Tuesday, September 30, 2003

The Institutes for Journalism & Natural Resources at Missoula has released an ambitious report on the state of daily journalism in the West. Guess what the problems are? Monopoly ownership, low staffing, high turnover, too much emphasis on short-term profits. Is Lee Enterprises an exception to the rule? By no means.
The Montana News Association makes an investigative phone call!

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit, still hot on the story of media coverage in Iraq, uncovered this gem of a story. I was particularly struck by the description of how inept and secretive the Army public affairs office in Baghdad is (and how much better the Marines are at telling their story). For all the undoubted improvements in the military over the last 30 years, this sounds just like the Army I served in.
Faithful Blogee accuses me of plagiarzing Ulysses Grant in my entry on bagpiping below. I had a sneaky feeling when I wrote that line that I was probably stealing it from somewhere, but I couldn't remember where. I wish I were a more adept copy thief. It would have saved me the 20 minutes I spent on Google going through bagpiping websites trying to find the name of that tune (my thanks go to the reader who added it).

It comes down to a moral question: Is it really theft if you can't be sure you stole it, and if you did steal it, you don't know who you stole it from? At my age, senility may be the best defense.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

The Montana Green Party is switching its emphasis from membership in local chapters to the statewide group, which will meet monthly in a chat room here. First meeting is at 7 p.m. Oct. 19.
Huge crowd for the Ales and Trails last night -- too huge. The noise drowned out the music, and you needed a couple of linemen to clear a path to the beer. The Caledonian Pipes and Drums worked out their own solution: The band elbowed its way onto the dance floor and blasted conversationalists into submission. Bagpipes have their limitations (as far as I can tell, the entire genre consists of two tunes: "Amazing Grace" and something that isn't) but this is music that was specifically designed to quiet unruly crowds, and nothing works better.
I always push to the front of the line to criticize Al Neuharth, but a heavyweight panel on media fairness showed up for his shindig in South Dakota (link courtesy of South Dakota Politics).

Friday, September 26, 2003

By way of the indefatigable Instapundit comes this useful piece on the Sacramento Bee newspaper blogging fracas.
Michael Erickson e-mails to note that he was not the author of the post on telemarketing criticized below. He allows certain "trusted" people (his quotes) to post entries on his blog, and one of them placed the telemarketing post, he says.
Over in South Dakota, retired media mogul Al Neuharth has dedicated another monument to himself. I mean to journalism.
Hey, Michael, take it easy on the judge who blocked the telemarketing act. If he is any good, he will ignore attempts to harass him into changing his opinion on what the law requires. If he's not any good, you are wasting your time. On the other hand, what Dave Barry did, as referenced here, was a perfectly fair retaliatory tactic. You have to pick your battles.
Jackie Corr, the Butte taxi pundit, notes that Buzzflash has linked to the cover story on this week's Outpost. You can scroll down a good ways for it, or just read it here.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

More on methamphetamine in the Oct. 9 Outpost, but Sheriff Chuck Maxwell's reliable gift for finding humor in nearly any situation brightened a kickoff breakfast here Wednesday. Maxwell took the microphone immediately after Police Chief Ron Tussing, whose remarks were interrupted by the ringing of his cell phone. The chief apologized and handed the mike to Maxwell. About a minute into Maxwell's remarks, his pager went off. He deadpanned, "I just turned that on because I wanted you all to realize that I'm needed, too."
Mtpolitics.net joins in the ridicule of a PETA protester who bicycled through town protesting KFC's treatment of chickens. Now why do you suppose that is? I agree with the comment on mt.politics that PETA sometimes hurts its own cause by overreaching. But why is it inherently worthy of ridicule to lobby for better treatment of animals, even those bred for the dinner table? I don't know whether KFC deserves to be singled out, but there can be no doubt that life for a commercially bred chicken is nasty, brutish and short. As the student said, they're just chickens, but life must mean something to them. I wonder how much of the ridicule derives from squeamishness over guilty consciences about how poorly we treat chickens? Of course, my squeamishness isn't powerful enough to make me stop eating fried chicken.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

A "bisexual slacker and his revolving cast of loonies" comment on the Montana Family Coalition's complaints about "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."
Have I mentioned the Montana for Edwards blog?
The Missoula Independent bids a fond farewell to the Northern Lights literary magazine (not this Northern Light). We should all get such a nice sendoff.
Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit has been writing (and linking) a lot about bias in the post-war coverage in Iraq. What Glenn and other critics seem to downplay is that media coverage tends to be negative about everything. Bias may be to blame, but it's not the sort of bias critics suspect. What makes it worse is that news tends to focus on specific events, i.e., what happened yesterday. Incremental improvements rarely get the coverage that isolated disasters get. So an attack on an American soldier always will get more play than a friendly gesture or a new school opening. That, regrettably, is just the news biz.
Here is another reason why I'm not fond of using government money to bid for private jobs. Private companies can keep their business to themselves if they choose. But public bodies need to be upfront about where the dollars are going. If you have to keep it secret (and it doesn't involve national security) you probably shouldn't be doing it.
Montana gets an "F" for history standards. Good for us. The only real gripe is that we give teachers too much power to decide what they should teach in history classes. We need more government supervision. I'd rather trust the teachers.
This debate over blog censorship at the Sacramento Bee is well worth following. It isn't clear that the big guys (even Sacramento-sized big) will ever get this. Meanwhile, the Billings Gazette policy apparently remains: no links to local bloggers who compete for market share -- no matter how tiny the share.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

I wasn't crazy about seeing Bill O'Reilly's column makes its debut in The Gazette this morning. Nothing particular against O'Reilly: He is the most entertaining of the talk show ranters, often entertainining, occasionally insightful and sometimes downright funny. I even agree with him most of the time.

