Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Familiar stories

The State newspaper picked up Hutchins Cat Woman story:
I swear, I think we could write about a park bench and it would show up everywhere else.

A cute piece submitted by funny man David Martin is at the bottom of this entry.
We've been focused on local content, purchasing content from local professionals like David Axe and Andy Brack.
Local content cost more to produce than syndicates, but we are committed to being your local newspaper.

Our primary syndicates are Ted Rall and Dan Savage. They are staples of real alternative weekly’s across the country, cost a little more than most, but we are fortunate to have been able to secure the two best Alt Weekly features due to our competition being asleep at the wheel.

So keep enjoying the locals and thank Andy Brack, Will Moredock, Corey Hutchins, David Axe, Todd Morehead, Arik Bjorn, Sean Rayford, Deric Kempsell and all the South Carolina local writers that make City Paper happen every other week. City Paper depends on them.

If you are interested in being a contributor, contact todd@columbiacitypaper.com

Thanks Columbia for the continued overwhelming support.

-Paul Blake


by David Martin

“Research Project for Ms. Anne Thrope’s Grade 9 American History
Class” by Diana “Di” Ogenes

This is my research project for my American History class. It
is a project which required research about history. It was assigned
by Ms. Thorpe and she said it had to be 500 words long! That’s a lot
of words but I counted them all and I think I even have a few extra.
I chose for my research project “Who voted for George W. Bush
and why?” In a democracy like the one that we have, I think it is
important for people to vote. And I thought it would be interesting
to find out why people voted for Mr. Bush.
My dad says that anyone who voted for Bush is an idiot. But I
don’t think that’s fair. After all, almost half of the voters voted
for him and they can’t all be dummies, can they?
For my research project, I chose the personal interview
method. Since Mr. Bush won in our Congressional district, I figured
it would be easy to choose some names from the phone book and ask them
if they voted for Mr. Bush and how come. I’m not sure why, but that
method didn’t seem to work very well.
First I spoke to our mayor, Mr. Blo Harde. Since he’s a
registered Republican, I was pretty sure that he voted for Mr. Bush.
But Mr. Harde said he couldn’t remember who he voted for. He said
that 2004 was a long time ago and he was pretty busy on election day
and he’s just not sure which lever he pulled. In fact, the more he
thought about it, the more he said he was pretty sure he didn’t vote
for Mr. Bush.
Next up, I tried Mr. Manny Baggs who runs the local bank. My
dad told me that Mr. Baggs definitely would have voted for Bush just
to get a tax cut. But when I called Mr. Baggs, he said that he thinks
he voted for John Kerry in 2004. When I asked him about the 2000
election, he said he might have voted for Bush but that was six years
ago and he couldn’t really remember.
I also called Mr. Baggs’s wife, Sadd L. Baggs. She’s the
president of the local Women’s League of Republican Voters so I’m
almost positive that she voted for the President. I asked her if she
voted for Mr. Bush and, not surprisingly, she said yes. But when I
asked if she voted for him in 2000, too, she said: “Oh, you mean
George W. Bush. I meant that I voted for George H. W. Bush in 1988
and in 1992. I don’t think I ever voted for his son.”
I must have called a dozen different people who are registered
Republicans but not one of them said that they voted for our
President. The sports editor of our local paper said he voted for a
Bush recently but it turns out he voted for Reggie Bush for the
Heisman Trophy last year. But after the scandal broke about Reggie
Bush taking money from marketing agents while in college, the editor
called me back and denied even voting for that Bush.
Like I said, I hoped to find out why people voted for George
W. Bush but I haven’t had much luck. On the other hand, I think I may
have discovered something even more interesting. From my research, it
might be possible that nobody voted for Mr. Bush. Isn’t that funny?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Five Points mediation

The city-imposed mediation this evening with Five Points merchants yielded some positive results. President Dennis Hiltner humbly listened to concerns.

The major issue at hand was of course the parking meters.
One delay at immediate relief is Parking Services Director, John Spade. Instead of stickers for meters he's looking at aluminum signs with a quote of $1,867.25 and a 30 to 45 day turn around. He's obviously delaying getting it done before the holidays with such a ridiculous approach. Why should he care, he parks for free wherever he goes. Spade himself bragged to City Paper about his free parking card at last council meeting, waving his electronic card for meters in our face.

