Internet Interruption
Matthew Strauss

Internet Interruption

North Carolina Republican Senator Jesse Helms is best known as a supporter of hot-button issues like tobacco subsidies and the Confederate flag, and not as a computer visionary. But reports indicate that Helms, who will retire from the Senate at the end of this term after thirty years in office, is the primary reason compromise legislation regarding Web radio is presently in congressional limbo -- and observers are divided over whether his stance makes him a hero or a villain.

The measure in question, called the Small Webcasters Amendment Act, relates to the amount of performance royalties that will have to be paid by stations broadcasting music over the Internet. Earlier this year, Librarian of Congress James Billington set rates for such outlets after receiving recommendations from a Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel, or CARP. But while Billington lowered some of the CARP's numbers, many small Webcasters, including a slew in Colorado, feared that paying royalties of the size he approved would still force them out of business ("Digital Dilemma," May 2). Eventually, a group of Webcasters and envoys from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which has long pushed for performance royalties, came up with a compromise pact that was turned into a bill passed with great dispatch by the U.S. House of Representatives. The measure's momentum seemed sure to carry it through the Senate just as quickly, but last month, mere hours before Congress adjourned so officials could focus on election campaigning, Helms put a hold on the bill.

Why? An October 29 Associated Press article said Helms applied the brakes because he felt the revised rates were still too high. Michael Roe, a Florida Webcaster who helped negotiate with the RIAA, feels Helms is actually doing the bidding of religious broadcasters, whose wallets might be thinned by the act. But even if that's true, his move pleased plenty of secular Webcasters as well, including those who've joined Webcaster Alliance, a new organization that opposes the Small Webcasters Amendment Act. On the group's Web site, www., its president, Ann Gabriel, declares, "The RIAA never had any intention of dealing fairly, honestly and respectfully with the webcasting industry."

Paul Maloney, editor of Radio and Internet Newsletter, or RAIN, concedes that a considerable percentage of Web-radio entrepreneurs are against royalties, period. "A lot of people in these camps have unrealistic expectations," he maintains. "They say they want a deal where they don't have to pay anything at all, but we don't think that's going to happen."

RAIN, whose Web address is www. in homage to its founder, Kurt Hanson, was initially the most prominent forum for criticism of the Billington ruling. Now, though, Maloney and company are boosters of the Small Webcasters Amendment Act. "It's not by any stretch of the imagination a perfect piece of legislation," Maloney grants. "It is flawed. But that being said, it does seem to offer a significant number of people, and not just the small commercial Webcasters, some way to survive for the next couple of years, when hopefully the issue can be addressed again."

Whether anyone will get a chance to find out is unclear. The Senate can revisit the act during the lame-duck session that begins November 12 and continues on and off through year's end. But Maloney worries that higher-profile concerns, like appropriations bills that must be passed in order to keep the government solvent, will prevent that from happening. Inaction would leave things in the hands of the next Congress, where the accord could fall apart. "Then we'd be back to square one," Maloney says.

In the meantime, SoundExchange, an affiliate of the RIAA that's charged with collecting Internet-radio performance royalties, has announced that Webcasters should make a minimum payment of $500 per annum for the years 1998-2002 in order to stay in its good graces until a final resolution is reached. But Maloney doesn't expect a rush to comply.

"People don't want to go public and say, 'We didn't pay,'" he points out. "But with all the confusion, a lot of Webcasters are taking the position of, 'Let them come and get me.'"

Down on the farm: No one can accuse Denver Post editor Greg Moore of sitting on his hands. Since June 10, his first day on the job, he's given the paper plenty of jolts -- something many readers and staff members agree was long overdue. He's also added new faces in a variety of capacities. Arrivals include Judith Howard, a business-side operative at the Dallas Morning News who's been named the Post's assistant features editor, and reporter Karen Crummy, who'll work the City Hall beat.

The pace at which Moore's going is attracting attention far beyond Colorado. For instance, he's the subject of an upcoming cover story in the journalism trade journal Editor & Publisher, which recently recognized three Post shutterbugs -- Hyoung Chang, Craig F. Walker and Shaun Stanley -- in its highly competitive Photos of the Year contest. Still, Moore's methods have generated scattered criticism that's increased in volume following an October 28 staff meeting that caused morale among some employees to head for the earth's core.

