'Godspeed Ryan Cleary'

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Guest commentary from former Current publisher

The Independent is in no position to accuse other publications of poaching advertisers, says the former publisher of Current magazine.

Mark Smith was the publisher of Current until he sold his stake in the publication in 2006. He called me yesterday to vent about news coverage of The Independent, and was not exactly sympathetic to Ryan Cleary's claims that The Telegram was aggressively trying to steal his advertisers.

I said, 'Why don't you put it on the record as a guest commentary for my blog?' He agreed.

Point of disclosure: Smith is a former business partner of mine and someone with whom I have done contract work recently. That said, it should be stressed that the following commentary represents his views entirely - a point that will become obvious as you read.

I have my own views on The Independent, and will offer these in a future post. Here's Mark Smith's commentary:

Let's be clear about one thing: the newspaper business is about making money. I made money. I made my investment back and then some. Had a bit of fun, but it was hard work and not very profitable.

At Current we used the industry standard multiplier to determine readership. 2.5 times the print run, presuming a high-percentage pick- up. We, on average, printed 6,500 copies, so we had a readership of 16,500. Anecdotally, we knew we had a higher readership than that because we knew the paper changed hands a lot more than most, but we calculated readership within the confines of the industry's standards. At the time, the Independent was printing slightly less than we were. This information came from a senior level contact at Transcon, who prints the paper for them. But, Cleary and his sales people were telling potential advertisers that they had a readership upwards of 30,000. That was clearly untrue, but that was what they were telling people.

Because of this discrepancy, we decided to test the pick-up rate of the Independent. For a three week period we monitored 30 locations across St. John's and counted their papers. I can't recall the exact numbers, but I think their pick-up rate was floating around 20%. So, do the math: 6,000 copies printed times a pick-up rate of 20% times a standard multiplier of 2.5 readers per paper gave them a readership of 3000. So, clearly there is something going on here from an ethical point of view that smells kind of funny.

That they don't have the advertising support to make a go of it is no surprise, there needs to be a level of trust there, just like with the readers, and it's hard to trust somebody who doesn't shoot straight. Not to mention whines like a baby anytime something doesn't go his way.

As for predatory sales tactics, the Independent doesn't practice what it preaches. Or, should I say it practices what it preaches against. Not only did they steal our sales person - and accompanying proprietary sales information - but we had calls from advertisers telling us that the Independent was using our paper as a template for contacting them and then trying to make the case for switching. I don't really have a problem with that because everybody does it, so nothing new there, but to hear Cleary on the radio this morning with his usual bombastic hyperbole and inflated numbers, not to forget his inflated sense of self, brought me back to those days and almost made me lose my breakfast.

I think I will keep the radio turned off for the next few weeks because if the Independent is having difficulties - like that was hard to predict - then that must mean Cleary is going to go on air to snivel and beg for his life again like he did last time. It must be really embarrassing for his co-workers and family to have to hear him whining and crying about how important he is to the future of freedom of speech in the province.

There are some very good people at the paper, Paul Daly and Stephanie Porter stand-out in my mind, and it will be a loss when they go. But for the rest of them, I expect there must be a community newspaper in northern Alberta that could use a self-important and grandiose personality like Cleary. Our loss will be their... loss I guess. But better them than us. Godspeed Ryan Cleary... don't let the door hit your ass on the way out.

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Recent comments

  • Frank
    July 27, 2010 - 14:53

    First up, I'll admit my biases. I'm an old friend of Ryan's and once wrote a column for the Independent.

    That being said, I'm a little sick of this blog being used as a forum to whip and villify Ryan.

    Some of the criticism has been valid. Like some of the other commentators, I find the nationalistic slant of The Independent is far too over the top. I'd like to see more investigative journalism and fewer opinion pieces in the paper. And I thought the paper's failure to declare its owner's connection to Astraeus in an article about the airline was a mistake.

    Nonetheless, the Independent is a good newspaper, and Ryan has to be given much of the credit for that. He is passionate about The Independent and that passion shows through in the overall quality of the paper, for which he is responsible. Much of the credit also has to go to his excellent staff.

    Like all journalists, Ryan is a public figure and therefore a legitimate target for criticism. However, I find that much of the criticism directed toward him has been unbalanced.

    You've got a problem with the bombastic writing style? Fine. You think the cost-benefit analysis of Confederation was amateurish. Fine. Address the issues. But don't forget to look at the man's accomplishments too. He isn't the villain he's sometimes made out to be.

    At any rate, Ryan is not - or should not be - the main issue here. The most important issue is that the province may be about to lose a vibrant competitor to the Transcontinental monopoly. The Telegram has responded to competition in the past by beefing up its editorial operations. (There would be no Sunday edition of the Telegram were it not for the Sunday Express.) My concern is that if the Independent goes under, Transcon will lose some of its incentive to maintain a strong newsroom. (This comment is in no way directed at the editors of the Telegram; they don't hold the purse strings.)

    As for the controversy over circulation numbers, it's hard for me to judge. I personally have never heard or read Ryan claiming a circulation of 30,000 or 40,000. Today, I'm hearing others -including a former competitor - attribute those claims to either him or the advertising salespeople at the Indpendent. I just don't know.

    Speaking of ethics, how ethical would it be for someone at Transcontinental to tell one of the Independent's competitors how many papers it was printing - assuming the unnamed Transcon source cited by Mark Smith actually released this figure?

    If I were running the Transcon printing operations, I would look into this allegation so that other clients could rest assured that their information is not being released to their competitors.