But he also has the classic talk show faults: He talks over his callers, pushes an agenda, oversimplifies and plays to the crowd. Although he claims to operate in a "no spin zone," he actually spins all the time. For example, he has a habit of dismissing people who disagree with him as "pinheads." To the extent this is an argument at all, it is purely ad hominem -- a classic rhetorical fallacy that presumably was ancient even when the ancients got around to writing down logical fallacies. In short, it's pure spin.

My real gripe is that I get enough of O'Reilly without reading him in the local paper. Many more thoughtful and less familiar voices are out there, don't you think?
Your faithful blogger wins (or at least shares) an award for radio spot news. Last time this happened, if memory serves, I got 10 bucks out of the deal.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

This website tracks the cost of the war in Iraq.
Pat Dawson wonders if he is the only reader to miss this Doonesbury strip. I sure don't remember it. Editor & Publisher reports that lots of readers didn't get to see it.
This article in today's Gazette is worth a careful read. What's important is how it ties in with this recent article in The Nation, available, unfortunately, only to online subscribers.

The Nation article makes a case that America is losing its traditional lead as an economic powerhouse and innovator. Author Will Hutton points to growing debt, the trade deficit, lagging productivity and a dwindling lead in technological innovation as factor in the U.S. decline. His key culprit is the relentless focus on shareholder profits, but he also points to the growing difficulty of affording college. He writes:

"In 1979 children from the richest 25 percent of American homes were only four times more likely to go to college than those from the poorest 25 percent of homes; by 1994 they were ten times more likely. With the recent rise in tuition fees -- up by a cool 20 percent on average since 2000 -- and further erosion of private and public grants, the divide can only have deepened. ... A new aristocracy is emerging in a country whose original ambition was to prevent such a phenomenon from ever taking place. It was only in Old Europe that status, opportunity and life chances were determined by accident of birth. Twenty-five years of conservative economic and social policies are burying that American dream."

He might have added, but didn't, that the chief guarantor of social stability during a time of growing income inequality is the belief that everybody has a shot at crossing the gap. If college becomes a preserve for the elite, that guarantee expires.

But I think universities have hurt themselves, too, by trying to keep up enrollment and funding by emphasizing the economic value of a college education. Why should I spend my tax dollars to pay for some other guy's kid to get a better job than I have? Good universities have to be seen as an investment worth making for their own sake, not just as a way to get a big paycheck.

UPDATE: Related thoughts from state Sen. Jim Elliott:
"America was not the first nation to offer universal public education (Prussia was, in the early 1700s), nor the first to provide a social retirement system (Germany, in 1881, was the first, and the first to provide universal healthcare in 1883), but when we did, we made our nation greater. They were acts filled with hope and optimism, and culminated in America becoming the leader of the world. Something I doubt was ever foreseen by our nation’s founders.
"I mention these promises because I believe that my generation of Americans will be the first to abandon them. And I believe that to do so will serve our nation poorly, both economically and morally. I believe this, for instance, because too often I hear people say, “I don’t have any kids in school, so why should I pay to educate somebody else’s kids?” (Of course, the simple answer is, “someone paid for yours”.)
"I see this gloomy forecast reflected in such things as the dramatically increasing cost of tuition at public colleges, shutting out those who would benefit the most, and in the “privatization” of Social Security and Medicare, not to mention the devastating effect that the rapidly escalating U. S. Government deficit will have on our ability to pay those benefits."

Friday, September 19, 2003

A reader responding to my comments below on media consolidation says to let the market handle it. "Anything as bloated and arrogant as Lee Enterprises should be ripe for picking," he (or she) writes. The trouble is, that doesn't apply to TV, which is governed by scarce and valuable licenses issued by the federal government. Want to compete in that field? Better have enough capital to go after an existing station and wrest away its FCC license. As the number of companies who own the broadcast media gets smaller, and as those companies get bigger, it keeps getting harder to put together that kind of capital.