During the gathering, transportation writer Jeff Lieb asked Moore about the impending departure of an assistant city editor, or ACE. This exit was the second for a Post ACE in the past few months, but the earlier person chose to leave. (City editor Evan Dreyer announced that decision in an e-mail to which he accidentally attached a negative personnel assessment; see "Getting Racked," September 12, for more details.) Not so ACE number two, as Moore essentially acknowledged in a memo circulated the week before the meeting.

When contacted for this story, Lieb, a union steward for the Denver Newspaper Guild, which represents the majority of editorial types at the Post, noted that "management has leeway to make changes in certain circumstances" -- especially when it comes to ACEs, who aren't union members. "But I felt this termination was unfair, unjust, and I said so. The implication was 'Move people around, but don't take away their livelihood.'"

In response, Moore made it plain that he wasn't satisfied with the status quo by using a Western colloquialism of the kind that's probably foreign to the Boston Globe, his previous newspaper home. A gaggle of meeting attendees contacted by yours truly, including Moore, had trouble pinning down the precise wording of his key line, but the consensus is that Moore said, "I wasn't hired to move manure around the barnyard."

Several sources say the audience of Posters reacted to this bon mot with an "audible gasp," in part because the departing ACE, who's on the job until November 8, was present. Moore doesn't go quite that far, but he allows that "I saw some people's eyes get bigger." He emphasizes that the remark "had nothing to do with" the ACE, or anyone in particular. Instead, it was simply his way of stressing that "change is part of this process."

No doubt about that. Moore says he wants to amp up suburban coverage, confirming that "it's really important to us. That's where a lot of the new residents who are coming into Colorado and greater Denver are moving to, so I see it as a real battleground and an opportunity to grow our readership." He's equally intent on sweating the details in other areas of the Post -- even the corrections section.

Previously, the paper acknowledged mistakes as succinctly as possible, but of late, each confession has been accompanied by a mini-explanation intended to finger the department that screwed the pooch. At Moore's behest, clauses such as "Because of an editing error..." and "Because of a production error..." have become commonplace. An item in the November 5 Post even named the perpetrator of one ultra-embarrassing misdeed: "Because of the columnist's error, the name of Denver Newspaper Agency President and CEO Kirk MacDonald was misspelled in Bill Husted's column on Page 2A Sunday."

MacDonald, who oversees business operations for the Post and the News, should be getting accustomed to having gossip columnists spell his name as "McDonald": The Rocky Mountain News's Penny Parker did so last year (Off Limits, February 15, 2001). But the Post went out of its way to make things right this time around, even fixing the slip-up on its Web site, Apparently, MacDonald has more pull than "sign man" Josh Hanfling, whose name was spelled "Hansling" in the same Husted-penned sentence that butchered MacDonald's moniker.

The tweaked correction phrasing is "an attempt at greater accountability," Moore says. "And it's intended to help the reader understand what the hell we got around. Before, we were so stingy that you couldn't figure out where the story appeared or when. We just want it to be more complete, more consistent, and have more accountability to our readers externally and to us internally."

Moore says the manure mention was similarly motivated: "I was trying to be as up-front and direct and honest as I possibly could be." But the statement soon took on a life of its own. Days after the meeting, staffers were greeting each other with salutations like, "Feeling shitty?"

"Yes" was a frequent reply.

Followups: "Let's Get Together," last week's column about the partnership between the Denver Post and Channel 9, was just hitting restaurant floors when the Rocky Mountain News and Channel 4 demonstrated that they're interested in playing the media-convergence game, too. "Solvent Taints Groundwater," in the October 31 News, bore the ultra-promotional credit "By News4 reporter Brian Maass" and was timed to tout a two-day Maass investigation that Channel 4 aired at the start of November sweeps, arguably the year's most important ratings period. A second article by the reporter, published November 4, bore a simpler byline: "By Brian Maass." A sign that embarrassment had set in, perhaps? If so, the Post showed no such compunction. Its November 3 edition featured a two-page puff piece about the Channel 9 morning show.

