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Banning in Cincinnati

By Stephanie Dunlap · March 16th, 2005 · All The News That Fits
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Given the Gannett Co.'s staggering competitive advantage, the founder of a handful of free social networking and listings Web sites wants to know why The Cincinnati Enquirer refuses to sell him advertising.

Gannett owns 101 daily newspapers, including USA Today, a slew of non-daily papers, 21 TV stations, a direct-mail advertising magazine, a broadcast network that feeds into TVs in elevators and a database marketing company.

Gannett, which owns The Enquirer, wields so much control in a joint operating agreement with The Cincinnati Post, owned by Scripps Howard, that its decision to pull out of that agreement in 2007 is widely seen as the end of The Post.

Last year The Enquirer launched CiN Weekly. Gannett also plans to gobble up HomeTown Communications Network, Inc., which owns a network of community newspapers such as The Forest Hills Journal and The Price Hill Press. The U.S. Department of Justice recently ruled that the merger won't violate anti-trust laws.

Given all those resources, Keith Ringer wants to know how The Enquirer could possibly feel threatened by his two-month-old Web site, www.CincinnatiMojo.com. The site, which is being re-branded as www.Cincylocals.com to avoid confusion with a local radio station, is one of four launched by MetroMojo following the success of www.LouisvilleMojo.com.

The 18-and-up sites offer free personal profiles, forums, a messaging system, free ads and a free happenings calendar.

"The site is actually all user content," Ringer says. "We do what's called content enabling, so we just put up the tools for people to go in and say what they want to do (and) assign local moderators for each site."

In fact, the first such site in Louisville has been up for just over a year and a half, but by page views it's the highest-trafficked online media outlet in Kentucky, Ringer says.

Here in Cincinnati, everything seemed smooth as Ringer first gathered quotes for ads on Cincinnati.com and in The Enquirer. But after The Enquirer had already charged Ringer's credit card, a sales rep canceled the ads and refunded his money.

"She said that they thought we were competitors," he says.

Then a sales rep for Cincinnati.com backed out on a sales proposal he'd finalized with Ringer just a day earlier. Trace Deaton offered only this terse explanation Feb. 8: "Sorry ... Bad news ... They won't accept the ads."

"I said, 'Are you sure, really?' " Ringer says. "This is ridiculous. We are both Web sites and we both know how that works -- people travel from one site to another. He was unmoved by my argument, to say the least."

So Ringer has changed his advertising tactics. He's already setting up outdoor advertising to launch a "Banned in Cincinnati" campaign.

"We've located a nice billboard near their corporate offices and are looking into acquiring that space," according to a statement on www.Cincylocals.com.

Ringer wants to advertise not only his site but the way Cincinnati's mainstream media seem to be biased against the small guy, he says.

"Honestly, they could crush us if they sneezed," he says. "We don't even have any sales people."

The move can't be dismissed as Gannett policy, because The Courier-Journal is owned by Gannett, according to Ringer. When his Louisville site's online hits surpassed those of The Courier-Journal, the daily paper wrote about it in its business section and put LouisvilleMojo.com on the cover of the weekend insert.

"We have not had anyone in Louisville who was less than receptive to partnerships -- and more specifically, we've not had anyone turn down cash," Ringer says.



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