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


Anonymous said...

At least it wasn't a fashion issue, just a cover story reminding us how little there is to do in Columbia in the summer.

Anonymous said...

HaHa! Looks like they are coverin g the bus mess late in Free Times fashion.

Anonymous said...

Wow, it's great to have a newspaper in Columbia actually asking tough questions.

Anonymous said...

Nice colors. Keep up the good work. thnx!

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