Elsewhere, Dean Singleton, who holds the deed on the Denver Post, was turning heads with pronouncements he offered during an October 25 meeting of Associated Press managing editors in Baltimore. Particularly grabby was his take on resource slashing at newspapers -- a tactic he knows well. "Newsroom cutbacks have gone far enough in this industry -- maybe too far," he said, prompting a round of applause from the crowd.

This proclamation undoubtedly rang in the ears of staffers at the Oakland Tribune, who remain locked in a long-running labor conflict with MediaNews Group, the Singleton-led company that owns the paper ("Trouble by the Bay," October 10). Tribune reporters have been complaining about low salaries and short staffing for years. But on October 29, they received a unanimous vote of confidence from the Oakland City Council, which issued a resolution that sides with employees of the Alameda Newspaper Group, a cluster of MediaNews papers that encompasses the Tribune. The document asks management negotiators to "immediately bargain, without delay, a new contract that is fair and equitable to its editorial employees."

Wonder how that would have played in Baltimore?

An ill-fitting suit: If KHOW talk-show host Peter Boyles sounds a little more relaxed than usual these days, there's a good reason. On October 21, Denver District Judge Frank Martinez tossed out a lawsuit filed against Boyles by Denver police officer Bryan Gordon.

The suit stemmed from an altercation that took place in the wee hours of February 1, 1997, outside Pierre's Supper Club. Rumors circulated that Gordon had stabbed Ron Thomas, a fellow officer who often worked as a bodyguard for Mayor Wellington Webb. As disclosed in a Westword article on the topic by reporter Karen Bowers ("Sliced and Diced," April 17, 1997), Thomas said he was unsure if he'd been stabbed at all and denied that Gordon had been involved. But Boyles was told by some gang sources that Gordon had indeed injured Thomas, a contention that, when broadcast, led to Gordon's court filing. Judge Martinez eventually brushed aside accusations of defamation and libel, concluding that Boyles's assertions were protected by the First Amendment

The Gordon suit was one of three that landed on Boyles over a rather short period. He was sued in 2000 by fourteen SWAT officers after James Kearney, a retired FBI agent, argued on his show that cops were hiding facts in regard to the slaying of immigrant Ismael Mena during a no-knock raid at the wrong house; Clear Channel, KHOW's parent company, ponied up $55,000 to settle the matter last year, claiming that such a deal was in the best interest of the community following 9/11. That same year, Boyles and the Denver Post were sued by the parents of Raoul Wuthrich, a ten-year-old boy accused of inappropriately touching his five-year-old sister in 1999; charges of aggravated incest and sexual assault on a child initially leveled against Raoul were later dismissed. According to a May 24, 2000, Associated Press story, the suit charges Boyles and the Post with "defamation for airing and printing allegedly defamatory comments made by Jefferson County authorities."

With the Wuthrich case still pending, Boyles may have a few more conferences with lawyers ahead of him. But he says he's "very relieved and very happy" to have been exonerated in connection with Gordon's grievance. However, he adds, "I'm also angry that I was dragged through this for five years. It's been a rough experience, and why I was singled out is beyond me. But for the first time in a long, long time, I have some peace."

Could it be magic? This issue of Westword was put to bed on November 5, before election results were final. Nonetheless, I can say with absolute certainty that one winner of this year's campaign is the general public -- because the lead-up to the election is finally, blessedly over.

On the other hand, the political silly season has provided more than its share of humor, intentional and otherwise. Consider conservative KOA yakker Mike Rosen's election-day commentary about the race for Arapahoe County clerk and recorder; it pitted Republican incumbent Tracy Baker, who's been charged with exchanging sexually explicit e-mails with a female employee on government time, and Margaret Alia Denny, a Libertarian identified in a November 3 Denver Post story as the founder of a wiccan church.

"Anyone who openly identifies themselves as a witch and who claims to be able to cast spells is in need of psychological help," Rosen declared. But then he admitted that if such a person was running as a Republican against a liberal Democrat, he would probably vote for him or her anyway.

Judging by that proclamation, someone must have cast a spell on Rosen. My money's on Dick Cheney.


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