They will finalize a temporary solution tomorrow from what I understand, and the FPA has shown that it is willing to discuss things more so than ever before.
We await changes at FPA with optimism and skepticism. I left with a feeling that we all want what is best for Five Points, and our hope is to see new leadership within the FPA to usher in a new era of inclusion.

Regardless, they will still have to provide the answers to some of our financial questions.

Let the healing begin!

Paul Blake

Saturday, November 11, 2006


They have a great drinking game in Kazakhstan, according to Sacha Cohen Baron's Central Asian alter ego, TV journalist Borat Sagdiyev.

Participants take a small piece of cheese, slip it into their anus and let a small hamster sniff it out.

No one would do believe this, right?

Except, maybe, one of the dumbass frat boys at USC's Chi Psi.

"I'll do it," the frattie told Borat in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. "I don't give a fuck."

But, it seems, the boy gives a fuck now.

In October 2005, producers for the movie Borat persuaded three Chi Psi brothers to participant in a documentary purportedly for movie audiences in Kazakhstan. According to their story, the producers got them drunk, paid them $200 and put them on an RV with Borat to make asses of themselves. (They didn't need much help with latter task.)

Now, one of the frat boys has gone public and the two others are suing for damages.

David Corcoran participated with FHM for an article titled "I Fell for Borat." He told the lad mag: "They paid for us to drink at a bar. Then we were supposed to pick Borat up in an RV as if he was hitchhiking. I got on the RV and saw all these video guys. It seemed like a good set-up for Kazakh TV. Borat told us he beats women and showed us naked pictures of his sister."

But the other two frat boys aren't so good-natured about the high-profile practical joke. Listing themselves as John Doe 1 and John Doe 2, they filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles against the Borat's producers on Nov. 9.

Clearly, the litigation had been in the mental works. On Oct. 9, one of the frat boys' friends posted a question on MetaFilter.

"A friend of mine unknowingly agreed to be in the Borat movie," the buddy said. "Of course, Borat made him look like a complete ass. How can I help convince him it's not the end of the world?"

Among the responses:

  • "He should make a webpage called 'So Sorry, Kazakhstan' complete with pictures of himself giving a heartfelt apology to the Kazakhi people for leading them astray about the American people. If he kitsches it up and plays along with the joke, he becomes part of the joke, not the butt of it."
  • "Being drunk can make you the world's bitch. You feel invincible, you're actually pathetic."
  • "This is also totally reminiscent of the Mel Gibson Jew rant… Nobody really says anything they don't mean when they're drunk. Quite the opposite."

Read the entire thread here.

And thanks, Chi Psi. You made benefit glorious state of South Carolina.

--Aidan Carter

Friday, November 10, 2006


The FPA has decided to continue the tradition of hostility to any business in Five Points that asks questions on how hospitality money is spent in the area.

Everything is taken personally, and the organization still doesn’t get it.

They also still haven’t provided the following records request to City Paper. Here’s the request they are dodging:
Pursuant to the state open records law, S.C. Code Ann. sec. 30-4-10 to 30-4-165, Columbia City Paper, LLC ("CCP") is requesting the following information from the Five Points Association ("FPA")

List of all grants and money received from public institutions in years 1995-2006
Staff salaries for the years 1995-2006
Financial statements and budgets for fiscal years 2005 & 2006
All bank statements for years 2005-2006
Ballots for elected positions in 2005 & 2006
Surveys completed for Five Points After Five
Minutes from past 12 board meetings
Salary, commission, expenses and any other compensation paid to Jack Van Loan for years 2005 & 2006
Salary, commission, expenses and any other compensation paid to Skip Anderson for years 2005 & 2006
Detailed recipients of beer sale commissions and recipients of wristband sales commissions

This information will eventually be provided one way or another.
Stay Tuned.

The image above is part of the “FREE GENERICA” campaign that the boys at Riggs Ad Agency came up with. It was an impressive presentation and the ads that they run will certainly do some good for the area.

