Sunday, July 22, 2007

Independent? Not so much

It's now widely accepted amongst sensible people that The Independent is the local promoter of pseudo-nationalist, politically paranoid elaborate grievance-based conspiracies about this province.

So it's easy to forget that the publication is not a stand-alone publication but part of a larger corporate family comprised of a web of formal and informal connections. And they are not shy about exploiting those connections for maximum synergies.

For example, pick up this week's copy and start scanning the text and pictures which passes for news on the front page. It turns out that Managing Editor Ryan Cleary has been doing some travelling on an airline called Astraeus.

You know them - they are the heirs to the NL-London route which Air Canada dropped amidst great controversy.

Courtesy of two free airline tickets, he's been able to write a very fine travel story. The text and photos (by the talented photo-journalist Paul Daly) cover the top half of the front page and then goes on to fill both pages of the centerspread.

Cleary, the hard news writer and polemicist extraordinaire, outlines the joys of travelling in Great Britain and breathlessly informs us that London is not just a destination that's cheaper than you might think, it's a gateway to other destinations too.

And if you're lucky, you just might be able to catch a glimpse of Justin Timberlake! Or Fergie!!

The only shadow in the story is the fear of not generating enough traffic to keep the flights going so the story drops in a gentle hit about supporting this worthy venture. And just so you don't miss that subtle sales message, the whole article is headlined Use it or Lose it.

And by the way, don't forget the fact that they:
... also operate charter flights between Gatwick and Deer Lake, the nearest airport to the high-end Humber Valley Resort ...
It's an unbiased, clear-eyed and fair promotional piece about this quality airline, their flight schedule and their future plans. All in all, it's just another bland and happy puff story about about a great company providing a great service to great places and incidentally supporting our historical right to have an airline flight to London.

Actually, it's a good deal more than that.

Astraeus Airlines has a fair history in this province already. Back in Nov 2006, Minister of Transportation John Hickey was falling all over himself praising Astraeus for their twice weekly flights to Deer Lake and St. John's.

What an odd flight, when you think about it - Gatwick to Deer Lake through St. John's twice a week. What would generate that kind of traffic? Well, the "high-end Humber Valley Resort" as referenced above has a very significant European clientele and they need to be able to get back and forth.

In that press release, Hickey was thrilled to note that:
The partnership with Astreaus Airlines was brokered by Brian Dobbin, chief executive officer of Newfound NV, to service Newfound’s Humber Valley Resort.
And why wouldn't wouldn't Mr. Dobbin broker such a deal? It's only right and proper and it serves his interests to do that.

Mr. Dobbin, a local businessman of some repute, has quite a few businesses in his stable. While mainly in the area of real estate, he also dabbles in other sectors as well.

One of them is as Publisher and majority owner of the Independent.

Don't bother looking on the website for that information because it's not there except as a passing reference in one online story. He does, however, appear on the masthead of the print publication. Other than that he's usually simply referred in the paper as a businessman with wide interests.

Oddly, he's never mentioned as the chief executive officer of "high-end Humber Valley Resort" which advertises heavily in the paper.

And so we come full circle: Mr. Dobbin brings the airline to NL to service his resort and then ruthlessly promotes the flights of the airline in his paper as well as the resort it services.

And he has every reason to ensure those flights continue and continue profitably: if Astreaus pulls out of the province, that strands the "high-end Humber Valley Resort" high and dry.

So you thought the Independent took the time and trouble to tell the airline's story out of a sense of NL pride in maintaining historical NL-London air links? Think of it more as a feature piece in a corporate newsletter.

Of interest is the other recent change in the paper where we now see an impressive and generous selection of advertising from the provincial government and government owned agencies.

Who knew one would need a full broadsheet page ad just to advertise 3 jobs and a tender? I'm sure government could have seen better value for it's advertising dollar it it wasn't for all that gratuitous white space and the huge triffid in the corner.

It wasn't all that long ago that Independent was on the outs with our premier and nary a government ad could be found between its covers. Now the cup of government and government related advertising overflows.

As for editorial policy, it's clear: Our Man In Ottawa, Loyola Hearn, is evil.

Oddly, that's exactly what out Premier thinks too. And lets not forget the casual smears made about the reputation of private citizens who criticise our premier.

Will coincidences ever end?

In addition to being the ringing voice of local patriotism, the defender of the Pink-White-Green and supporter the "Fighting Newfoundland", you really have to wonder what and who's corporate and political interests the Independent and Managing Editor Ryan Cleary really speaks for.

Independent? Not so much.