Maybe broadband technology will break up the broadcast monopoly, but you can be certain the big boys are working on locking that up, too.
Bruce Tinsley is still using his Mallard Fillmore comic strip to probe the idea that the media are driven by some construction of liberal bias to provide more coverage of Arnold Schwarzenegger's sexual proclivities than of Cruz Bustamente's links to an allegedly racist Hispanic group. Can Tinsley truly be so dense that he fails to understand that public interest in anything a major action motion picture star does will outweigh interest in a second-tier politician whom must people outside of California had never even heard of before the recall? Well, if you read his dim-witted strip daily, you probably already know the answer to that question.
A story I hope to work on today (if I quit wasting my time blogging) is a follow-up to this Gazette piece by Tom Howard. Whatever liberal tendencies I may have don't go so far as to embrace the notion that government should be involved in handing out economic incentives to attract new businesses. For one thing, it's a dubious use of taxpayers' money. For another, it distorts the free market, forcing it to function less efficiently by introducing artificial incentives that aren't related to sound business practices. For a third, it gives unfair advantages to some companies at the expense of others. For a fourth, it seems inconsistent with the limited government the founding fathers envisioned.

Having said all that, I still understand why the Big Sky Economic Development Authority would see the need to try to lure a Bresnan Communications operations center to Billings. That's what BSEDA does. But I can't understand why the federal government would have an interest in providing a $500,000 appropriation to make that happen. Surely, from a federal standpoint, this is a zero-sum game. Whatever jobs the center might provide in Billings are jobs that won't go somewhere else. The total number of jobs, and the benefits those jobs provide, are exactly the same no matter where it goes. So outside of providing a political benefit to a well connected Republican senator, what's the point?

UPDATE: J.P. Donovan of Sen. Burns' office here says that the $500,000 appropriation is part of the VA-HUD budget designated for economic development in rural states. The idea, he says, is to give rural areas a more level playing field when competing for business relocations. The appropriation, should it pass the full Senate and survive conference committee, would go directly to BSEDA to use as it sees fit for economic development. If BSEDA chooses to spend it on Bresnan, that's its business.

Not sure that information changes my critique any, but there it is.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Despite shock-jock John Stokes' harangues, environmentalists are making quiet progress in the Flathead, Ray Ring writes.
Are large predators (of the nonhuman sort) doomed? Steven Hawley gropes for the answer.
Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, was on Kudlow and Cramer last night defending the FCC vote loosening media ownership rules. He makes a coherent case, pointing out, for instance, that raising the ownership cap from 35 percent to 45 percent is pretty small potatoes -- although, I would add, with Idaho-sized symbolic significance. Interesting, though, that elimination of the cross-ownership rule, which prohibited owning both the newspaper and TV stations in the same market (with a few exceptions) never came up. Indeed, while Powell made a nod to "localism" he scarcely discussed the situation in local markets at all.

It's true, as he says, that the total number of media outlets has exploded, and the internet has vastly increased access to existing outlets. But all of that has little impact at the local level, where one company can (and often does) dominate just about all the news. Losing the cross-ownership rule can only make matters worse. And if all politics is local, then this has vast implications for democracy as a whole.

Powell made one salient point: The arguments of those (like me) who oppose increased consolidation are undercut in part by the sheer success of the effort to stop the FCC rules. That effort proved, beyond doubt, that public change can be brought about without support, or even meaningful coverage, by major news media. So maybe this page is, in a tiny way, part of the solution to the problem it complains about.

But not quite yet. Kudlow and Cramer said the Senate vote I mentioned Tuesday may not even be considered in the House. And the Senate resolution didn't pass by a large enough margin to withstand a veto.
I wrote in my column about the BoZone and its new competitor, the Valley Vibe, that I couldn't tell exactly who was in the wrong. But some readers think they know. Just scroll to the bottom of the column.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Now the Senate has rejected relaxed FCC rules on media ownership. The question now is whether Bush will veto.

Jon Ellingson, a Missoula Democrat, tells me that he will announce a statewide race in Billings on Monday. He said he will save the specific office for the announcement, but it has been widely reported that he will run for secretary of state.
Few pieces The Outpost has ever printed have attracted more reader comments than Roger Clawson's column on declawing cats. And the comments are still coming.
For What It's Worth Department: This news release arrived too late for the dead-tree edition of the Outpost:

A New Sign of Times
Indian and Montana People’s Action ask Hotel/Motel Association for Visible Commitment to Anti-Discrimination Policy.

Billings, MT. Colleen Simpson can still remember stories that her mother used to tell about not being able to stay in Billings hotels. “Signs were posted in the windows that said: NO DOGS or INDIANS.”

Colleen, a member of Indian People’s Action will join other members of IPA and members of Montana People’s Action on Wednesday to ask members of the Billings Hotel/Motel Association to post a new sign of times.

“Our offices in Missoula and Billings have routinely received complaints from people of color and people with disabilities about treatment in local hotels and motels.” Said Ann Mauldin, chair of the Billings MPA Chapter. “We decided it was time to be proactive and ask the hospitality industry of Billings to help us.”

Members of MPA and IPA visited with several hotel and motel managers this summer to ask about their commitment to non-discriminatory policies within their establishments. The vast majority of those managers were very welcoming and open to the ideas of community members.

“The outcome was the idea of posting a plaque in the hotel lobby that shows a visible and pro-active anti-discrimination policy.” Said Ann. “We want to follow with the NOT IN OUR TOWN theme; and show that Billings welcomes people of every race, religion, and ability.”

Indian People’s Action and Montana People’s Action hopes to get agreement from at least 30 Billings Hotels and Motels to post the 8” by 8” plaque that reads: This establishent is dedicated to fair and equitable treatment reguardless of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or ability.