However it is a shame that the FPA continues to be hostile towards City Paper, a Five Points based business and paying member of the FPA. The boys from the Riggs agency were even a bit defensive about the issue themselves, but I guess deep down they must see the irony of their fantastic campaign not being promoted in locally owned media like the Columbia Star and City Paper (a paying member of the very Association they are trying to promote). And, after all, the "Free Generica" campaign loses some steam when the ad dollars are shipped out of state. But, that's been the tradition of the FPA; they never think of 5 Points businesses first.

To that end, we love the Gamecock and are glad they're included in the campaign, but seeing as USC will be out of session for the majority of the holiday season, it seems odd that the FPA would not include a 5 Points based newspaper like us to take over the advertising load while the Gamecock isn't in print.

Fortunately, the majority of the small businesses are supporting each other.
Sure there are board members like John Green and Jeff Whitt that have over the top defensive reactions to City Paper questioning things, but no one is asking for financial information on their personal businesses. The taxpayers have a right to certain information and so do the 77 Five Points merchants that singed petitions against parking meters.

The boys at Riggs really understand how basic marketing works, and think these news reports and requests somehow benefit City Paper. They are right, doing the right thing and continuing to do reporting is making our papers fly off the racks.

For that, I thank Fat organizations like the FPA misspending taxpayer money.

And I also sincerely thank Riggs for such a great campaign. Lets hope the media buy helps keep some of my fellow Five Points merchants in business.

-- Paul Blake

Thursday, November 09, 2006

My War

My War

By Todd Morehead

My editorial last issue (“Biting the Hand That Never Fed Me”) was primarily written in an attempt to heal a fractured community. However, I also took aim at establishments who cater to the alternative community, yet ban the local newspaper that covers the issues that impact those peoples’ lives. I also made sure to include a couple of particular business owners that I know personally, who subscribe to liberal politics in their private lives, yet who show aggressive lack of support for their alternative newsweekly and instead funnel money to a media conglomerate based in Virginia. Feedback I’ve received on the article—both positive and negative—convinced me to take a few more words to stress that I’m not trying to alienate my friends or polarize the community further. My intention wasn’t to attack these business so much as grab them by the shoulders and try to shake them back to their senses. This issue isn’t about a few ad dollars; it’s about standing up and putting your money where your mouth is. And, as a member of the community that has supported those businesses over the years, I’m simply asking, “Why?” What the hell is going on around here?

An alternative business owner, who I’ve known peripherally for years, confronted me about the article, stating that his decision to support an out of town media corporation instead of the City Paper was due to the fact that he was “just trying to run a business.” Fair enough. But, he didn’t realize how telling that statement was. No, it’s NOT just business. In fact, there’s nothing more dangerous than the “just business” mentality. Sure, advertise with the entertainment paper. But, support your community newsweekly, too –if only in a small, token sort of capacity. What happened to supporting a local economy, supporting the people to which he caters, and supporting his friends?

A few years ago this same business owner tried to coax me into leaving my job to hop on a bus with him and ride up to Washington to protest against Bush (or maybe it was the WTO). What the hell happened to his sense of activism in the few years since? Another one of the business owners mentioned in my commentary is a higher up in the South Carolina Green party. She has been a tireless activist and is a genuinely good person. Yet, she won’t support the newspaper that eschews some of the core views she’s worked so hard to bring to light. These people should leap with joy at the chance to help support a true alternative newspaper in their hometown (not to mention reaching their true demographic).

Yet, it seems that these people are now more worried about their bottom line. Any case, a few of the same points have been echoed from both supporters and detractors alike, so I feel that it’s important to clarify my position.

“So, if I don’t advertise with you, you’re going to attack my business?”

Of course not. That would be absurd. Adrianna’s, for example, has never advertised with this paper, but we’re always quick to stand up for them. I want to help the alternative community, not injure it. Pointing out areas of concern within that community—flagrant disregard of an important media source for instance—is a step toward fixing the problem.

The people who come at me with this argument should re-read the article more closely. For one, I mainly go after the businesses that cater to alternative types, yet don’t allow their customers access to the alternative paper. Second, yeah, I went after a few people that I know personally, who are politically inclined, and who, I feel, aren’t doing their part to support alternative media. For example, I pointed out that their ad dollars spent with Portico Publications, the corporation that bought the Free Times, goes to pay the salary of conservative Boston-based columnist Michael Graham instead of supporting their alternative newspaper (and the local alternative writers who’ve spent their few meager dollars in their establishments). That’s not an attack. It’s a statement of fact.

