I actually thought I’d written the last entry for this blog back in June … guess I was wrong.
I’ve been following the blogging world very infrequently over the last few months, mainly because there wasn’t a lot there to interest me and because I didn’t have time. As I told a fellow blogger awhile back, I refused to let this become a “job” where I had to post something every day or every week. It will not become the beast that needs to be fed.
Having said that, two issues collided for me this week. The collision brought me back here, at least temporarily.
The first is the story about Ken Langdon, the former publisher of the Bugle-Observer weeklies in Woodstock. The story is that he resigned a couple of weeks ago with the intention of starting another newspaper in Carleton County and the Irvings, who own the papers, proceeded to get a search warrant to search his home and property for any Brunswick News (the Irving company that actually owns the papers) materials. The rarely used court order allows a private search as part of a civil action as means of seizing evidence without prior warning to prevent the destruction of incriminating evidence. The order is generally issued in cases of alleged trademark, copyright or patent infringements. (Link)
The reports say that a few things were found including cash flow breakdowns, advertising rate analysis, income statements, flyer routes and a resumé were among the items seized. (Link)
On the surface, one might say “a-ha, the smoking gun,” but it also would be reasonable for a publisher, in effect a general manager, of the papers to have that sort of stuff with him, wherever he might be.
What was even more interesting was Langdon’s retelling of his conversations with one of the head honchos at Brunswick News. Apparently this guy, Victor Mlodecki, vice-president of Brunswick News Inc., was so concerned about other companies that distribute flyers in the Upper Valley that he was determined to put them out of business and it appears from the Langdon account that money was not to be an issue.
In his resignation letter, which he has filed with the court, Langdon cited harassment by Mlodecki and disillusionment with company management practices that included orders to drive Irving's competitors out of business as key factors in his decision to step away from the company where he had worked for more than a decade. (Link)
In the business world, the stories about the Irving’s ruthlessness in dealing with competition, real or imagined, are legendary. It is not a coincidence that Irving gas stations often used to spring up next to, or, across the street from mom & pop operations which didn’t last for long after the diamond moved in. Bottom line is that the Irvings don’t want just part of the market share, they want it all.
Langdon was one of the pioneers in the “free” paper marketplace in New Brunswick. A number of years ago, Langdon started the Carleton Victoria Advertiser in the building he owns on Queen Street in Woodstock. It became a huge success, offering free classified ads and selling the rest of the space to businesses. The C-V Advertiser is now part of the Brunswick News organization.
Langdon says he was resigning from Brunswick News to start another paper, the Carleton Free Press, which will be in direct competition with the Irving papers in Woodstock. Clearly, he looked at the market and determined that it could support another paper and plans are in place to launch that paper in November.
The Irvings took him to court originally to get a judge to order that the new paper not be allowed to operate; when they realized they couldn’t win that battle, they tried the non-competition angle – Langdon being a former senior manager with Brunswick News shouldn’t be allowed to start a competing business nor be allowed to approach Brunswick News advertisers. Nice deal if you can get it approved, but reminiscent of the battle over David Letterman’s jump from NBC to CBS lo those many years ago.
The real tragedy here is the hypocrisy of the Irving family. They will be the first ones to argue for free enterprise when it’s their agenda that’s being promoted. Turn the tables and they will be the first ones to cry for limitation on the exercise of that free enterprise. That’s what happening in this case. It’s a rather vivid example of that quote from Henry Mencken with which I opened this item, "freedom of the press is limited to those who own one."
The second issue that prompted me to write today is the news that a couple of New Brunswick’s better known political bloggers are joining the ranks of the Irvings via the Canada East online pages. Both of these writers will contribute to the Canada East website on a regular basis, presumably with the same material that appears in their own blogs, unless those are to be closed as they become part of the Irving organization.
I was fairly neutral about the whole thing until I read this comment from the manager of the Irving website when referring to another blog author who had joined the Irving fold, “Our bloggers are unpaid UNTIL they can show that they can bring in a set audience number per month on a regular basis. Being Steve is well on track to doing that BTW.” (Link)
So, the bottom line here is that the bloggers are there to attract readers to the Irving website. If they attract ENOUGH readers and do it on a consistent basis, they will be paid for their efforts. Nothing wrong with that but what it does is create a beast that needs to be fed. And, not only needs to be fed, but is also subject to editorial control. While some may argue that they are free to criticize the Irving empire, some will learn fairly early on if the royalty cheques start coming in that such criticism is neither appreciated nor tolerated in the long term.
I have nothing against the Irvings. They are merely a huge diversified corporation that has made huge profits in New Brunswick and continues to do so. True, they employ probably thousands of New Brunswickers but that employment is a fair exchange of labour for wage – it is not an altruistic exercise. They are the masters of corporate vertical integration – I just hate to see independent voices become part of their integration model.
Kudos to Ken Langdon for declaring his own independence day!
Let’s watch this one with interest.
here is an intresting comment made by spinks
"Personally I am not getting paid...ever, regardless of the number of visitors. The price you pay for anonymity I suppose. They can't send a check to an anonymous person and I don't want one anyway. The blogs at CanadaEast will be duplicates or virtual duplicates of select blogs at Spink About It and there's no committment to blog daily, weekly or monthly for that matter. If it's a political issue I blog, I'll pop it up there as well. I just view it as another site running my blog such as Opinions Canada, the Blogging Alliance of Non-Partisan Canadians and David Jonah's Local in the Know. I have no problem writing a blog there that criticizes the Irvings, CanadaEast or anyone else if it's fair and warranted. I've been told that's not a problem, so we'll see. As I wrote at my blog, I think they're taking the bigger chance on me than the other way around so some credit their way for opening themselves up. Regardless I'll still have my little corner of the net with or without them."