“I am excited at this possibility.” Said Colleen Simpson. “The idea that my children will remember a story about putting up signs welcoming Native American’s or anyone else-- is a huge step and a great history for Billings—a new sign of new times.” She laughed.
Evelyn Pyburn of the Big Sky Business Journal notes that The Outpost is quoted in Reason magazine this month.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

From the It Figures Category: Environmentalists allege that the feds are writing off a threatened population of grizzly bears in the Cabinet Mountains.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

Sobering statistics from Bernie Sanders, the only independent in Congress.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Glenn Ferren, the new independent candidate for governor, has started a blog. Ferren, a former U.S. Bureau of Land Management employee, ran for the U.S. Senate in 2000 and got a negligible number of votes. He has written a few letters to the Outpost. Here's one, and here's another one. You will have to scroll down a bit to find the first one. His campaign is off to a quirky start. His paid press release distributed through the Montana Newspaper Association had a website link that didn't work.
Secretary of State Bob Brown announced today that the push for a special session apparently has failed. A majority of the 150 legislators (76) have rejected the session, he said in a news release. Forty-nine voted for a special session. Legislators have one more week to cast their votes.

Sen. John Bohlinger, a Billings Republican, was one of 10 legislators pushing for a special session on how to spend $20 million in unexpected tax revenue, plus federal relief funds. Most of his Bohlinger's fellow Republicans wouldn't go along: They cast 73 of the 76 votes against a special session. Democrats cast 47 of the 49 votes for the session, Brown said.

The only legislators so far to break ranks: Bohlinger and Sam Kitzenberg of Glasgow voted for the session on the Republican side, and three Democratic House members voted against a session: Norman Ballantyne of Valier, Gary Forrester of Billings and Gary Matthews of Miles City.
Christopher Paolini, the Pardise Valley author who began his fantasy trilogy at age 15, is going on tour.
I've been talking to a couple of City Council candidates about what could be done to improve voter turnout. You could say that not much was at stake in this election, but how about how the school board election in May? You couldn't have asked for more contentious times, but turnout limped in under 22 percent. I suggested (not an original idea) putting $1,000 into a pot and awarding it to one voter selected at random after the election is over. A candidate suggested restricting the award just to voters in precincts that meet certain voter turnout targets. Maybe a more serious idea would be to shower some randomly selected voter with public honors: a key to the city, gift certificates, City Council resolution, dinner and drinks -- who knows? Sounds kind of tacky, but if we honor veterans and firefighters and law enforcement officers, why not honor voters? They are the ones who really make democracy work, and as their numbers diminish, they become increasingly valuable and praiseworthy.
Interesting that the governor who devoted her four-year term to economic development now says that government economic development can't work. Sort of what I suspected all along. Or is it just that government can't work when it is run by people who don't think government can work?

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Michael Erickson, one of the City Council candidates who did not survive Tuesday's primary, has posted his thoughts on the election here. Ed Kemmick adds commentary here. My own comment: For one of the very few times since I turned 21, I didn't vote -- and I love to vote. It's the only public ritual other than the seventh-inning stretch that gives me such a good feeling. But I live in the ward where both candidates advanced. Not much reason to go to the polls in my precinct.
I cashed in a gift certificate and bought Joe Conason's "Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth." It's great fun to read. Conason takes on propagandists like Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity at their own game, throwing invective back as effectively as liberals generally have to take it. The book's most notorious passage, in which Conason credits liberals with most of the nation's most positive developments -- safe workplaces, prohibitions on child labor, overtime, the 40-hour week, clean air and water, civil liberties -- has been attacked almost without comment on some websites, as if it refutes itself. Conason does take some rhetorical cheapshots, and spinsanity has subjected him to its usual fact-checking. But I don't even care anymore. I like a good brawl, and there's lots of fight in this dog. He's especially delicioius when he attacks conservatives who never served in the armed forces for questioning the patriotism of Democrats and served honorably and even heroically. The myth that conservatives have a lock on loving their country needed exploding.

"Real Time with Bill Maher," meanwhile, had Wolf Blitzer on last weekend and had some fun with the "liberal bias" label attached to CNN. Maher ran CNN clips over a fake running crawl that "exposed" CNN's bias. My favorites (quoting from memory): "Study: Not all Republicans retarded"; "Charles Bronson dead at 81 from Bush's Medicare cuts"; "Hannity, Colmes to seek gay marriage license."
Hey, I think I got the comments section working. Have at it.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Just back from a speech to the Optimist Club. It's reprinted below, in a reasonably close approximation of what I actually said. It's long, but bandwidth is cheap, right? Besides, it's the only blogging you will get from today. Besides speech writing, I'm deep into Autopost production, and this is my 25th wedding anniversary. Cheers