“You should quit fighting the Free Times.”

Look, I admittedly have a soft spot for the Free Times. Amy Singmaster worked a miracle with that paper. They gave me some of my first publication credits and I still tell people that Dan Cook is one of the best editors I’ve ever worked with. I recommended Dan to a blossoming freelancer just the other day. Eric Ward is a great reporter. And, I’ve always thought very highly of Jim Small. Columbia wouldn’t be where it is today without those people. But, things changed when Portico came to town. The tone and, arguably, the purpose of the Free Times changed. We freelancers were having edgier articles rejected and were receiving emails encouraging us to cover real estate and the automotive industry. And even though I had relegated myself to just writing counter culture book reviews at the time, I still felt that I should bow out and move on.

Since then the City Paper and the Free Times have exchanged blows both in print (usually tongue in cheek) and behind the scenes (more insidious).

For example, I believe that Portico’s close ties with the Five Points Association had a hand in the FPA denying City Paper the opportunity to sponsor a music event in Five Points (even though we’re paying members of the Assn. and are based in Five Points). The FPA’s reason for backpedaling, after they had already agreed to let us sponsor: “we can’t have two print media sources.” Curiously, though, they had two radio stations.

If you were a business owner, wouldn’t you fight that type of thing? Or at least question it?

And what type of journalists would we be if we didn’t question the Columbia good ole boy system? We’re trying to shake up the Five Points Association and the Free Times is thrown into that mix because they’ve been in bed with the FPA for years. Lots of money, some of it from taxpayers, has changed hands.

And the worst part of it is, when we open the Free Times, whose father corporation would love to see us run out of town, lo and behold, there are our personal friends funding them. The money that I spent at my friend’s establishment was being used against my own business that I’ve been tirelessly trying to build.

That is indefensible. Time to ask some questions.

“You [the paper] seem like you’re backed into a corner. All you do is fight.”

Damn right. Somebody has to. I love this city and the people in it. And I consider it my duty to report the truth, so that citizens can gather together if they so choose to fix the problems around here. The fact that even the alternative community is plagued by the good old boy system is frightening. It’s heartbreaking, actually. So yeah, I’ll fight to fix it.

And if I seem a little grumpy lately well... on a personal level, dang it, I miss having places to shop. Let me use the story of another small business as an example:

The Happy Bookseller is a local independent bookstore that’s been in business for over 30 years. A few years ago, two mega chain bookstores purposely flanked them in an attempt to run them out of business. The only thing that’s kept them afloat is an effort by the community to spend their money locally. When Barnes and Noble bought a publisher called Sterling, the Happy Bookseller canceled their contract with that publisher. After all, it would be illogical for the Happy Bookseller to give money to a publisher that would siphon the revenue to the very people who are actively trying to run them out of business.

By that same logic, as an alternative consumer, and as a friend, I can’t support some of these alternative businesses any more. I love ‘em, I sincerely wish them the best, and I encourage you all to please continue to support them, but it’s illogical for me, personally, to give them my money so they can siphon it to Portico media headquarters in Charlottesville. I can’t stomach hearing political indie rock coming through their audio systems, while knowing that they lavish their ad dollars at the feet of an out-of-town entertainment media conglomerate. Call me an idealist.

So, please, instead of getting defensive, simply step up and help out. Help me help you. I truly admire, care about and respect some of the people that I’ve been forced to distance myself from. But, when the history books begin to paint an accurate portrait of arguably the most troubling times in the past half century of American history, I want to be able to tell my grandchildren that in my own little corner of the country I stood up and fought for what was right and decent. That I cared more about people than my bottom line.

It’s time for change in the south and in this town. Period. This type of paper, this type of honest discourse is a start. And if I have to burn some bridges to help jumpstart that change, it’s a price I guess I’ll have to pay, though it pains me to do it.

What if the negative press puts us out of business?

Well, let me bounce that ball back to you: what if your aggressive lack of support for your paper puts us out of business, what some have called “the only real show in town?” Your client base might not take too kindly to that.

But regarding the negative press: I’ll stress until I’m blue in the face that I’m not calling for some type of boycott of these places. Small businesses have a hard enough time as it is. I’m simply suggesting that concerned citizens voice to these places that you’d like them to start supporting their local newspaper. Walk in and ask them what their fucking problem is.

