Media Central (FLYY.C) announces end of journalism for alternative weeklies Georgia Straight and NOW

06/10/2020

When a company shows up out of nowhere and announces they’re buying a newspaper, but that nothing will change if not for the better, that they have money and resources to compliment what’s already there, and that journalism will always be at the core of what they do, don’t buy it. It’s always a lie.

In March, Media Central (FLYY.C) CEO Brian Kalish got in front of a camera to talk about how, ‘hey guys, we know the Georgia Straight has been around for 53 years, but we’re bringing it back to its heart.’

Media Central CEO Brian Kalish: “I think were going to take what they’ve built and make ’em better. We now have the readers across the country, we just completed a financing to support how we develop and build out our business, and we’ll also get back to basics on the editorial side. We found people read publications whether they’re digital or print for a reason, they’re not there to peruse ads, they’re there to find out what exactly is it that’s in play that’s meaningful and important to them. [..] We’re going to get back to the essence of what Dan McLeod built 53 years ago.”

This was a lie. So was this:

Interviewer: So just to summarize to those fans that are all concerned, no big changes coming to the Straight but more so getting back to what they did before, of investigative journalists and really putting the heart into the Georgia Straight.

Kalish: Positive, positive, positive.

How do we know those were lies? Because three months later the pitch is this:

We have implemented a new omnichannel approach to publishing, one that merges: Editorial with Marketing and Sales. This is a fundamental change in how the legacy titles we purchased had been operating for the past 40 to 50 years.

Today, Media Central (FLYY.C) announced they were going away from the calming words spoken just three months ago that nothing would change but for the better of journalism, to now claim that the combining of journalism with marketing and sales would… help them through COVID-19 or something?

Far from getting back to the Straight’s roots as an alternative weekly hippy rag speaking truth to power, or even its more modern day incarnation as a condo flyer-festooned arts listing with occasional pokes at the government’s chest, now it’s going to be… weed, stocks, and e-sports.

We have re-focused editorial categories at NOW Magazine and the Straight to ensure we’re capturing our readers requirements around new markets, e.g., eliminating a focus on venues and arts and instead driving a focus on health, education, finance and esports.

The reaction from readers and the media has, predictably, been annoyed.

To be clear, venues and the arts are the only thing anyone picks up either title for.

Without those areas being covered, there’s nothing left but ads for new condo developments. So what’s going in their place?

Finance. E-sports. Health. The alternative media space is hardly fertile ground for ‘finance’ coverage, but when you’re a penny stock CEO looking at your share price all day long, I guess you write about what you know, and not what’s playing at the Fringe Fest.

While doing that, they’re going to focus less on actual journalism and more on whatever bullshit white label articles deals like this will bring them:

Media Central Corporation Inc. has entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with iMD Health Global to provide readers of the company’s flagship publications NOW Magazine and the Georgia Straight with free access to Canada’s largest library of reliable, trusted and up-to-date clinical health information. [..] iMD offers a robust digital library of health education resources and tools, including over 80,000 patient-friendly images, booklets, fact sheets and videos featuring vetted information from over 60 Canadian health associations, product manufacturers and the world-renowned Mayo Clinic. The extensive materials cover more than 2,100 common medical ailments and procedures.

Goodbye thoughtful analysis of the legislature and reviews of that small touring theatre production happening this weekend, hello listicles about ‘taint moles you might not realize you have!

Our award-winning writers and editors and newly minted marketers and salespeople have opportunities in front of them now, that simply did not exist before, and they are seizing the moment.

Many of those award-winning writers and editors don’t work at NOW and The Straight anymore, and those that do are now taking their lead from ‘newly minted marketers and salespeople’… don’t you just feel peachy about this evolution from journalism to advertorial?

…we have acquired legacy publications that operated on outdated business models, and are briskly introducing them into the 21st-century, during a pandemic, within just months of their purchase; all on a shoe string budget, all in an environment where we and our peers have seen the retreat of approximately 80% of our revenue.

