Matthew Ricchiazzi, the publisher of The Buffalo Chronicle, was kind enough to respond to questions posed by Caitlin Dewey, a writer with Politico.
I understand the Chronicle is not your full-time gig — what else do you do for work? Can you specify who any of your current clients are? What is Enkindle Strategies LLC, and in what state is it registered? (In what state is Buffalo Chronicle Media Group registered, for that matter?)
My client relationships are governed by non-disclosure agreements.
I’m a political consultant. The intersection of business and politics has long fascinated me, and I’ve found that owning digital publications has allowed me to shape the public discourse more effectively and to educate the public around critical issues more efficiently.
In the United States, it is well established that tribal governments have civil regulatory jurisdiction over our own economies, a scope of jurisdiction that pre-empts States’ civil regulatory powers. This constitutional relationship that Indians have with the federal government stems from the Indian Commerce Clause. The Buffalo Chronicle Media Group is a Native American partnership agreement, funded by Native American financiers who operate various on-territory businesses. The entity’s filing requirements are with the tribal clerk of a sovereign jurisdiction of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.
You told a Toronto Star reporter: “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.” That reads like an acknowledgement that the Chronicle intentionally runs stories favorable to your clients financial interests. Is that what you intended?
You make it sound so overt. It’s more subtle than that. Sensual, even. I have political clients that have various concerns and to the extent that The Chronicle, as a sister company to my consulting practice, can be helpful, it’s been helpful.
Did Kingdom Holdings’ multi-billion dollar investment in Fox News influence two decades worth of American foreign policy? Does the telecom giants’ ownership of CNN and MSNBC influence the federal mood on the enforcement of anti-trust laws? Of course, it does. Let’s not be naive.
And let’s not discriminate when the little guy does it. We have the first amendment in this country and political speech is sacred to the American identity and American nationhood. The billionaire is allowed to freely inform the public as he sees fit, equally as I’m able to inform the public as I see fit. There’s great beauty and profound justice in that. And it’s an American tradition that goes back to Thomas Payne and Common Sense.
How many people are on the Chronicle’s staff now? Are they paid/full-time, or do they have other arrangements?
About two dozen folks have access to posting content on The Chronicle but do so irregularly and on a volunteer basis. Most are retired journalists, political operatives, retired politicians, and retired businessmen who follow local politics like sport. It’s an innovative model that’s intended to be disruptive and focused on eliminating the journalist as the middle man.
I tell all of my clients: If you have a story to tell, tell it without all of the pretenses and biases that some leftist prick ‘journalist’ who you don’t trust brings to the table before you even open your mouth. Rather than call someone whose normative posture is to smear you, give me a call, and let me help you tell your story.
I tell my clients: If you’re in a little trouble, go hire a lawyer and don’t waste my time. But if you’re in a lot of trouble, then make sure you give me a call. It’s always good to have another tool in the arsenal, and I did my MBA in private equity, so I can empathize with your strategic landscape.
Old media is dead. Journalists, like everyone else in a market economy, don’t simply deserve to exist unless their production provides value to someone. At some point in the not-too-distant future, you’re going to see folks hiring journalists the way that they hire publicists — on an hourly basis. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. This idea that content shouldn’t be linked to advertiser revenue and economic value is archaic and childish. There has been a very turbulent decade for the media industry, and only the innovators will survive — and no one will make profits, because we know that in perfectly competitive market contexts, economic profits will be driven to zero in equilibrium.
In terms of our employment, I work with about a dozen investigative journalists whom I commission on a freelance basis when I find a topic that I’m really interested in and want to commission a formal investigation into. We retain journalists, typically, for a period of three to four months at a time.
You were quoted in the Chronicle in 2017: “The Chronicle is more of a mission than a business. Our organizing principle is to revive our city, and that motivates all of the Chronicle’s journalism.” Is that still true?
Yes. We’ve had such an enormous impact in shaping Western New York’s political discourse, and it’s helped drive needed policy changes. There’s still so much more work to do. Going forward, I hope to do so with a less adversarial and more collaborative posture than we have had in past years. When The Chronicle was first launched, I think I wrongly believed that the appropriate posture for such a platform was to expose rather than to achieve and to build.
How do you think the Chronicle has influenced the state of political discourse and local journalism in Western New York? (Feel free to flag specific stories you think are important.)
You wrote in 2014: “Indeed, we can provide our sponsors, advertisers, and partners with enormous brand value — and we can help shape a favorable consciousness for your businesses, products, and services by articulating your narrative.” Do you still “articulate the narrative” of sponsors, advertisers and partners? Do you accept payment for that service?
We’ve long stepped away from an advertiser-focused operating model.
In 2016, the Chronicle posted a story saying you would step down as managing editor “after controversy surrounding the platform’s speculative posture.” What was meant there by “speculative posture”? Why did you return to the position?
I haven’t returned to any position. The operating model has become increasingly decentralized and open-source. There is no managing editor. Most of the content producers publish content to the platform directly. The platform is not my main focus, and I’ve since decided to encourage a speculative posture, attempting to reinvigorate the stale orthodoxies of establishment journalism.
How do you explain the fact that so many of your stories have been found false by independent fact-checkers?
To be honest, I think it may indicate some weakness surrounding our standards and practices.
Can you identify which of the advertisers on your homepage have purchased ads through a third-party exchange, which have purchased from you directly, and which purchased through Frank Parlato’s properties? Like previous reporters, I have contacted a number of these firms. Across the board, they said not only had they never purchased ads through any of these channels, but that they considered the use of their name and logo on your homepage copyright infringement.
I don’t know offhand, but I’ll look into it. I don’t handle that. They’ve been sourced in a variety of ways.
What are your plans for City Politic? Have you ever considered launching a site that’s explicitly national or international (i.e. through its name and branding), or is your focus still primarily local?
The City Politic is not currently operating. It was an early platform that I had operated from 2010 to 2012. I still own the domain, and I’ve been thinking about relaunching it as a San Fransico-based discourse on art and urban design, but we’ll see. I own five news-ish websites that are currently operating, one of which is The Chronicle, and each focusing on different topics or metro-areas, largely with the same lean open-source operating model.
How would you describe your own current politics?
Center-right. Pro-Trump. I see the virtue in supply-side economics, but I also want to rebuild the Rust Belt with fair trade policies. I want to advance the political liberation of North America’s indigenous people and I want to help marginalized communities with catalytic pro-market economic policies.
Last, but not least: My story will, as you know, identify Buffalo Chronicle as a source of disinformation, citing a range of academics and researchers who study the subject. I want to give you a chance to address that head on, if you’d like.
In the week prior to Canada’s federal parliamentary elections, we took some liberties, and indeed we did dabble in misinformation, but only with regard to one specific article, on behalf of an indigenous group in Canada. We don’t generally publish misinformation and did so only to advance the political liberation of Canada’s aboriginal communities — who, today, live in an apartheid state under the Indian Act.
Now, with the Liberal Party of Canada having a more tenuous minority government, Justin Trudeau will face very practical political pressures to tend to the task of indigenous political liberation, in ways that he didn’t with a majority government in Parliament.