And, sure this may seem overly aggressive, but sometimes alternative journalism is aggressive. Some of you who grew up in South Carolina and who have never left it may never have truly experienced alternative journalism. But, my intention—however aggressive—is to simply start a dialogue. To ask “why?” And maybe if this paper manages to stay in print for another few years, some of these people will come around. I don’t think they’re bad people, they just haven’t considered the big picture, yet.

“Todd, dude, I think there are some people looking to kick your ass for this.”

That, unfortunately, is often a side effect when people try to change things or ask too many questions. I didn’t come up in a shoe-gazer scene, so I’m no stranger to threats and beat downs. Being a punk rock kid 18 years ago in Chattanooga, TN wasn’t a safe proposition either. In this case, they’re just hicks who wear Iggy Pop shirts, I guess. And they can align themselves proudly with the pieces of shit who torched Corey’s house last year.

How can some think that it’s more productive to write hate mail and threaten people than to simply say, “I disagree with you on this, because...”

You know? I’d love to hear some reasons, because I can’t really think of any.

OR “Hey, man... you’re right about some of this. It’s pretty lame that those places ban you.”

OR “Sorry, I didn’t realize how hypocritical I seem as an business owner and leader of the alternative community. Deep down, I’m not hypocritical, I’d just never thought about it like that before. Yeah, I think I’ll help out.”

Let’s drop the egos and the blustering and have an honest discourse here. I’m just reporting facts. Gonna kick my ass for that?

Instead of threatening me—and I’ve tangled with way meaner—simply try to deny or disprove any of the facts I’ve put forth. We’re providing you a voice. Tell us your side. The way I see it, if you ban a newspaper or ignore what should be an integral part of your community, then you’ve got some damn explaining to do.

So, what now?

A lot of the alternative community’s movers and shakers have proven where their true priorities lie, for good or ill, but we’re still in the process of separating the wheat from the chaff.

My commentary, at the very least, has opened a dialogue. Post a comment here and let me know how you feel about it. If you want to help support “the only real show in town” then start asking questions of your community, too. We’re your voice. Send us news tips or story suggestions and letters.

In the very near future City Paper is going to start sponsoring regular benefit shows at New Brookland Tavern. Proceeds will go to benefit various local charities and organizations. Show up and help out.

Habeas Corpus Beheaded

Habeas Corpus Beheaded

Two months later are we really any safer?

By David Tindall

Yep, George W. Bush and his gang of goons are at it again. Their target this time was no less than the Writ of Habeas Corpus. “Habeas Corpus,” as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, means, “thou shalt have the body.” David Cole of The Nation offers a clearer definition, describing it as, “[A] writ issued requiring that the body of the person restrained of liberty be brought before the judge or the court.” The writ basically allows those accused of a crime to be brought before their accusers and told exactly what they are accused of. This basic right is now gone, kaput, out-the-window, dead-in-the-water, bye-bye, thanks to Bush’s Military Commissions Act of 2006.

Bush signed the innocuous but patriotic-sounding act into law on Oct. 17 of this year. Keith Olbermann of MSNBC responded on his show “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” with a powerful commentary, calling it “the beginning of the end of America.”
The American Civil Liberties Union expressed outrage and called the new law one of the worst civil liberties measures ever enacted in American history.
ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said on the union’s Web site, that “...with his signature, President Bush enacts a law that is both unconstitutional and un-American. This president will be remembered as the one who undercut the hallmark of habeas in the name of the war on terror. Nothing separates America more from our enemies than our commitment to fairness and the rule of law, but... [t]he president can now - with the approval of Congress - indefinitely hold people without charge, take away protections against horrific abuse, put people on trial based on hearsay evidence, authorize trials that can sentence people to death based on testimony literally beaten out of witnesses, and slam shut the courthouse door for habeas petitions.

Nothing could be further from the American values we all hold in our hearts than the Military Commissions Act.”

Since Bush’s signing of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, Amnesty International has urged legislative and executive officials to formulate new legislation to repair the government’s previous disregard for international law and its war paradigm which has gone far beyond being merely a rhetorical or metaphorical.

