Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Free Press publisher's failed ruse exposes Lett's News Cafe conflict of interest

**Update**
Another blogger, WPG News Review, seems to have come to many of the same conclusions I did. What wonderful convergent thought we have here in the blogosphere.
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**Update 2**
There is only one "Our Mistake" listed on page A2 of today's deadtree. The glaring error which allowed this post of mine to exist in the first place (and WPG News Review's) was only corrected on Dan Lett's column online yesterday. The only interest this possibly serves is the publisher's, Dan Lett's, and whoever else owns a piece of the Cafe. The ruse goes on.
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On Saturday morning, as far as I can tell, a most unlikely and beyond-puzzling story broke on Twitter, brought to our attention thanks to Dave Shorr's retweet. The Free Press Cafe was for sale, and it was being advertised without the slightest shade of discreetness on Kijiji (has since been taken down) of all places.

Dan Lett and the Free Press have been found themselves in a firestorm: they've been caught trying to promote the sale of the restaurant while pretending they themselves have no business interest in it. As more information surfaced over the past couple of days, not only is the Cafe indeed for sale, the paper has seemingly gone on a News Cafe Events promo blitz, and their star columnist on political ethics is preaching to us the virtues of training citizen journalists, at the cafe. 

On Monday, two days after the Kijiji ad surfaces, a massive full-page article on B1 by Dan Lett goes out. Lett's piece is not about the Cafe being for sale, rather he sings the praises of citizen journalism and their CNC program and how great it is, which happens at the Cafe. As of Monday night, there are two other stories about the Cafe, advertising events with MP Joy Smith and the British Consul General. Come to the Cafe!

Meanwhile, a sidebar story with a photo of the Cafe is tacked on to Lett's piece, featuring quotes from publisher Bob Cox reassuring readers that the future of the Cafe is secure, as long as the Free Press is around to take care of it. If I didn't know better, I'd say this looks like a great opportunity to a prospective buyer...considering the asking price is $109k.

If they believe this is such a vital and valuable program, why don't they buy it themselves?

On the surface this all seems to have been attempt to prop up their version of citizen journalism. Then the facts came out, starting with a correction about a glaring error in the aforementioned sidebar. The sidebar states the building is for sale...which can't be true. Where can you buy a building for $109k downtown? In a correction tacked on to Dan Lett's piece online, whops, it was in fact the business was for sale. Silly us, we said it was the property by mistake!

Lett was then forced in comment section of his article to admit he had a piece in the business.

brodie1

9:10 AM on 1/21/2013
Shouldn't Dan Lett always ID himself as a financial partner in the Free Press Cafe whenever he writes about it? Seems like the ethical thing to do.

Dan Lett11:46 AM on 1/21/2013
Column is not about the News Cafe. It's about the Community News Commons, which delivers some but not all of its programs through the cafe. 

How timely!

The Cafe is up for sale, and just by coincidence, a Lett piece appears to cheerlead for what goes on at the Cafe. Pure coincidence, folks. Nothin' to see here. Move along.


google9:47 AM on 1/21/2013
Umm...I'm pretty sure Dan Lett is the one who owns the Free Press Cafe...

Dan Lett11:45 AM on 1/21/2013
I make no secret of the fact that I am a very small shareholder in the entity that runs the food/beverage side of the cafe. The column in today's paper is not about the News Cafe. And the cafe does not profit from its association with the Community News Commons.  

Hear that? He's a stakeholder in the Cafe. The Cafe is for sale, but the piece isn't about that, so if you're looking for a conflict of interest, you won't find one, apparently because the Cafe does not profit from CNC. Events and CNC draw people to the restaurant. CNC is endowed with $400k from the Winnipeg Foundation, and CNC exists because of the Free Press Cafe. If the Cafe disappears, what happens to this funding and does the Free Press get cut out?

Maybe a bit of a situation if you're a stakeholder. The citizen journalism project must go on...at the Free Press Cafe.


Chillin in St James11:09 AM on 1/21/2013
While I take issue with Dan Lett's poor choice of words in describing that newspapers are 'under siege', some of us stopped regular home delivery of the WFP long before social media became the force it is today. Superficial stories, analysis, context, or critical thinking are the real underpinnings. Rare examples like Bartley Kives date to take an issue and put it in context. Perhaps the news cafe should reflect on the uniqueness and relevancy of reporting in traditional newspapers.

Dan Lett11:49 AM on 1/21/2013
I would implore you to go to the following website and look at the National Newspaper Awards archive, the best of newspaper content over the past few years. FP work is regularly nominated for NNAs. I'm proud to say that we continue to do good journalism. No one newspaper is going to satisfy everyone's every need. However, there is no doubt that we still do a good job at what we do best. 

236989674:59 PM on 1/21/2013
Lots of fluffy awards and your readership is in decline. What wrong with this picture?

At the suggestion that content is a problem at the Free Press (something I argued during last year's layoffs) Lett defends the Free Press' record, and that they do good journalism.

Isn't that rich?

This is journalism? Where does this rank on the ethics scale? Upon news of a tanking business put up for sale, the guy with a stake in the business puts out a cheerleading piece about citizen journalism which happens at the business, who only discloses he has a stake in the business in his comments section, and whose employer is directly involved with the business, who uses their platform to do a promotion blitz of the CNC and events at the business. What a great bargain this business is!

I'd go on a limb and say that everything Dan Lett has ever written about the Free Press Cafe or his version of citizen journalism needs to be revisited. I'm not sure how he has any credibility anymore.

He loves to talk about how great citizen journalism is here, but has never bothered to ask me about what happened to the incredibly successful citizen journalism radio program I was a part of. Nor has he ever asked me, a citizen journalism with success of my own, to come down and participate in his little project. Nor has he approached the currently-existing citizen journalism community. A few years ago, he was writing how the blogging community doesn't break stories, only commentary, implying that it is somehow of lesser value. That content is the real driver of journalism.

What the Free Press, and Dan Lett, have put out about what is going on with this Cafe is propaganda to serve a business interest that was concealed with the guise that they are helping the community.


Dave1112:50 PM on 1/21/2013
@lett
"I am a volunteer who has helped devise and deliver CNC seminars. That is a task that is completely and utterly separate from my work at the FP or my association with the cafe. It's volunteer work. "
Your altruism is unquestionable, especially because you have a financial stake in the WFPNC.


And Lett, who just a few months ago pointed the finger at us for not paying to support their journalism, that it was our fault, the readers fault, for recent layoffs. Does he expect me to pay for this pathetic display of "journalism?" A coordinated effort to build and maintain the image of the Cafe that is now for sale? To maybe cut or stem their losses by luring a new prospective buyer to a failing business?

Nice try, guys. All that energy wasted. There are so many potential stories in this province worthy of the title "good journalism," to challenge the government and hold our ever-more-corrupting offices to account. The Free Press says they're all about content, but here we are on a Monday laying a path of deception about the sale of an investment liability on B1. There is nothing more worthy of B1 today than this exceptionally important story on how great CNC is, that will impact your life as a citizen.

In the coming days I'll hopefully have time enough to revisit Lett's past pieces about blog-land and see how they stack up to this newfound philosophy and 'altruistic' devotion to the success of alternative media.

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