And, hey, buy our stock. Speaking of:

Based on trading volume and price many shareholders who have been with us from the beginning may have realized ROIs ranging from approximately 50% to 200%.

I would like that statement explained, because this.

If you were ‘with FLYY from the beginning’, your investment is taking a billy club to the balls.

Admittedly, if you got a little less-than-a-cent paper in the shell it RTOed in, you’re doing great right now, but this company opened trading at $0.06, went to $0.25 for a hot minute, then thundered back down again in a couple of days to $0.065.

Today it’s at $0.045. I’d like to know who could have bought this stock ‘from the beginning‘ and not be entirely underwater, let alone up by 50% to 200%.

As background, I’m an editorial professional who has been at this game for 25 years, a guy who was online in 1995, who helped found the first website on the internet that invited movie fans to express their opinions way back in 1996, a dude who picked up awards for digital editorial innovation from large media chains, who was responsible for streamlining and modernizing big city newspapers online – I’m not here to brag, but I’m saying I understand how to make money from editorial content, while retaining journalistic integrity. I’m not the best journalist in the world, but I know better than most how to make journalism pay money. It’s what I do. It’s how we built this company.

And that’s why I fucking hate every single thing about Media Central, which went public late last year on the CSE, talking heavily about how its cannabis website and e-sports blog were going to blow up and return big dollars for investors, and how it was going to buy every alternative weekly in North America and streamline them all.

FLYY is a stock market beatdown and a dumb editorial model that thinks buying audience share will allow it to move that audience’s interest and habits in a direction they’re entirely not interested in at all. It’s private equity thinking with public markets money, destroying decades old institutions that have far more value beyond being strip-mined for freelance writers and mailing lists and the hope of a penny stock price bump.

The ‘new titles’ Media Central have announced are terrible, and a real example of what happens when you let the folks who sell ads dictate content.

ESportsCentral is lame.

ECentralSports will offer gaming fans the latest information on industry updates, insights from experts, virtual event access and stats. The site will also offer local experience guides providing fans news around local events and activities.

When? Because a quick count at the time of writing shows 8 pieces of content posted at ESportsCentral this month so far, over ten days, including the following breaking news story about… KitKat?

AMAZING WORK, SWEETIE. 

Can’t wait to read that deep journalistic dive!

There’s more on CannCentral, including some old names from The Straight who look like they’ve been requisitioned to shift from actual journalism to stories about how CBD will cure your ills and what albums might be good to listen to while shrooming, though, really, who cares? This will be the 600th blog about weed to start in Vancouver in the last three months – good luck getting Boffo to put banner ads up about their new condo development. I’m sure the synergies are incredible.

This sort of gormless bullshit is exactly why so many legacy media companies are dying. Finance guys raise some money to buy an old title they’re REALLY SURE has inefficiencies and if they can fix those, it’ll be totes profitable. Then they assign the task of paying off their loans to the title itself, which removes any efficiencies they might have set in place and slowly sinks the whole fucking place under.

That’s what’s happened with every media company in Canada with the exception of Glacier Media.

You know what Glacier does? IT BUYS NICHE TITLES AND LOCAL NEWS AND LETS THEM DO WHAT THEY DO.

It doesn’t buy Corn Farmer Bulletin and turn it into an e-sports title. It doesn’t buy The Lethbridge Tallywagger and tell its writers to think up five weed headlines by lunchtime.

To be clear – there’s nothing, in my eyes, wrong with reaching out to companies that want to be written about and finding a way to HONESTLY do so, as they sponsor your media outlet in return. Every news outlet does a variation on that threme.

Go find a negative story about Telus or Air Canada on any Postmedia newspaper for the last ten years, as an example. You won’t find any, because they buy an ad every single day and the publisher goes easy on them in return. When CNN shows TV ads for companies that sell oil rigs, or for the Royal Saud Investment Group, that’s not to sell you anything, it’s to keep those firms out of the news cycle. Journalism, at its heart, is generally provided by selling the integrity it builds, one soap ad at a time.