Scary times we live in. Very scary times.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

No Relief for Five Points

City Council once again failed to take action.

Instead of listening to the merchants who want suspension of all meters through the holidays, they took the recommendations from parking services.

90 minutes free on Saturday is not a compromise.

Wally's Family Values

Here are the Family Court documents Will Moredock based the Scarborough Affair cover story .
There's seven total affidavits and just for kicks the police report in which wally fires his gun.

-Paul Blake

Tuesday, September 12, 2006



Just a week after Dan Cook of Free Times broke the riveting story of Portico Publications’ office move, Cook’s investigative reporting within his own office continues.

Ole’ Danny Boy is relentless.

This week, while reporting on Free Times’ newspaper redesign, he quotes an anonymous source on the grueling process of selecting a new font:

“This one looks too frivolous,” someone would say.

“That one looks too stuffy,” was the verdict on another.

Who is this masked man, this anonymous talker, this “Deep Throat” at Free Times? Heck, Cook’s protection of his inside source is the kind of risky, aggressive journalism you’d expect to see in an alternative newsweekly. But our inside source at Free Times tells us that Cook -- yes, Cook! -- is the one that those new delivery boys refer to as Deep Throat.

As for the redesign, Free Times made significant changes.

The paper moved the classified section to the back of the book like virtually every other newspaper in existence. (That middle-of-the-book classified experiment was friggin’ moronic!)

Cook may have also obtained the first document of his journalistic career: the Columbia City Paper media kit.

Our media kit contains headers that are eerily similar to the new Free Times article headers. Cook’s ability to review the document he obtained didn’t stop there. It’s clear he noticed that CCP carries SuDoKu, as well as our mention of “where classified are supposed to be.” (The answer: not the middle of the book! That’s friggin’ moronic!)

Unfortunately for Cook, making his paper look more like Columbia City Paper doesn’t change the fact that the Free Times cover stories are still sophomoric. Case in point: writing on bathroom stalls. (That’s friggin’ moronic too!)

Besides Cook’s piece on the redesign, the other top story in this week’s issue was about their new music editor. Kevin Foster Langston took a page out of Cook’s book, stepped across the hall, and interviewed his fellow music writer Patrick Wall.

Since Free Times is clearly taking suggestions from CCP, here are a few more:
1. Write an interesting cover story every now and then. Re-running a feature story on Jimmy Carter that appeared in Mother Jones months earlier is well, uh, lame.
2. Stop overcharging your advertisers. They know what you’re doing. We tell them.
3. Find a permanent position for Jim Small. He deserves it. Suggestion: How about Dan Cook’s job?
4. Don’t tell your readers to call the theater for show times for Monetta Drive In and Columbia Grande. You do it. The whole point of having movie times is to provide them to your readers. Idjits.
5. Stop rehashing news from The State newspaper. That newspaper is almost as bad as Free Times.
6. Buy Dan Cook a phone.
7. Get another source besides SCHotline.com.
8. Kill the golf page. That’s friggin’ moronic.
9. Start calling Brett Bursey for quotes every week again. It is embarrassing that you haven’t spoken to him since CCP detailed his past dealings.
10. Enough with the special sections. People are starting to catch on to the endless advertising schemes. And, uh, in case you didn’t notice: No one is falling for Sidelines.

Congrats on the new fonts, though. It’s a start. But, just remember: sprinkling a dog turd with glitter and tying it off with a bow doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a dog turd.

_ Paul Blake

Thursday, August 31, 2006

"How do you guys make money?

