Marco Chown Oved, an investigative reporter with The Toronto Star, posed several questions to Matthew Ricchiazzi, the publisher of The Buffalo Chronicle, this week. Those responses are published here unedited and in their entirety.
Where did The Buffalo Chronicle come from?
I founded The Buffalo Chronicle in 2014 out of a dissatisfaction with the establishment media in New York State, and in Western New York in particular. In many ways we had become a one-newspaper town, and the body politic was shaped too heavily by the preferred politics of that paper’s owner, Warren Buffet.
In my view, that publication actively placated the electorate in a way that caused us to tolerate incompetent politicians for generations, and it enabled an old ward-style political machine, in the longstanding traditions of Tammany Hall – and the political underclass that lusts for public sector patronage jobs – to game every election with shallow journalism that barely scratches the surface of an issue and never delves into the substance of things for fear of offending those who control government procurement, grant money, nearly the entire WNY construction industry, and public sectors jobs.
In Western New York – where we’ve suffered a structural 65-year economic decline – conditions that inflamed the worst manifestations of that politics – there is barely any private sector left. When the region fears that the economic pie can do nothing but shrink, then local politics becomes blood sport. The Buffalo News was doing absolutely nothing to hold our leadership accountable, and it was doing nothing to critique an ecosystem that was drowning in bad policy ideas.
So it was necessary to have another voice – a local voice, a voice that was willing to demand the revival of our region from our politicians – and isn’t willing to accept the lie that doing so is impossible. That’s what Buffalo was told for many, many years: that our economic decline is inevitable. I’d like to think that we’ve played a role in turning that discourse.
We go to print locally during the election cycle, but are mainly focused on the digital platform.
Why did you start publishing stories on Canadian politics this year? Do you write them all or do others write them for you?
Many folks write for The Chronicle. I’ve held a number of open community meetings with activists here in Buffalo and on the Six Nations Reserve, where my mother’s family is from, to give activists the digital publishing tools that help them drive change in their communities.
I was very offended by the way that Justin Trudeau treated former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould. The way he fired her in order to get a corporate campaign contributor out of a criminal trial was unconscionable, and even more so that he and his staff were so willing to propagate smears against her in such an obvious and systematic way.
Had he never terminated the first indigenous woman to serve as Justice Minister and Attorney General of Canada – the person who was trying to rewrite the Indian Act and to finally liberate indigenous people from this archaic and racist system that’s shaped our oppression for nearly 150 years – our publication may never have taken an interest in this election cycle. I know the two writers most responsible for sourcing the information contained in our series found that entire scandal rather enlightening.
The Chronicle continues to be open to citizen journalists of every political persuasion – both on the left and on the right. A diversity of political perspectives is so important and central to our democracy. It frightens me that Canada’s government intends to fund the media industry, and I think we all should worry about that possibility, because of the obvious conflict of interest.
Newspapers should work for the people, not for the government.
Why don’t you use bylines? Many of your stories on Canadian politics have no named sources in them at all. Considering the Buffalo Chronicle is a new title with a short track record, why should people trust the anonymous sourcing?
Many of the folks who write for me would lose their jobs immediately upon it being discovered. Many of the sources who provide us information would be shunned by their political compatriots if it was known they had been informing us. Often, the way that we are able to provide our readers with information is only because we protect our sources, and we go beyond the typical publication in doing so. I think that helps us attract new sources, who feel more comfortable in reaching out and telling their story.
This is a practice commonly extended to the victims of sexual assault, or domestic violence. A person losing their employment position in a Rust Belt city like Buffalo is a materially damaging thing, and I want to respect the risks that folks take to keep the body politic informed. It’s the only thing that allows our democracy to work. I also like that it forces people to focus on ideas and the substance of issues rather than reverting to the knee jerk reaction that is common among political operatives: attacking the messenger.
How is the Buffalo Chronicle financed? Do you receive any money from sources located in Canada?
I pay for it all out of my own pocket.
We don’t have any advertisers from Canada, mostly because we haven’t pursued advertisers. I suppose that we may in the future, but at the moment I don’t see The Chronicle as a profit center; I see it as a pro-bono contribution to making our democracy healthier and more robust. I expect it to burn through a certain amount of cash every so often, and I keep it within limits. I find it to be a liberating posture for a publication to take.
In some ways, I suppose you could consider The Chronicle a ‘loss-leader’ to some of my other business ventures. A number of my clients are Indian Tribes in the United States and Canada, and the platform has been helpful in defending various investment positions in the past.
I’ve spoken with several of the businesses that have advertisements on the Buffalo Chronicle and they’ve told me that they did not purchase any advertisements and they’ve never heard of your publication. Can you explain this?
I know, they’ve been calling me all day. They tell me reporters have been harassing them with phone calls. I give most of the ad space away for free to small locally owned businesses whenever I see someone doing something worth celebrating or promoting, or come across a locally owned brand that I like. One of the intangibles that we’ve lost in the last few decades due to the media industry’s consolidation is the erosion of brand consciousness for local businesses. If I can help a small firm project their presence to our local readership, I’m most happy to do so.
