The Message

The Denver Post's experiment in podcasting -- audio broadcasts that can be streamed on a computer or saved onto an MP3 player -- has received some high-profile attention of late, with mentions in pieces by the Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio and Wired. But former Westword scribe Gil Asakawa, who, as an executive producer, oversees podcasting for, is careful not to suggest that podcasts will revolutionize the communications industry. "It's a lot like reading blogs," he says. "Yes, blogs have changed the way a lot of people think of media online, but 90 percent of them are still crap. They're diaries; they're 'My dog had a green poop today.' And there are podcasts that are pretty much on the same level. A lot of them are some dork in a basement, yammering into a microphone."

The Post aspires to something more. According to Asakawa, the publication wants to provide another way for tech-savvy people who'd never dream of sitting down with a newspaper to make the Post one of their news sources anyway. The Philadelphia Daily News and the San Francisco Chronicle have tried to do likewise with the podcasting equivalent of interview or talk shows, and Asakawa says the Post may do something comparable down the line, despite the inherent risks. "The talk-radio approach is both the easiest and the most self-indulgent," he notes. For their first attempt, though, Posters decided to go in a more traditional direction, creating a radio-style newscast whose national, local, business and sports headlines are culled from the Post. The segments, which debuted in May, are put together by a trio of Metro State students who select, write and record the items in the wee hours so they'll be ready for morning commuters. On June 8 the technology was a bit glitchy; my first attempt to open a file took nearly a minute, while the second was successful almost instantaneously. The approximately eight-minute "all news" podcast fell short of professional radio standards, but with stations having cut back on their news operations, the offering was more thorough and comprehensive than most roundups on the local airwaves.

Asakawa concedes that saving podcasts to portable players currently requires more steps than he'd like. Things should improve this month, when the Post will attach RSS feeds to its podcasts. RSS, an acronym alternately referred to as "rich site summary" or "real simple syndication," allows users to sign up for podcasts instead of having to search them out on a daily basis. The Post is also partnering with NewsGator, a Denver firm, to create News Hound, a piece of news-reader software that, much like TiVo, will allow surfers to target stories that fall into specific categories. News Hound is expected to be operational in short order, too.

Although there were only around 2,000 downloads during the Post's first four weeks of podcasting, Asakawa remains optimistic about the Post's undertaking, if modestly so. "I don't know that this will ever be a huge part of our business," he says. "But we'll be doing it even if it doesn't take off, and we'll keep doing it, because with the Internet, you can do it -- and because it's a cool thing."

Hip replacement: Bias, the print component of a new youth-oriented project funded by MediaNews Group, owner of the Post, and E.W. Scripps, which holds the Rocky Mountain News's title, hit racks on June 3, and it accomplishes the near-impossible: It's even lamer than the sample edition shown to advertisers earlier this year. The desperately au courant layout seems to have been assembled by a four-year-old with motor-control issues, and the content is a weak grab bag of forced irony mostly contributed by unpaid Bias members. When it comes to writing that's lousy but free, Bias shares conceptual ground with, a venture being heavily pimped by the dailies. Nevertheless, the family-friendly tone of the latter makes no room for fascinating dialogue of the sort excerpted below, which was allegedly "stolen" from a Bias staffer's computer:

"Him: Um..."

"Him: Yeah."

"Him: Fuck."

Additional scribblings on, the endeavor's idiotically named online home, have been similarly inspirational. The June 11 entry in the "shit to do" section of the Bias calendar pledged, "I will make sweet love to you, baby, after I rub you down with only the finest Swedish massage oils. Or maybe some Crisco if I got it," while the June 14 blurb read, "Mommy, can I go out and, uh, kill tonight? (from the Misfits -- duh)." Nightlifers looking for "shit to do" undoubtedly found those suggestions helpful. As for the registration page, it tells folks interested in signing up that by doing so, they'll "infuriate those self-satisfied bastards over at Westword, who did a hatchet job on us in February 05, and who still think you want to read a nine-page story about a Wiccan who mounted a tireless 17-month campaign against her community rec center."

Actually, we were planning ten pages for that article. Get your facts straight.

Reps at the Denver Newspaper Agency, from which Bias sprang, previously tried to distance the DNA from the enterprise, telling Westword that employees had moved to separate offices. Months later, however, DNA spokesman Jim Nolan says that Bias HQ remains at the agency "temporarily," and he's still on loan to help the team "get started."

That start's been rather slow. Despite months of recruiting, Bias membership is just over 1,200, according to the website. If those numbers don't mushroom, will business types lose interest in ponying up the five- and six-figure sums listed in the original Bias proposal to be involved? Um...Yeah. Fuck.

Him again: On June 1, Channel 31 aired what may have been Tom Martino's loopiest report ever. Channel 7 had asked a businessman to entice Martino with the fee he charges to be on his referral list, but Big Tom flipped the source and then ambushed a fall guy, 7 producer Kurt Silver. The consumer advocate frequently boasts that he's not a journalist, and this unintentionally hilarious piece proved it.

Two days later, on Peter Boyles's KHOW talk show, Martino's breast-beating defense of his business practices revealed plenty more. He had previously refused to confirm that his staffers were investigating "Westword's sponsors," but when asked about the subject on the air by yours truly, he conceded that such snooping was ongoing and also targeted the Post, the Rocky and other local media outlets. (Although he contended that Channel 7 should have informed him that he was under investigation, he never tipped off Westword.) In an exchange with a caller, he subsequently stressed that the appearance of a conflict of interest didn't mean that such a conflict occurred -- a remark implying that even Martino understands that, which requires listees to pay thousands for his effective endorsement, strikes some folks as fishy.

When quizzed about these topics via e-mail, Martino countered, "You said during that broadcast that I am a liar; I exaggerate and answer with half-truths. You have an automatic bias in covering stories concerning me. Therefore, I have chosen not to speak to you." In fact, the "liar" assertion is itself a half-truth. Martino declared that I claim to be a columnist, but not a journalist or reporter. When I called that a lie and noted that I'd said otherwise moments earlier, he admitted he hadn't heard that portion of the show.

Predictably, Martino couldn't stick by his vow of cyber-silence. He began another e-mail with childish invective ("Are you stupid?") before stating that he didn't need to inform this paper about his investigation because it "was on the advertisers of media. Not Westword." This is the sort of Clintonian, it-depends-on-the-definition-of-"is" argument favored by only the biggest, boldest hypocrites, but Martino wasn't as courageous when it came to the conflict-of-interest query, ducking it like Ben Stiller in Dodgeball. Hoping for more, I sent a follow-up e-mail that garnered a particularly grown-up riposte: "Bite me." I thanked him in a reply and wished him a nice day. In response, he reached for his "shift" key and wrote "BITE ME."

Such antics can be entertaining, but Martino's lectures about ethics are about as persuasive as a William "Refrigerator" Perry diet book. When P.T. Barnum said a sucker's born every minute, his watch must have been slow.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts