Cleary Cocks Leg Part 1

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Manages to spray everything except himself

Ryan Cleary has written a two-part series of articles in Current magazine, explaining why in his view The Independent folded (and thanks to Pam Pardy Ghent, for supplying the links).

The articles make for interesting reading, whether you agree with Cleary's observations or not.

In part one (September 4 edition), which you can read in full by clicking here, Cleary leads with an interesting bit of information. He says that at least three outside parties were "eager to invest" in the newspaper, but none were willing to pay the $250,000 that owner Brian Dobbin wanted.

"Some people saw the high price tag as Dobbin's way of ensuring that no one succeeds where he did not," Cleary writes, later adding: "From my perspective, I say that Dobbin put a high price on the paper to ensure that any new owner was serious about the newspaper business."

The fact that Dobbin chose to shut the paper down, rather than accept, say, $150,000 still a fine chunk of coin is something of a mystery. And I do invite Brian Dobbin to add his perspective, either by commenting below or emailing me at geoff_meeker(at)yahoo(dot)com.

Cleary quotes Ray Guy, from the Northeast Avalon Times, saying The Independent suffered from the "heir to the Dobbin millions playing newspaper dilettante hey look, I'm a newspaper owner." He goes on to speculate on Dobbin's motivations for buying the paper, including a burning desire to crack "the Hibernia story," in which millions of dollars were allegedly wasted on construction, then deducted as expenses, before royalties were paid to the province.

Cleary says he offered Dobbin $25,000 for rights to the masthead, but was turned down, and even considered starting a new publication from scratch, calling it "The Guardian", but couldn't muster "the necessary money and patience."

Then there's this statement: "The Independent was often complimented about its look and feel, about the columnists and stories that called it home. But the paper couldn't be considered a success until it held its own financially."

To borrow a phrase from Tom Rideout, that's a penetrating insight into the obvious.

Despite Cleary's posturing about the paper's independent voice and local ownership, the paper lost its nerve shocking to say, I know in the final months of its life. The once scrappy newspaper was tiptoeing carefully around controversy involving Danny Williams.

Each issue featured about three full pages of government advertising, without which it could not survive. With this in mind, I acrutinized all issues of the paper in its last 20-or-so weeks, looking for any hint of capitulation to the Williams Government.

The signs were obvious. Editorial criticism of the Williams administration came to a virtual stop, and stories uncomplimentary of the premier disappeared. This is a subtle thing that won't hit you in the face, but if you look for it, it's obvious.

It was clearest during those weeks when Premier Williams and his Justice Minister were having public meltdowns about the Cameron Inquiry. Where the other media were having a field day, The Independent steered pretty clear of it, in both news coverage and editorial comment.

This was difficult to comprehend, given that the paper actually broke the breast cancer testing story. They should have been all over it, exploring every angle and taking the story in new directions, week after week. But they dropped it.

After the premier's worst week, in early April, Cleary did refer to the issue in his column, calling it "the first real blow to his administration." But that was it - he raised his arm, but didn't deliver the punch.

Later, in the same column, he wrote this:

"I can tell you this, no one's perfect, certainly not the officers of the press, but the decisions we make in terms of when to cover stories and when not to cover stories must be constantly challenged.

"This business isn't all selling newspapers, or it shouldn't be. There's always pressure not to chase stories because of the potential impact on advertising."

It appears to be a tacit admission that, yes, some stories were being ignored for the greater good of the paper itself. This is supported by Ivan Morgan's brilliant column of April 26, in which he writes about Vladimir Putin's heavy-handed treatment of Russian media. Or is he talking about something more? I urge you to read the column and decide for yourself.

Before concluding part one, Cleary says "circulation was up by almost 10 per cent when the paper closed," without giving a point of reference. Was it 10 per cent since he started there, more than four years ago? If so, that's not impressive at all.

Nowhere in this article does Cleary accept any blame for the crash of The Independent, despite him being the pilot that steered it into the ground.

Tomorrow, I offer my views on part two of Cleary's series.

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  • Dennis
    July 27, 2010 - 14:53

    Geoff, I read both parts, and I'm not sure where you got those quotes. The versions I read said only, Whine whine, whine whine whine, whine whine. And if you listen closely, you can hear the distinct sound of blame shifting (which, admittedly, is pretty cool for a printed medium).

    Maybe I need to read it again.