Also, some of the advertisements that appear may have been sold through third-party advertising sales agents that worked for The Niagara Falls Reporter or Artvoice. For some time, The Chronicle was pursuing a merger of the three platforms through a content-sharing agreement that was intended to more easily pool resources and better scale our content production. I think there are some advertisements for local music venues and bars that were purchased through Artvoice, and must still be circulating in the ad server. Given that I don’t charge for ads anyways, I wasn’t too concerned with it.
If there are any specific advertisements that you’re interested in, I can elaborate on whether or not there is a substantive business relationship with that entity or not.
In the end, that merger didn’t work out because of editorial and governance disagreements with the publisher of The Niagara Falls Reporter and Artvoice, Frank Parlato. He had been allocating resources monomaniacally in pursuit of the Bronfman sisters and their sex cult, NXIVM, and those audiences suffered.
You’ve run for office and worked on a state senate campaign in New York. How do you maintain neutrality considering your partisan past?
I have not run for office. My name has never been printed on a ballot – either in a general election or a primary – so that’s not true. In 2009, between my first and second year of business school at Cornell, I did circulate petitions to run for Mayor. The two other candidates running hired attorneys to remove me from the ballot on a technicality, and I figured I’d finish the second year of my MBA program rather than hire attorneys to secure that ballot position. In hindsight, I wish I had hired the lawyers because I think I would have won, despite being 23 years old.
In 2010, I had circulated petitions to run for State Senate in the Republican Primary in New York’s 60th district. Rather than waging a primary against Mark Grisanti, I threw the petitions away and we teamed up to focus on the general election. We got him elected – a Republican – in a district with a 5-to-1 enrollment advantage for the Democrats. I convinced the Seneca Nation to contribute $200,000 to his campaign in the last three weeks so that we could get him on TV in a big, unexpected way.
We got him elected in a district that had only a 17% GOP enrollment, and Republican control of the State Senate chamber hung on his single vote for his entire first term. We were able to get the Republicans to establish a Native American Affairs Committee in the Senate that year.
The first job I had out of business school was helping the Seneca Nation launch its private equity arm, Seneca Holdings. It was a small investment team, but we deployed an initial capital commitment of $30 million and launched several federal contracting vehicles, aiming to diversify the Nation’s economy beyond gaming and tobacco. That role necessitated a heavy involvement in state politics, given a portfolio of investment interests with a high level of political risk.
I feel absolutely no need to maintain neutrality and think that critical journalism with an honest perspective is indeed better journalism. Among my many objectives in this lifetime is to help liberate indigenous people in North American, and for the Haudenosaunee Confederacy to be admitted to the United Nations as a member state.
You can’t achieve meaningful goals by being blindly loyal to a single party or allowing oneself to become intoxicated by partisan ideology.
Personally, my political views are center-right, with a loose Libertarian bent and a firm belief in supply-side economics and the virtue of capital accumulation. I think making the government smaller and markets freer is a good thing that benefits working people most. But that doesn’t mean I dislike Democrats or I am somehow blindly partisan. I often collaborate on all sorts of projects — in business, in politics, in the non-profit arena — with people whose politics are very different than my own. I enjoy that so much, and some of my best friends disagree with me very strongly on political issues, but you’d be amazed at the civic objectives that we’ve been able to accomplish by working together, particularly in Western New York.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has called a public inquiry into foreign influence in Canadian policy. Do you think this would target you as an American outlet writing about Canadian politics?
I’m very offended that the Prime Minister and his political operatives have been smearing me as a ‘foreigner’. I’m Haudenosaunee. I’m indigenous to this land, and I have every natural right – and every political right – to criticize this government. I briefly served as the Policy Director at Six Nations of the Grand River, the most populous First Nations Reserve in Canada, which is a federal works agency of the Canadian government, so I don’t understand by what logic the Prime Minister is suggesting that my publication constitutes foreign interference.
Notice also that Barack Obama, the former president, endorsed Justin Trudeau – in what I’m sure is a much more concerning level of foreign interference than my little newspaper.
You were arrested for a DUI in April 2015.
I don’t see the relevance of this issue to your article, to The Buffalo Chronicle, or to Canadian politics. It only indicates to me that your interest in producing your forthcoming article is to smear me ahead of an election. I’d ask that you not print it. The charges were dropped in the interest of justice. I was not convicted of that charge.
In 2013, you were involved in an altercation with Michael Kuzma, an assistant to municipal councillor David Francyk, whom you had criticized in the Buffalo Chronicle. You filed a police report alleging Kuzma grabbed you and shouted profanities. Kuzma later asked the DA to charge you with filing a false police report. No one was charged as a result of the incident.
Correct. I was at City Hall and he attacked me, attempting to break my camera. I had a witness who filed a statement affirming my recollection of events. He had no eyewitnesses. The officer who responded to my call refused to charge him at the scene because he was a city employee. That’s how things work in Buffalo.
Campaign finance disclosures show that the group Better with Reese paid you $6,000 between April and June this year. The Buffalo Chronicle has published four stories on Reese this year. Were you paid to publish those articles? If not, what was the money for?
As that campaign finance disclosure that you cite makes very clear, Peter Reese retained me as a consultant for a very short period of time, and on a part-time basis. I don’t know the exact amount that he was billed, I think there may have been other fees billed to other business and political accounts maintained by Peter, but I don’t recall at the moment. In total, it was not a large account and comprised a rather insignificant amount of money. Those fees were not in exchange for advertising or content.