You’ve all heard the old Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times. I come before you today profoundly cursed, because these are very interesting times indeed.
One of the most interesting phone calls of my 25 years in the news business came last fall. It was from a saleswoman for the Thrifty Nickel, which is a weekly shopper here in town, and she wanted to know if we would be interested in starting a weekly automobile section. We certainly would, and after a series of meetings over the next few months, most of them at the Muzzle Loader, we eventually hired not only her but two other Thrifty Nickel sales representatives besides, plus an ad designer, a classified ad manager and two delivery drivers. It was such a big step for us that we expected right up until the last minute that it would never really happen. We thought it was some sort of elaborate Thrifty Nickel practical joke, and they would all come in some day and say, “Ha! Fooled you!”
But it was for real, and it has had a profound impact on our company. For our little newspaper, still not quite six years old, it meant a doubling of staff, meaning we had to find new and larger quarters. Ever since the Autopost was finally launched in March, it also has meant a doubling of revenues, and a doubling of expenses.
Perhaps more importantly, it has meant that for the first time in our young history, we had caught the undivided attention, big time, of the Thrifty Nickel’s parent company, Lee Enterprises, Montana’s largest, most powerful and most predatory newspaper chain.
That’s OK. We don’t mind a reasonable amount of trouble. We never set out to raid the Thrifty Nickel. What happened was much simpler: The Nickel’s bosses at the Billings Gazette reconfigured the commission structure so that advertising reps there had to swallow pay cuts of up to 40 percent. Their pocketbooks and their feelings were hurt, and they thought they deserved better treatment. So did we.
But we are paying a price. In an effort to keep all of its advertising accounts, the Thrifty Nickel has been offering long-term contracts at discounted rates – as low as $200 for a full-page ad, with full color, or so we have heard. That’s roughly half the Nickel’s old rate, and it’s cheaper than we can afford to print an ad, even with our low overhead.
Naturally, we have been telling advertisers that the Nickel is offering those special discounted rates only to Autopost customers. If we didn’t exist, the Nickel’s rates would be rising, not getting slashed.
That’s the beauty of competition in the free enterprise system. Because our tiny little paper ventured to add a second section, advertisers all across the region are saving money. That means that more dollars stay in Billings, circulating in the local economy, instead of being shipped to corporate headquarters in Iowa. And it means that the advertisers’ cost savings can be passed along to customers, if they so choose. Everybody wins. Well, maybe not quite everybody, but some people deserve to lose.
I don’t want to paint too rosy a picture. We took a big chance starting the Autopost section, and it is by no means certain that it – or we – will survive. Running a newspaper used to be like owning a press that prints dollar bills instead of newspapers. It has gotten much tougher in recent years, and a lot of proud newspapers are no longer with us. I’m not talking just about shoestring ventures like the Outpost, but large metro dailies with proud histories, papers that survived two world wars and the Great Depression but nevertheless succumbed to the economic pressures of the ’90s: The Houston Post, the Dallas Times Herald, the Arkansas Gazette.
Yes, these are interesting times. We are undergoing, in certain respects, a media explosion: a huge proliferation of cable TV channels, Internet access to almost any publication in the world, talk radio, the amazing blog world, e-mail, instant messaging, digital, DVDs, downloads – I’m too technologically primitive to even name them all, much less understand and use them.
Yet for all the growth in the number of media sources and technologies, there’s a certain poverty in the media themselves. The number of media owners has been shrinking at a rapid rate for several decades; in radio, massive consolidation occurred almost overnight after Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. All of the most popular cable TV channels are owned by a mere handful of companies. Ben Bagdikian, a former newspaper man now at the University of California, has documented the consolidation in a book called “The Media Monopoly.” Every time he updates the book, and it’s been through five editions, the number of dominant companies gets smaller.
The number of working journalists in this country has not kept pace with the new media – it has, in fact, declined. Journalismjob.com has compiled a list of some 30,000 media layoffs over the last two and a half years. That list includes business-side layoffs, too, and it doesn’t necessarily represent a net loss in jobs, but it gives you some notion of the dimensions of the problem.
Despite the increase in the number of TV stations, the number of stations broadcasting local news has declined, too – although obviously not in Billings. In radio, with a few honorable exceptions, including a couple in Billings, news reporting has almost disappeared.
Investigative reporting, always honored more as an ideal than as a reality, has been in freefall decline. The Internet, for all its splendid promise, has, so far as I know, not yet produced a viable financial model for online journalism. Most of what you see on the net is either volunteer labor, or it’s losing money, or it has the backing of a powerful media company that made its capital in more traditional ways. Americans may be better entertained and less informed than at any time in their history.
