights to the Queen Mary and more?

That also makes me wonder what's behind converting the Irvine World News and a couple of other weekly papers to dailies.

Hey, Aaron: Hope the advertorial and marketing $$ offset the cancelled subscriptions.

Meanwhile, contra to his touting of how the expanded OCR, expansion of two if its weeklies, and other things will drive profitability, second quarter profit has slumped. And had been slumping,  enough for the company to stop contributing to employees' 401(k) accounts back in January. Oops.

Circulation's still sliding down there, too. Even with the paywall. Circulation's up at the community newspapers, but I don't know whether that factors in moving from weekly to daily on a couple of them or not.

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Meanwhile, serf-and-SEO-driven "hyperlocal" content producer Journatic now has a competitor of sorts, linked to the Sun-Times rather than Journatic's link to the Chicago Trib. Wunderbar.  If Mathew Ingram is for it, that's probably a good reason to be agin it.

And, Groupon is launching an affiliate partner network.

Just an all-around crappy day from the world of Gnu Media.

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