Last month I made a long time friend and advertiser angry. I didn’t do it intentionally and while I wish it hadn’t happened the way it did, I’m not sure what I could have done differently.
Many of you follow our Facebook page. As we go to press with this issue, we have over 81,000 likes, and we’re adding close to 500 new followers per day.
On any given week the USRiderNews Facebook posts are seen by 141,000 people.
We see “motorcycle news” as our primary responsibility and entertainment second.
And that’s what got us in trouble with this advertiser.
For the past 5 years or so, the Trail of Tears Remembrance motorcycle ride, founded and headed by Bill Cason has advertised in USRiderNews. In return we’ve provided them free space at our events. We’ve promoted them on Facebook and, when the Board of Directors splintered and ousted Bill Cason over the vision and direction of the ride, we sided with Bill.
Normally any publication that relies on advertising would stay neutral to not to offend either side. We supported Bill Cason because we trusted him to continue to raise awareness of the past wrongs and raise funds for scholarships for Native Americans.
I won’t rehash the politics behind the split in the TOT. If you’re interested, you can Google it and read several stories from both sides. But after the split, there were two groups competing for riders and both claiming to be the “OFFICIAL” Trail of Tears Ride. Or read it here and here
On January 10th, Bill Cason sent us an ad that was to run for 3 months. He didn’t say anything to us about its contents, other than “we would be surprised.”
Well, as you can guess, we were surprised. After 20 years, Bill Cason was ending the ride by saying, “we’ve done what we started to do.” Download End Of Trail Letter 2013 pdf.
So we did what any news outlet would do. We wrote a story about it and publicized it on our Facebook page.
In a couple of hours the website story had been viewed over 19,000 times. The Facebook post was seen by over 45,000 people.
That’s when we received a call from Bill who told us he didn’t want us to put that on Facebook because he “wasn’t ready” to make the news public. He explained he didn’t want the story to get out until the magazine was printed and distributed the middle of the month.
He also objected to the story we put on our website which briefly touched on the controversy surrounding the ride and the two competing rides. Although we did not state that Bill was ending his ride because of the problems he’s had with permits and such, we did state that ever since the split, he has had more trouble dealing with law enforcement and public officials in Alabama and been forced to change routes and plans. All of which are true and factual.
Here’s what we posted online.
TRAIL OF TEARS CHARITY RIDE ENDS
Trail of Tears Motorcycle Ride founder Bill Cason has called an end to ride. Cason is the original founding member of the charity ride that has originated from downtown Chattanooga for the past 20 years. Cason said, “On behalf of the entire Board of Directors of the Trail of Tears Remembrance Motorcycle Ride, I want to announce that we are at the End of The Trail for our annual charity motorcycle ride. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for 20 great years and your support of our organization.”
Controversy began several years ago when a few Alabama members of the Trail of Tears Board of Directors attempted to illegally remove Cason and several of his close supporters from the Board. The issue was over vendor revenue and political bickering between several of the Alabama cities along the route. Cason said the controversy in the past had nothing to do with the decision to end the ride. “We feel the original goals and mission of the Ride have been achieved.” In the 20 years of the ride, Cason and his volunteers provided thousands of dollars of scholarship funds to Native American children, and placed Historical Markers in many areas along the Trail. Observers say attendance over the past few years has been dwindling due mainly to the depressed economy and not the two separate competing rides.
After the story broke, we received this from Bill (via e-mail) “Very disappointed in Facebook post. That is not at all the reason the ride is ending. The letter stated the reason. We have completed our mission. We expected you to print only the letter in your magazine. We were not ready for it to go public on Facebook.”
Later we received another e-mail cancelling the ad.
As a publisher who lives and dies by advertising revenue, I’m extremely upset at the news department for doing something that pissed off a paying advertiser, which resulted in a loss of revenue. As a news reporter, I’m upset that the advertiser didn’t have the good sense to stress to the sales department not the “leak” the story to the news department.
But, as the Social Media manager, I’m proud this incident proved how broad our website and Facebook reach is. When we post something, it reaches more motorcycle riders than any other free motorcycle magazine in the USA.
As friends of Bill Cason, and long time supporter, we made the decision to run the full page advertisement anyway, thereby costing us more lost revenue by having one less page available as advertising space.
Unfortunately we can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Once the post hit our Facebook page, the story was out. Had Bill told us not to publicize it before the issue was printed, we would have honored that request. In this day and time, I guess the notion that anyone wouldn’t think about Facebook surprised me more than anything.
But the other thing that surprised me is that Bill Cason, or anyone else would be so naive as to believe they can “end” the tradition of a motorcycle ride in September that associates itself with the “Trail of Tears.”
Within hours, supporters or organizers of the “other” ride were posting on our Facebook page that the ride “wasn’t cancelled” and promoting their ride up as the “official” ride.
On that “other” ride’s website, they’re already making plans for the 2014 ride and are claiming they own the 20 year tradition.
The simple truth is there’s too much money involved for the tradition to end. It’s sad that Bill and those who worked so hard for 20 years will no longer be there to make sure that money is used to improve the lives of Native Americans and preserve their heritage. Instead, most of that money will fund tourism efforts and pay expenses and staff to promote the event.
And, another sad, but inevitable truth is as time goes on, fewer and fewer people will remember (or care) who started the Trail of Tears ride, or the original purpose. Once the Trail of Tears Remembrance website goes dark, twenty years of dedication by Bill Cason and his supporters will disappear. Gone and forgotten.
For the record, I’m not against any person or group involved in this. I’m just a motorcycle magazine publisher trying to make a living and report the news.
This is one of those times when staying true to our mission, costs us money and friends. I guess that’s the price you pay when you stick to your principals.
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