Certainly, the dozen of so corporations that dominate the media landscape have been doing their best to see that media ownership remains in a tiny number of hands. We see that on a small scale in Montana, where Lee Enterprises, for one, continues its efforts to lock up all available niches in the market. This new quarterly publication, for example, appears to be aimed at the same upscale market that a locally owned publication, Yellowstone Valley Woman, has been tapping for the last couple of years. A few years ago, the Gazette launched a free entertainment weekly that appeared to be aimed directly at us; Lee Enterprises has done the same thing in Missoula, where the Missoula Independent has carved out a growing share of the market. In Billings, the corporate-owned weekly lasted just a few issues; weekly newspapering is not for the faint of heart, or for those who demand high profit margins. The Gazette here also has done joint reporting projects with local TV stations, and it now prints Channel 2’s weather forecast. In return, Channel 2 airs a nightly preview of the Gazette’s featured headlines the next day.
Truly, these are interesting times.
At the national level, the Federal Communications Commission, as you may have heard, recently voted along partisan lines to relax caps on broadcast media ownership and to allow cross-ownership of TV stations and newspapers in the same market. This decision provoked an unprecedented response from an unlikely coalition of activist groups as well as from about 2 million ordinary citizens, nearly all of whom expressed the same idea: Consolidation has gone far enough.
This happened despite the fact that most of the major national news media gave the story almost no coverage. Indeed, I believe that it is no exaggeration to say that prior to the FCC vote, the issue received more coverage in the Billings Outpost than on all three major TV networks combined. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that all three networks have an intense financial interest in seeing that the new rules passed.
Even after the House of Representatives voted July 23 to block the new rules, the network gave it scant coverage: a concise overview by ABC, 42 words on CBS, no mention at all on NBC. Word got out to the public without major media involvement, and therein lies what may be the real story.
These are, indeed, interesting times.
What seemed to fuel public response to the FCC debate was the growth of an independent, online presence on the World Wide Web. Several websites were devoted exclusively to exploring every nuance of this complex issue. These invited public comment, and made it easy to get those comments to the FCC. In short, opponents were angry, and they were organized. Big media could ignore the story, but they couldn’t make it go away.
That, despite my longstanding pessimism about the state of American media, is what makes me, for today at least, a fellow Optimist. While some of the changes that are going on in the media world are disturbing, and scary, there also are signs that something better might be coming along.
On one hand, I believe, we are rapidly seeing an end to the longstanding American ideal of objective journalism. Instead, we seem to be moving toward overtly partisan journalism of the sort that the Founding Fathers knew when they wrote the First Amendment two hundred years ago. Instead of a few dominant media voices, the web may lead us to hundreds, even thousands, of small but loud voices, each giving its own take on the day’s affairs.
I don’t think that’s all bad, by any means. After all, objectivity always has been more of a mirage than a technique. Bias is inherent in everything humans do, and reporting could not possibly be an exception. As Brent Cunningham writes in the Columbia Journalism Review, “Reporters are biased toward conflict because it is more interesting than stories without conflict; we are biased toward sticking with the pack because it is safe; we are biased toward event-driven coverage because it is easier; we are biased toward existing narratives because they are safe and easy.”
Alternative weeklies like The Outpost have grown tremendously in recent decades to the point that every major city, and quite a few smaller ones, has at least one major newspaper alternative. Where competing daily newspapers have almost disappeared, weeklies have arisen to take their place.
We also may be entering an unprecedented era of media criticism. I used to think that the media didn’t do enough self-examination, but now there’s so much going on that even I get tired of it.
Much of it has come through a new Internet phenomenon, the web log, or blog, for short. These are individual websites that function as personal diaries, or as repositories of political or media analysis. They are quirky, independent, self-referential and increasingly influential. While most people never read them, they are read by people who shape the news, and they have an influence that is disproportionate to their readership. They are widely credited, for example, with costing Trent Lott his job as Senate majority leader.
Within a couple of years, I predict, blogs will become essential tools for most reporters. I started my own blog a couple of months ago. Ed Kemmick at the Gazette started his a couple of weeks ago. It was a step that showed both how old media are changing, and how they still don’t quite get it.
There are only three blogs in Billings that I know of that delve into state and local political affairs. We all are linked to each other – with one exception. While my blog links to the Gazette blog, there is no link back. Old media habits die hard: Companies like Lee Enterprises are not quite ready to concede that on the Internet, we all stand on the same playing field. The big companies think that by ignoring the competition, they can make it go away.
But they’re wrong. And they will learn better, or they themselves will have to go away. These are interesting times, and what is happening now will shape American media, and perhaps American democracy, for generations to come.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Please, Gazette, show some restraint. This story ruined my breakfast. Could this former Gazoo publisher be the same guy whom retired University of Montana journalism dean Nathaniel Blumberg called "the most pernicious influence on Montana journalism in the last half of the 20th century"? The very same. As one of my old Gazette colleagues noted, this may be the first time that the words "Schile" and "humane" have appeared in the same sentence.
The High Plains Observer turned up this Washington Post story on transfering management of the National Bison Range in Montana to the Salish and Kootenai tribes.
Think blogs matter? Think again.

Kinloch's piece in the Outpost on the local music scene has drawn some comments worth reading.

Friday, September 05, 2003

More on the petition drive at the University of Montana and Montana State University for boosting university funding:

Students at the University of Montana in Missoula and
Montana State University in Bozeman today kicked off their push for relief
for students and families faced with skyrocketing college tuition.

"Because the Governor and Republican legislative leaders won't invest in the
university system, a college education is fast becoming a luxury and out of
reach for Montana's working families," said Gretchen Kruesi, a student at
MSU in Bozeman. "Montanans don't want a university system where only the
most fortunate can afford to attend college. That would be harmful to our
communities, our future and our economy."

The petition asks Governor Martz to call a special session in October to use
some of the 73 million dollars in federal windfall money to help families
and students with rising tuition. The students also said some of the money
should go to helping the elderly and low income pay skyrocketing power
bills, helping families in need and investing in schools to create jobs and
boost the economy.

UM student Tim Tatarka said Gov. Martz and the Republicans should "Put their
money where their mouth is," and live up to promises to help stem the steep
rise in college tuition costs. "Empty promises from Republican leaders don't
help Montanans who need to change careers because of the lagging economy.
Empty promises don't help students from working families who want a college
degree to get ahead but can't afford the tuition costs."

"Those empty promises are an insult to students, low-income and elderly
Montanans and families struggling to get by when the Governor has millions
of dollars stashed away in her sugar bowl," Tatarka said.

Kruesi said the Governor could act now to help students and families if she
chose to, either on her own authority through budget amendments or by
calling an October special session. "Waiting until next year to do something
about double-digit tuition increases is too late for many of our classmates,
because they're going to have to leave school if they don't get relief from
rising tuition costs" she said.

The students noted that college tuition has skyrocketed 282 percent since
1993, while the state's share of funding the university system has declined
from nearly 80 percent to 40 percent. They tied lack of investment in
education to the declining economy; saying states that invest in education
are creating better-paying jobs and are experiencing economic growth.

This came from the Democratic Party.

This out of Livingston:

Todd O'Hair will announce his candidacy for Montana Secretary of State Monday, September 8, 2003, at events in Livingston and Helena. The events will be held at RY Timber in Livingston and at the Montana State Capitol in Helena.

"It is a great honor to seek public office in the state of Montana. I am fortunate to have family and friends that have been very supportive of my decision to serve the people of Montana," said O'Hair. "I encourage all Montanans to be a part of the unique election process we enjoy in this state and join me for my announcements in my home town of Livingston and at the State Capitol in Helena."

O'Hair, 36, currently serves as the Natural Resources Policy Advisor to Governor Judy Martz. He previously worked for Congressman Rick Hill as Montana State Director. His family owns and operates a fifth generation ranch south of Livingston. O'Hair, a graduate of Montana State University-Bozeman, is married with one stepchild.
According to a news release from the Democratic Party, students at the University of Montana and at Montana State University-Bozeman are gathering signatures on petitions today to ask for relief from "double digit tuition hikes." The petitions ask for a special legislative session or for Gov. Judy Martz to back a budget amendment allowing some of the $73 million in federal "windfall" funds to go toward tuition relief. The drives begin at 10 a.m. at the University Center in Missoula and at the Student Union Building in Bozeman.
Jim Elliott, the best writer I know of among Montana's legislators, says that he has changed his mind about university funding.
Pat Davison, a Billings candidate for governor, has his website up. I think I mentioned Bob Brown's website before, but in case I forgot, here it is. And Brian Schweitzer's is here. According to the GOP E-brief, Tom Keating and Ken Miller don't have websites yet. Not sure who I am forgetting, but perhaps someone will remind me.

This Lee state bureau story indicates that Arnold Sherman may be contemplating a run for governor. That could be an extremely entertaining campaign. As this story shows, Mr. Sherman can be blunt and unorthodox about the problems of the Montana economy, including criticism of poor planning and an anti-tax and anti-government attitude. Watch out, though: He tends to make sense.

While you are at the Big Sky Business Journal's website linked above, you might look for the response of Joe McClure, executive director of the Big Sky Economic Development Authority, to Evelyn Pyburn's complaint of favoritism toward the Billings Gazette. It's a pretty thorough response, but I find it only in the dead-tree edition.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Montana for Howard Dean has its website up.
In case you missed it both times, you can find the "60 Minutes" report on Touch America here.
Lew Rockwell confesses to plagiarizing a Billings Outpost column by Roger Clawson.
This letter to the editor about Tuesday's municipal election arrived too late to include in the dead-tree edition:

To the Editor:

If you care about quality of life in Billings, then it is important that you
make your voice heard by voting in the upcoming city council election. The city
council makes critical decisions that affect how our community grows, our
parks and recreation, transportation, and our air and water quality.

As co-chairs of the Yellowstone County Chapter of Montana Conservation
Voters, we are pleased to announce our endorsements for the upcoming city
council election. After our chapter sent questionnaires to all candidates
running for election in all five wards and conducted interviews with those responding,
we have decided to endorse two candidates ­ Peggie Gaghen in Ward I and Jack Johnson
in Ward IV.

As a former city council member and a community volunteer, Jack has taken
an active role in the development of the city/county growth plan and has been
an advocate for improving Billings’ air quality. He has extensive public service
and knows how important clean air and water and open space are to a strong l
economy. Since her recent appointment to the city council, Peggie has also been a voice for conservation and responsible planning and growth, and represents the conservation values
that are important to Billings residents.

We believe Peggie and Jack will be strong supporters of clean air and water,
outdoor recreational opportunities, and maintaining Billings’ quality of
life. Jack and Peggie are the best choices for their wards and have shown their commitment to
this community through their extensive public service. Both candidates
have a September 9 primary. Turnout in the last city election was only 34%.
If you vote, you can make a difference!


John Gibson and Sally Hickman
Montana Conservation Voters - Yellowstone County Chapter Co-Chairs
Mayor Chuck Tooley gives an update:

"We received good news this morning. After my CT scan at 8:00 AM, Joanie and I went to Dr. Marchello's office to look at the new pictures and compare them with the old ones.

"In a nutshell, I'm doing very well, with almost all of the swollen lymph nodes gone. A large one still remains, but has decreased in size by 2/3 and there are still spots (much smaller) on my liver. All in all, though, it is a day for joy and thankful prayer.

"I'm probably 20 pounds lighter than I was at the beginning of the year, and bald as a billiard ball, but I'm starting to do pullups, situps, stretches, and other exercises again. I want to be physically fit as soon as possible after the treatments are over. I will continue with chemotherapy tomorrow morning and every 3 weeks thereafter until December 18th.

"Thanks for your good thoughts and messages and emotional support. They mean a lot to me.

Bad news for the big media companies. Good news for the rest of us.
Matt Welch goes to the annual convention of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies and finds that it's not alternative at all. I could have told him that just by looking at the agenda. That's one reason why you don't see the Outpost lining up for membership. So where is alternative journalism going on? In weblogs, of course.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

When Bozeman city commissioners voted Tuesday night to oppose the Patriot Act, one citizen said, "Name a civil liberty that has been violated under this act. You can't."

Can that possibly be true? The answer isn't as straightforward as one might hope. Part of the problem is that the government won't tell us how the law is being enforced. That's the biggest problem with the Bush administration. It keeps wanting to know more about everything we do while telling us less about everything it does.

Meanwhile, City Lights Daily appears to be calling for a vote on a similar resolution in Billings. Fat chance. But I think the discussion would be one worth having. While I generally don't much like governing bodies passing resolutions outside their jurisdiction, the Patriot Act arguably crosses every jurisdictional line. We might as well get this town on the record about it, one way or another.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

J.P. Donovan of U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns' office called in response to my column about politicians who ignore weekly newspapers. He said that the Missoula Independent's complaints about Sen. Burns' refusal to speak to Independent staffers precedes his time on the senator's staff. Independent reporters have, in fact, talked to Burns since then, he said. It's a fair point, and I should have noted in the column that the complaint was from sometime back. J.P. also noted that the Outpost always gets news releases from the senator about matters relevant to our area. That's true, as far as I know, and it's also true for the rest of the congressional delegation. My column took no shots at any members of the delegation, and I hope no one inferred that it did. They've all done a pretty good job of keeping us in the loop since the beginning.

Paul Stephens, who edits the weekly e-mail newsletter for the Green Party in Montana, sends along this item:

Question: What is the truest definition of Globalization?

Answer: Princess Diana's death.

Question: How come?


An English princess with an Egyptian boyfriend crashes in a French tunnel, driving a German car with a Dutch engine, driven by a Belgian who was drunk on Scottish whiskey, followed closely by Italian Paparazzi on Japanese motorcycles, treated by an American doctor, using Brazilian medicines!

And this is sent to you by a Norwegian, using Bill Gates' technology, and you're probably reading this on one of the IBM clones that use Taiwanese-made chips, and a Korean-made monitor, assembled by Bangladeshi workers in a Singapore plant, transported by lorries driven by Indians, hijacked by Indonesians, unloaded by Sicilian longshoremen, trucked by Mexican illegals, and finally sold to you.

That, my friend, is Globalization!

In Philadelphia, John Ashcroft is talking to TV media but not to print. That tells you something about the differences between TV and print, and what it tells you isn't flattering to TV.
Stopped by the Labor Day picnic at Rose Park Monday and listened to Brian Schweitzer and Ken Miller work the crowd. Clearly, that's Schweitzer's forum. Not only is he one of the ablest glad handers in the business, he even got picnickers listening to his speech, which started, oddly enough, with an extended quote from E.J. Dionne Jr.'s column that appeared in Monday morning's Gazette: "For 25 years, we have been hearing that labor depends upon capital. It's time to resurrect the other, buried truth: that capital depends upon labor," and much else in that vein. Then Schweitzer got the crowd going with a litany of complaints about what Republicans have done to this state and about what he could do to fix it. The speech included this odd conclusion: He said that Democrats should tell their Republican friends (of which Yellowstone County has many, he noted) to vote for Schweitzer, and threaten never to speak to them again if they don't.

This was a much tougher crowd for Miller. His voice got lost in the picnic chatter, and I don't think many people heard much of what he had to say. I heard something about creating jobs that pay $50,000 to $60,000 a year, but it wasn't delivered in a way that had much detectable impact. I have been skeptical about Miller's chances in this race, mostly because he can't do public events as effectively as a natural like Schweitzer. Even a state this small is too big for one-on-one politics to win a statewide race. But a few people who know politics better than I do keep warning me against writing Miller off: Not only was he elected to the state Senate from a historically (although perhaps not anymore) Democratic town, and not only did he pay his dues as the state party chairman, but he also has the ear of the state's social conservatives. As they showed in Bruce Simon's run against Joyce Schmidt for state auditor, social conservatives carry a lot of clout.