BUT THERE IS A LINE YOU DO NOT CROSS.

Yes, when you see an article about a great new condo development in the real estate section of the newspaper, we all know the deal that has been struck involves a journalist talking up some plasterboard kitchen pieces and a 12 sq ft master bedroom. But we still want to see PUBLIC SERVICE at the core of the business model.

At Equity.Guru, we take money from public companies to tell their stories, but that money doesn’t buy favour, it buys attention. If a client does the wrong thing, we’re out there talking about it. For example:

Exeblock (XBLK.C) needs to get its shit together, and now’s the time to make it happen

Here’s another:

Lifestyle Delivery Systems (LDS.C) facility raided by sheriff, county doesn’t recognize city permit

Holla:

Berz-Erka: Livewell unhalts after 8 months as Eureka 93 (ERKA.C), rolls back 15:1, loses 90% of its value

Media Central is not doing anything new, let alone worth investing in. Quite the opposite, it’s doing what every shitty media roll-up has tried to do over the last twenty years, almost always to total failure. The only variation here is they’ve clearly decided owning the Georgia Straight and NOW will give them the ability to quickly spin up a blog about whatever finance sector is having a run on the penny stock market, which will let them pop out a news release trying to lure you guys into buying their stock because, ‘ZOMG! Our e-sports blog is the best! Hey, we’re a shroom company now!’

And the arts can go fuck itself until people start buying stock in Miss Saigon.

From their most recent news release:

We launched a Psychedelics category at Canncentral.com, which we expect ultimately to spin off as a standalone title.

What a shock.

Also a shock: That the company spent $1.5 million on salaries and professional fees last quarter, and another $100k on stock compensation, on the back of $600k in revenues. Printing, which I’m sure they’ll swear is an arduous thing to handle in this modern age, was $119k.

You can see where this ends. Screw this horrible company. When they’re out of cash and looking to sell The Straight for pennies, we’ll be waiting, ready to get it back to where it should be.

Until then, good luck to all who find their careers strapped to this sinking ship’s bow.

PS: We’re hiring.

— Chris Parry

FULL DISCLOSURE: Seriously though, fuck these guys.

Related Posts

Latest Post

Comments 2

  1. Lukas Kane says:

    Mr. Parry, you are sexy when you are angry. Thoroughly enjoyed your hot beatdown of Media Central (FLYY.C). That said, the notion of owning hundreds of papers and syndicating SOME of the content is not entirely crazy. If Kitsilano Karen wants to read a review of the Mission Impossible V111 – does she really care if the reviewer lives in Yaletown or Toronto? Probz not. Paying one reviewer and publishing the review in 80 markets is a good business model. Corporate product syndicates well. Hand-made, local product – not so much. 25 years ago, I used to devour the The Georgia Straight every week cover-to-cover. They had a disciplined journalistic formula – hire experts: ballet, dance, wine, TV, Film, theatre, city hall, Tech…they had an expert for everything. And for the most part, the writers wrote well. Slowly, they fouled up their own formula. As an example, firing the best theater critic in Canada. Admittedly, that critic wasn’t well-liked, but if you put on a play in Vancouver, his opinion mattered. The Georgia Straight has been dying for at least 10 years. I suspect you are right: Media Central will kill it completely.

    • Chris Parry says:

      Agree to a point, but I think in a time where we can choose to read a review from anywhere online, we increasingly look for a unique and educated voice we trust, not just whatever knucklehead happens to have landed on the wire.
      If I’m looking to figure out if it’s worth going to that new indie film at the Park Theatre, do I want to hear from a local critic who may share my sensibility on the world, or the guy who reviewed it from the Texarcana Bulletin and sometimes reviews the ammo selection at WalMart? What plays in New York doesn’t always play so hot in Tuscaloosa..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: