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August 07, 2009

Jackson Free Press vs. Gannett's ShopLocal (TM)

In July, Seven Days ran a cover story about "local washing," the practice by which large chain retailers are rebranding themselves as "local" businesses. The story ran in multiple alternative newsweeklies around the country.

It didn't seem to ruffle many feathers here, but it has sparked a lively debate in Jackson, Mississippi. The alt-weekly there — the Jackson Free Press — added a companion story of its own. Editor Donna Ladd wrote a piece entitled: "Wink, Wink: The ShopLocal (TM) Scam." It targets Jackson's Gannett-owned daily newspaper, the Clarion-Ledger — specifically Gannett's ShopLocal (TM) promotions.

An alert Seven Days reader sent me a link to the testy online exchange between Ladd and Patrick Flanagan, the senior director of project management at ShopLocal (TM). I thought it was worth posting here, seeing as how we also have a Gannett-owned daily that uses ShopLocal (TM) promotions.

Ladd writes,

Gannett .... has been guilty of the local-washing scam for years — and in the most blatant way. I remember well seeing a ad pop up on the Clarion-Ledger's Web site a few years back. For about a minute, I thought the mega-corporation was finally catching up on the need to put locally owned businesses front and center. Of course, I was wrong.

Remarkably, the company sees nothing wrong with slinging around the phrase ShopLocal™ (yes, it's trademarked) in order to promote ... wait for it ... big-box retailers like Wal-Mart and Office Depot. When you click to, it recognizes your zip code and re-directs you to the Jackson page. There, you quickly see what they are calling "local": CVS, Target, Best Buy.

Patrick Flanagan called Ladd out in a post on the ShopLocal (TM) blog, arguing that big-box chain stores are "national-local" — as opposed to "local-local" or "hyper-local." Sadly, his post is full of typos, including an embarrassing mistake in the headline — "Sorry Ms. Ladd Of The Jackson Free Press, Your’re Just Wrong. ShopLocal IS Local." Whoops.

Not surprisingly, Ladd fired back. Read her reply here.

The whole back-and-forth is definitely worth reading, especially if you're someone who cares about the meaning of the word "local."

The Gannett-ShopLocal link you provided went to a site that reproduced flyers from local branches of stores such as Best Buy and JC Penney. Is your concern that Vermonters are going to mistakenly believe that these stores are headquartered locally? I didn't see anything on that site that made any such claim, implicitly or explicitly.

You can gripe about big boxes all you want, but trying to make the case that anyone's trying to fool people into thinking they're "local" just because their flyers are on a site called "shoplocal" is a REAL stretch.

Hmm, the website seems to think Boston is local to Burlington.

Now they are tracking what YOU as an individual buy.

When someone is using her CVS card, she’s not only getting discounts on shampoo, she’s also giving CVS a record of every item she buys. CVS, or its media agency, can then match that with her household data — including how much her house cost, her income and other attributes.

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