On independent journalism and the problems of conglomerated of news

In an era flooded by a tide of corporate interests, independent journalism in the 21st Century is finding itself sparsely retreating to only the highest ground. When the answer to 99 out of 100 questions comes down to one word—money— it should be no surprise that a visit to any new city will mst likely show the prevailing “alternative weekly” to be far from the root word of the phrase. Corporate giants, media companies and chains with the sole purpose of money grubbing and not news gathering are gobbling up weekly newspapers from the left coast to the right, from the largest cities to the smallest towns. The result is watered down “soft” news, special sections, entertainment guides and advertising pullouts. And as the people on the advertising side of the publications line their pockets while the publisher screams “mo’ money / mo’ pages,” the editorial side, the journalists, end up with their backs against the wall of a giant invisible dollar sign, one that’s essentially writing their paychecks. Any self-respecting journalist, however, knows that “Mo’ money” should really mean “Mo’ problems.”
What the pubic need to know are that companies outside journalism now own what we see and read, and the corporate purchasing of news outlets should be regarded as a serious threat. “Independent news will be replaced by self-interested commercialism posing as news,” reads a passage from Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenthal’s 2001 Elements of Journalism. Five years later they couldn’t be more right.
At South Carolina’s own http://www.schotline.com/ (a political Web log) even their “press releases” show a real estate agent’s ad and a banner at the bottom recommending a vote on a partisan issue.
In America, our visceral desire to be free and democratic would have us taking to the streets if our government ever chose to take physical control of the news, yet we seem to have no problem with it if it’s Rupert Murdoch, Disney, AOL/Time Warner or a media group calling the shots from two states away.
“Today, in too much of our journalism, the public good is no longer the bottom line. The bottom line has in itself become the bottom line. Just glance at… formulaic local broadcast news… or stripped-down newspapers owned by chains headquartered in distant cities,” former Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein (responsible for breaking the Watergate scandal with Bob Woodward) said last year. And he’s right; if journalism should be one thing it should be to provide the public with the information needed to be free and democratic. Not to make money. Alternative weeklies should go one step further; to offer the public information needed to be free and democratic, while offering alternative views that may be fired from somewhere off the political center.
But how is that possible when a free newspaper’s only form of revenue comes from its advertisers, the paper’s entire financial structure architected by quarter, half, and full-page bastions of unbridled and obvious self-interest?
If a prominent Columbia bank runs a full-page $1,000 ad with the daily newspaper, how is that paper able to responsibly report on an investigative story showing how most of the money from that bank is shot up I-77 and rarely ends up in the local economy at all? The short answer is— it just won’t be reported.
Similarly, if a weekly paper receives thousands of dollars in tax money from the City of Columbia, how are they then to report accurately and aggressively on corruption they see in city government? The answer is the same, they won’t— and the truth is they won’t need to—there will always be a cover story on fashion, paid for by their retail advertisers, to fall back on.
A long time ago there used to a rule in publishing that the advertising side and the editorial side should be separated by a physical wall. I’m afraid now that wall has been replaced with an Ethernet cable and a credit card machine and what is generally considered “news” might very well be a paid advertisement unbeknownst to most readers.
A few months ago an employee of a local political consulting firm asked me, “If we give you some money, would you write a story about the firm…or how does that work?” I wasn’t so much offended as I was shocked by the ignorance. It was a serious question. The woman asked it as though it were common practice in the business. I referred her to an account executive, saying the firm might consider a display ad instead. We never heard back. News stories, the firm probably knew, are always better for business than display ads; which leads to another serious question involving local journalism: Is it ethical for a paper to cover events sponsored by their advertisers, or to even cover their advertisers at all?
In April, City Paper ran an exposé on the 3 Rivers Music Festival involving what it saw as questionable financial practices preformed by the festival’s executive director. At the same time, the paper also knew the 3 Rivers Music Festival was known for spending lots of money in local print advertising and had approached them for an ad. Needless to say it would have been quite the conflict of interest for City Paper to accept ad money from them if they were reporting the money was questionable to begin with. On the other hand, as then-executive Virginia Bedford said in an e-mail to City Paper’s publisher about the article, “…is that how you treat everyone who refuses to advertise with you?” implying that a newspaper’s editorial, journalistic side should have cozy relationships with those who advertise with the paper and editorially “attack” those who do not. Another weekly paper in Columbia had a different take on the situation. They took the 3 Rivers ad money, hyped the festival as their front-page cover story, and then, after it was over, questioned the financial tactics of the event while praising the executive director but still alluding to possible misgivings by the organization (as if they had insider information they weren’t willing to share), probably, one: because City Paper already did, and two: so they could both save face at the end of their financial relationship. The whole time though, that ad money from two weeks ago was used to pay for the ink that printed it. A publication should be very careful in ethically covering entities giving them money, lest the public get a sense of who really creates the “news.”

- Corey Hutchins

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Come to Jesus

Pray For Them!

