You can’t “Own Local” from 1,000 miles away

You can’t “Own Local” from 1,000 miles away

I often wonder why I torture myself. It’s almost like I want to get angry when I see the link in my inbox, see it is another story about how Gannett or Gatehouse is screwing up journalism for the rest of us, and instead of hitting the trash button, I dive right in and get pissed off all over again.

This week it was an interview with Alain Begun, VP of Marketing at Gatehouse Media, on a podcast hosted by OwnLocal Founder Lloyd Armbrust.

I don’t know either of these people. I know I have received a few robo e-mails from the OwnLocal group, but for all intents and purposes, I couldn’t pick either one of these fellas out of a crowd. Just two guys working to feed their families, I am sure.

That is why I feel bad screaming about this so much, but it’s not going to stop me, either, so I guess I don’t feel too bad.

Armbrust began the interview (you can listen to it here, if you would also like to be pissed off: by talking about Gatehouse, how he used to work for the chain, and talking about “funding journalism.”

He referred to the mass layoffs Gatehouse employs to cut costs as efficiency. Efficiency…under the guise of funding those working on the ground.

Armbrust then threw out a story about his days in York, Neb., and this great local reporter there who goes to all the council meetings and has for decades. They begin each city meeting with “watch out what you say, the media is here” and then smile jokingly.

He led with that story to show why local journalism is so important and then acted as if Gatehouse Media was keeping that very important thing alive somehow.

The rest of the interview was mostly a disgusting display of mutual gratification about Propel Marketing (the Gatehouse Media digital ad agency) and how to take Gatehouse Media’s massive, country-wide brand and make it seem more “local” for customers. They even referred to the new “local” ad campaign they are doing with all their papers.

But I want to get back to the point and not rage about all 300 things I hate about what this podcast was about.

People think Gatehouse is saving local journalism? Huh. That is an interesting idea, considering they layoff tons of journalists every year—in the name of efficiency, of course—getting down to bare-bones newsrooms, all while giving Fortress Financial huge operating fees for being the hedge fund managers of Gatehouse.

You can’t talk about saving newsrooms and providing an essential service, even saying in the interview that these local journalists are the “last line of defense for democracy” and then applaud Gatehouse and Fortress Financial (the hedge fund), which is owned by a bank in Japan.

Armbrust claims to be a news veteran. How about a few tough questions for the VP of Marketing in Gatehouse? How about bringing up the fact that the company is so poorly run that it has claimed bankruptcy twice, lays off tons of people, and then gives those profits to hedge fund managers while, you know, saving journalism…?

The whole interview was under the idea of “owning local,” which is such B.S. when referring to Gatehouse. Wal-Mart isn’t “the local store” and neither is Gatehouse the “local newspaper.”

Gatehouse is pillaging journalism, along with Gannett, and a few other lovely characters I am lucky enough to not have to deal with in Kansas, but it is time for people to stand up and say something about it.

Like I said, I don’t know Armbrust and probably never will. I am sure he is just a good dude trying to create traffic for his website to then sell whatever “OwnLocal” is. I don’t blame the guy for trying to sell his product to those who want something like that. I am even guessing it is perfectly fine for whatever it is. I just don’t care.

What I do care about is calling the sky blue when I walk outside. I get freaked out when people say the sky is green, well, because it isn’t.

So I am going to get pissed off when people are talking about Gatehouse being local and saving journalism. Gatehouse has a very public notion of paying those “on the ground” as little as possible, getting them to tweet a certain number of times a day and post enough videos to stay within their “Inner Circle.” That sounds like a scary cabal from a Marvel movie and not something to strive for. Their “Inner Circle” does little for actually promoting good journalism or taking care of your community….but again, it’s saving the industry.

For full disclosure, I actively compete with a Gatehouse paper in Newton, Kan. I feel bad for many of their employees. I know some of them. They are beaten down and good people. They just happen to work for a shitty company.

Many of my friends from The Hutchinson News have been laid off or are frustrated with their new owners, Gatehouse, when they purchased my hometown paper last year.

I say all this because I have been told that I shouldn’t comment about Gatehouse because of my competition—I have a skewed view and should be more open about that.

Those people are right. I do have a skewed view of them. Enough so that I am going to scream about it and compete with them, because Newton deserves better than to have their money shipped off to some rich asshole running a hedge fund and doing nothing to promote good, local journalism, but in fact, hurting it.

That is my rant for the day. I feel better now.

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