Gannett’s Conflict of Interest with the YMCA

A picture is worth a thousand words. ~ Frederick R. Barnard

When reading the 2/13 article on the YMCA’s Invest in Youth campaign, it reminded me of last years campaign announcement from Yorktown when CEO Cathy Clark said, “The money raised by our annual youth campaign goes to help inner city kids at Buley and Boys and Girls Club.”

After she uttered those words to the newspaper, a visit was made to both Buley Center and Boys and Girls Club.

Guess what?

According to the staff, neither one received financial help from the YMCA. Not one dollar. They did receive a telephone invite offering 10 kids to attend an open swim for an hour at a reduced price. When your program includes hundreds of kids in attendance, how can you choose only 10 kids to swim and tell 90+ they have to stay at the clubhouse?

Of the $243 thousand pledged in 2011, how much was actually collected? How much went to pay for operating expenses at the YMCA. Was any of the money used to pay for the CEO’s lofty $125,000 annual salary? What was the real impact on the kids who attended? Has their involvement in the Y’s programs been long-term? What is the outcome? What percentage of Delaware County kids were sent to camp because of the dollars raised? Did you measure the impact?

These questions should be asked, but they are not. Any good trustee would ask those questions before giving them grant money. They’d want to see performance and outcome measurements.

All across the country, independent news agencies are holding YMCA’s accountable for how they manage their finances. Municipalities are requesting that they pay property and income taxes since 80-90% of their business is a fitness center, and not covered under IRS regulations for charitable organizations.

Why isn’t the StarPress holding the Muncie Family YMCA’s feet to the fire?

The picture in yesterday’s paper will tell you why. Dawn Fluhler (seen here), is an employee within the marketing department at the YMCA, and is also on the editorial staff of The Star Press, the Gannett Media news agency which claims to be our “local investigative news outlet.”

How can we expect independent journalism from a media outlet that is a stakeholder in the interest they are reporting? How can we expect the reporter to do their job and ask tough questions when you’re trying to please both bosses?

Instead of holding this taxpayer subsidized organization accountable, TSP looks like a public relations, or marketing agency shooting film for a promotional piece.

If a city councilman works for the fire department and is ready to rule on an ordinance for fire department raises,  doesn’t the Gannett political team of Walker/Roysdon point to the city councilman’s alleged conflict of interest? Isn’t the YMCA accountable to taxpayers via their tax exemption. As taxpayers, we subsidize health club members monthly dues.

Why shouldn’t TSP disclose conflicts of interest when it makes a difference on how they write a story? How does this promote a credible news source?

If they won’t be guided by their own canon of ethics, why should we trust them? Who’s going to hold them accountable?

Furthermore, Walk Indiana is a Gannett owned walking marathon partnering with the YMCA of Muncie and they advertise in the newspaper ad nauseum about their events to the exclusion of all other events. We asked the executive editor of Gannett, Lisa Nellesen-Lara, whether she charged Walk Indiana’s non-profit event for advertisements placed in the newspaper, but she refused to comment.

One of Ms. Nellesen’s staff reporters commented in a room full of wellness professionals, “You better not host an event around her (Ms. Nellesen) Walk Indiana event.” How’s that for community building?

The obvious conflict prevents the reporters from doing their job. Both of the journalists in yesterday’s story are subordinates of bosses who are the subjects of this story — a classic case of conflict of interest.

The facts are County Health rankings show us near the bottom, or 81st out of 92 counties, in health and wellness. Over one-third of our kids are obese and getting worse.

Why are we tossing money at a poorly run institution that is not making an impact on our community? Even Delaware County cancelled their Y subsidized memberships and created their own gym to help employees.

Gannett is part of a newspaper interest that is making noise at the federal level about how rapidly their industry is changing, and they need policies to support their copyrights, and bailouts for debt, all to stay free and independent. They’re claiming, “Government needs to be held accountable to the public as a foundation of democracy.”

They may be right about the issue a legitimate democracy, but Gannett has proven itself to the citizens of this community with its slanted political views, and violating the journalistic canon of ethics for its own industry  — it serves its own interests, first. Then, if it doesn’t interfere with Gannett’s corporate interests, or the personal interests of its executive editor, then they may do some investigative reporting.

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Todd Smekens

Journalist, consultant, publisher, and servant-leader with a passion for truth-seeking. Enjoy motorcycling, meditation, and spending quality time with my daughter and rescue hound. Spiritually-centered first and foremost. Lived in multiple states within the USA and frequent traveler to the mountains.


  1. Does anyone wonder why there was almost zero coverage of Muncie Multi-Sport in 2011 even though we had over 2,500 finishers? Why is none of our material promoting the events allowed in the YMCA? Why did the YMCA drop all these type of events; triathlons and triathlon classes, 5k/10k Walks and Runs, Muncie Mini, Corporate Games in 2006? Why do we not promote local events to members wanting to get more fit? We promote all other events across the state but not Muncie Multi-Sport?

    Makes you wonder who cares about who and what is the motivation behind this type of behavior.

    1. I am trying to research information on the Buley center about its assets and finances. It has proven to be more difficult than expected, so I am wondering if anyone has this information, or any interesting statistics and facts, I would be thrilled if you could share them with me. My e-mail is

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