Not one elected city official made the public forum about the CMRTA bus crisis on Saturday morning. The auditorium in the basement of Richland County Public library was packed with many people standing in the back of the room.

Where was Coble?
Where was Devine?
Where was Cromartie?
Where was Sinclair?
Where was Davis?

Where was Sanford for that matter?

These politicians have no problem helping big developers, but when it comes to the middle and lower class, they just don’t give a shit.

That was the message sent Saturday.
One councilmember could have represented the City, but the lack of attendance was both deliberate and appalling.

The entire auditorium resulted to praying for City Council and the Bus system. Listen to it here. They need it. After speaking to Jesus, go ahead and call Mayor Coble direct 803-545-3075
City Manager Austin 803-545-3050
Rickenmann 803-799-9477
Cromartie 803-545-3067
Davis 803-545-3066
Devine 803-545-3076

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Playing Ketchup

We decided to bring back our blog, as it’s received a good number of page views lately. Besides, with the sad state of news media in this little state capital, we needed a place to vent.

This week, Free Times gave us the perfect symbol for our hostility: A bottle of ketchup on the cover.

Free Times, as usual, was playing a game of catch-up in Columbia's news cycle. This time, the stalwart journalists at Columbia's Virginia-owned weekly were working hard to cover their derriere in the aftermath of the Three Rivers fiasco.

As you may recall -- if you're, ahem, one of the few dozen people who still pick up Free Times -- the newspaper promoted Three Rivers on its cover, included a special pull-out map of the festival (how very nice!), and had no qualms about taking enough Three Rivers advertising money to print half-page ads in the weeks leading up to the music festival (how very, very nice!).

But -- wait, wait! -- as we Columbia City Paper informed you, Three Rivers was a financial mess run by a political crony who viewed public records requests with the same disdain as a dental appointment.

So after Free Times pimped out Three Rivers for endless weeks and then realized -- oops! -- Three Rivers was closing shop, partially due to Columbia City Paper's reporting on the festival's financial problems, Free Times Editor Dan Cook backtracked like a john nabbed by cops after a slipping a $20 bill to a lady of the night. He said his paper was asking "tough questions" about the booking of bands and ultimate demise of Three Rivers.

C’mon, Danny Boy, do you think anyone believes that Free Times -- which accepted thousands of dollars worth of Three Rivers ad money (read: taxpayers' hard-earned cash) -- reported aggressively and honestly about the music festival's publicly funded money pit?

Prior to Three Rivers' announcement that it was closing for good, Columbia City Paper was the only news organization that:

- Exposed Executive Director Virginia Bedford's political ties to the City Council.

- Asked Bedford what happened to a $38,000 check (again, taxpayer money!) that was made out to "petty cash."

- Called for an audit of Three Rivers.

- Printed vendors' complaints.

- Acquired and examined the festival's financial records

- Reported the amounts paid to bands and the hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars paid in cash (which encourages tax evasion).

Danny Boy Cook of the Free Times only wrote about these problems after it was exposed by Columbia City Paper and followed by reports in The State newspaper. Heck, by the time Cook asked "tough questions," every barfly in Columbia knew Three Rivers was a mess.

Then Danny Boy then topped his recent editorial about his paper's "tough questions" with this line:

"No one doubts the endless dedication and commitment of longtime festival organizer Virginia Bedford."

Say what, Danny Boy? City Paper doubts that "endless dedication and commitment."

City Paper exposed that the reason Bedford continued to get tens of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money despite running a festival that LOST MONEY YEAR AFTER YEAR was her political influence.

You know, cronyism, Danny Boy.

In March, City Paper reported: "In an e-mail obtained by Columbia City Paper, Bedford wrote to a City Council candidate, 'I was very involved in Tameika [Devine's] campaign in 2001-2002… We were able to raise around $30,000 before the election and the rest was raised after she won."

While poring through the financial records, City Paper discovered that Bedford's unprofessional e-mail tirades -- which she sent to, among other people, vendors and journalists -- contributed to the festival's financial ruin.

Styx wasn't the problem.

Bedford was the problem.

Take some advice from City Paper, Danny Boy: If you're going to write about the news, try to do some reporting first.

Step 1: Pick up the phone.

Step 2: Request documents.

Step 3: Get out of the office.

Step 4: Ask those "tough questions.

- Paul Blake