Wal-Mart's Failed Pitch

Mike Buffington publishes four weekly newspapers along the Interstate 85 corridor in northeast Georgia. He's also this year's president of the National Newspaper Association, a trade group of small dailies and weeklies, many of which serve rural and ex-urban communities under assault from growth.

"Some of our (NNA's) publishers view any development as good development," he says. "Whether that's so, I don't know."

But Buffington and country publishers across the land do know Wal-Mart. When its superstores land like alien motherships on the edges of towns, what's certain is that local retailers are going to fail, thriving town centers will become abandoned wastelands, the net number of jobs and average salaries in a community will likely fall, workers at Wal-Mart will chafe under the company's hallmark ruthlessness and low wages …

And, local community newspapers will hit hard times. "Many of us believe that when Wal-Mart pulls its supercenter into town, it kills small business," Buffington says. "That dries up advertising, and the newspaper becomes collateral damage."

Buffington picked up an Atlanta Journal-Constitution in January and spied a full-page ad for Wal-Mart. It wasn't pitching TVs or cheap, Chinese-made clothing. Rather it was touting that "Wal-Mart is working for everyone."

Wal-Mart's ads ran in about 100 of the nation's largest markets, targeting government and business leaders - and, not incidentally, publishers of highly influential big-city dailies, who surely appreciated the extra bucks.

But then Wal-Mart started knocking on the doors of publishers such as Buffington. Slithering publicists asked the small newspapers - already starving because of Wal-Mart - to provide free space for the company's propaganda.

Buffington wrote Wal-Mart: "Community newspapers across the nation are all but invisible to Wal-Mart - unless the company is looking for some free PR in our pages. Wal-Mart has a fairly standard policy of doing little to no local newspaper advertising.

"But now, when under fire from various critics, you turn to us to help you fight back. Adding insult to injury, you expect us to give you free space. … So why is it that community newspapers in America are good enough to help you fend off critics with free PR, but we're not good enough for your paid advertising?

"You can't have it both ways."

-John F. Sugg

Read all about Wal-Mart's nefarious schemes at Senior Potentate John Sugg's blog, www.johnsugg.com. Sugg can be reached at 404-614-1241 or at [email protected].

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