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Sat, Jan 30, 2021

Barnstorming: We Are Much Better Than This… Aren’t We?

"Stand Up For What You Believe In, Even If You Are Standing Alone." -- Sophie Scholl

News/Analysis/Commentary by Jim Campbell, ANN CEO Editor-In-Chief

I’ve sat on this story for more than a few weeks, thinking it through, and realizing that what we experienced was (potentially) not that unusual and possibly a sign of the times. I hope I'm wrong about that.

In an effort to build an even more credible news organization than we have, heretofore; last year Aero-News created a sister organization called AeroPReneuer.

AeroPReneuer had a couple of purposes… The biggest of which was to take all communications and marketing tasks away from Aero-News so that, at no time, was anybody normally engaged in an editorial capacity, could transgress into commercial purposes.

We wanted a solid line between editorial and marketing… even more so than before.

Further, we had built up such a good video, social media, and digital media capability, and had so many requests from people asking us to share that knowledge and those services with them, that we allowed AeroPReneuer to expand and work with outside clients, again since it was SEPARATE from ANN. It was a smart move and one of the reasons that, after well over $100,000 in losses incurred due to pandemic issues, that we're still here, hanging on, sometimes by our toenails, but hanging on, nonetheless.

AeroPReneuer created a whole new media program that has been surprisingly successful -- even while the aviation industry has been in less than great health -- and as a result we’ve had dozens upon dozens of conversations with companies that have been interested in our work. Mind you, we're grateful for that, and we hope it continues.

But we ran into something pretty miserable many weeks ago… Not the first time we’ve had to deal with some of these issues… But certainly one of the most severe in recent memory.

A major GA company put us in touch with their marketing arm, which happened to be based on the other side of the Atlantic – to discuss ANN sponsorship. The conversation seemed affable enough at the beginning until the overseas marketing contact started explaining what they demanded. They expected to place paid editorial on our editorial pages. They expected to have say in our editorial process. They expected a copy of our entire newsletter mailing list database. They expected extensive information about our users, readers, and viewers… Well beyond any kind of data we had collected, or figured we had any right to even know… Much less to disseminate to other entities.

It got worse from there.

I am well aware that European media (and much of the US, as well)  often practices what we call “advertorial” and that the lines between credible honest journalism, and marketing, have been blurred to the point of being nearly indistinguishable. I explained to the marketing contact that we didn’t do business that way -- that in our 24 years of journalism, that we had fought for what we consider to be truthful, credible, and proper in terms of the information we impart to you all and have proved it time and time again even to the point of almost losing this company years ago when Chinese government owned Cirrus Aircraft assaulted our constitutional rights as journalists, and did their best to shut us up… And failed.

We explained carefully that ANN was grateful to have sponsors, that we had enjoyed a number of remarkable and enriching partnerships with people and companies in our industry over the course of over two decades -- and that, of all the people we were working with at that time, no one was asking us to compromise our integrity. No one.

We were proud of who we chose to partner with and had no qualms about representing them as sponsors of ANN. I also politely informed them that the request that they made did violate our integrity and the principles we worked by. Finally, as all this was coming to a close, I noted some comments, on their part, about them getting such cooperation from other media companies. I explained that while others may do what they wanted, we weren’t going to be one of them, and as long as I owned/ran Aero-News, we never would be.

Weeks after that, the US marketing team engaged some of my staff in a follow-up conversation with us in which we were assured that our desire to maintain our integrity was appreciated, and a conversation about possible sponsorship was struck up again with members of the AeroPReneuer staff.

Unfortunately; the emails that followed came from the same overseas contact and again demanded very specific information about you all -- your ages, your job titles, your socio-economic status, on and on… It got worse from there. And, so we explained to the overseas contact that this, again, is not how we do business. We did collect a limited amount of demographic information for our own purposes, but we didn’t identify reader and viewer IDs beyond basic/generic info, and that what appeared to be a request for the wholesale invasion of privacy of our readership and viewership was nothing we could cooperate with. Then… It got weird.

The overseas contact attempted to do what I considered to be in “end run” around me by reaching out to other members of our staff for the information we refused to give, and the instructions we refused to follow – This, after I had already requested, quite politely, that such efforts cease.

In getting back to the US marketing team, to explain that we could not and would not do business like this, there was a short conversation in which we were informed, “but others do” – which is a terrifying topic for another day. The US marketing contact proceeded to name other media entities and even a well-known Aviation Association that seemed to be willing to agree to some of the things that we cannot. Ouch…

I made it clear, once again, that the responsibility we had to our readers and viewers was to provide them good, honest, credible information on a daily basis… To not violate their privacy… And to offer a sponsor roster of people and companies we could trust and who respected our integrity as well as the need to protect our readers and viewers from undue invasions of privacy. And after a little more drama from the overseas contact, who proceeded to make calls and emails after we told them to stop… That’s where we left it.

Okay… What’s this all about? Let me explain to you something I feel as deeply as I possibly can… It is something that I have fought for and suffered for, well beyond anything I could’ve imagined when I started on this path.

It was the late great Bob Hoover who told me that one of the reasons we were friends, was because he knew I was a guy who always told the truth and never gave up – and that this was something he appreciated and believed in -- and fought for, during his time in service to the nation. I can’t think of much else in my life that honored me more than what he told me that day.

More important; I believe I owe you the truth.

I believe I owe you the hard truth even when it’s not a popular or pleasant topic.

I believe you have a right to privacy.

I believe we have a limited right to collect basic information about who and what you are (so long as you volunteer it) so that I may cater our editorial efforts properly to meet your needs – but not to EVER abuse that privilege. The information we gather is mostly for us, and on a very limited, generic, basis it is also used to tell potential sponsors a little bit about who reads and views ANN, Airborne, Aero-TV and our other products. We've been doing this, that way, for 24 years... and that has to count for something.

We are deeply appreciative of the people who have paid good money to put their good companies and good products in front of you. And the reason I say good companies and good products, is because we have turned away many a company who did not meet our standards, and with whom we could not develop the trust necessary to present them to you. And it's quite a list.

I can not tell you how much money we have passed up that way -- but its a staggering amount. And yet, I’m OK with the decision.

We’re not always right about all of the above, but the simple fact is that we try, and try hard, to be good people, good members of the aviation community, and whenever we have to put our collective backsides on the line to speak a controversial truth, we hope we have built the requisite trust/faith with each of you so that when we say something, you know you can believe it.

We cannot do that if we sell you out.

We cannot do that if we sell our editorial souls for a couple extra dollars for ‘paid editorial’ – which I consider to be nothing less than editorial prostitution.

We cannot do that if we violate your privacy.

We cannot do that if we take instruction about our editorial direction from outside parties that are simply trying to fatten their wallets.

I don’t have to tell you that the state of journalism, even here in the United States, pretty much sucks. I don’t like it, and I won’t have any part of it. I will do my best to look myself in the mirror, editorially speaking, each morning, sit down and do my best to give you good solid news to the best of our abilities, even in the middle of a pandemic when our abilities have been pared down by quite a bit.

We are not going to collect extensive personal information about you… Ever. We will collect basic information, only if you volunteer it, for our own purposes. We will not violate your privacy. We will tell you the truth. We will tell you the truth even when the truth kinda sucks. And we will keep doing so as long as we possibly can.

A couple of years ago we were almost put out of business. We went up against a company owned by the Chinese government -- Cirrus Aircraft. They lied to us, they threatened us, they did everything imaginable to put us away, and yet we survived… Even though we're still feeling the damage years later. You have to believe in something really passionately to take that kind of abuse (and have a Wife that backs you up magnificently, as well). And Aero-News, for all its flaws, setbacks, and occasional wars is (to me) one of the greatest things I’ve ever done… And I plan to keep on doing it.

So… I write the above not to throw rocks at anyone in particular, and you may notice that I’ve kept names out of it because I just don’t see the point right now… I write it because aviation is coming out of a really dark hole and it needs our best efforts to help it recover.

It is not all that it has been.

Much of the passionate and empowering spirit and sense of community has all but disappeared… And while I know that things change as we go forward into the future, it does not mean that some of the best of our past has to be totally abandoned. Being honest with each other, supporting each other, believing that what each of us says to each other is the truth, and having a support mechanism espoused by the companies and organizations that influence aviation, based wholly on the truth, is a part of the past I dearly miss.

Aero-News is totally dedicated to supporting and rebuilding the aviation community. How we do that, overall, is anyone’s guess… And while we have ideas, we have no doubt that the future is going to be a fairly arduous slog. Still; if we tell you the truth… if we don’t break faith with you… if we don’t violate your privacy as well as our integrity… and if our eyes are solidly on a better future for aviation, then I think/hope we're on the right path.

Okay… Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

FMI: Comments/Questions? jim@aero-news.net

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