Krist Novoselic on Media Consolidation; More on Blackwater; Gregoire's Shrinking Staff

Selections from our news blog, the Daily Weekly.

Another Blackwater Mark It will likely be not Congress but Americans armed with lawsuits who ultimately rein in Blackwater Worldwide and other U.S. contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. Substantial jury awards have a way of doing that. (See: Aryan Nations, Catholic Church, et al.). Besides the ascending lawsuit by a Spokane woman and other military widows of men killed in the Blackwater 61 crash—a suit that got a big boost in federal court last month—the Center for Constitutional Rights has just won a key federal ruling against another contractor in a legal action over Abu Ghraib. Like the Blackwater 61 case, the center's lawsuit against a private military contractor that helped run the notorious prison in Iraq should be heard by a jury of Americans, the court ruled, deciding the contractor was not—like the military itself—immune from civil suits back home. The action was filed in 2004 against CACI, whose employees worked as interrogators in the prison. The center and two other legal entities are also suing Blackwater for the alleged killing of up to 17 innocent Iraqi bystanders in September. No suits have been filed so far regarding a separate Christmas Eve 2006 shooting death involving a former Blackwater guard from Seattle, although Andrew Moonen remains the subject of an FBI investigation, his attorney says.— Rick Anderson Gregoire Loses Another This time it's press secretary Lars Erickson, who has accepted an offer to become Pierce Transit's public relations officer. He's the fourth high-level staffer to leave in almost as many months. In an e-mail sent out this morning, Erickson says his last day in the governor's office will be Dec. 4. Erickson told me he's leaving now (after two years on the job) because the timing is right. "More than anything, I saw that my window for leaving in an appropriate manner, not during a legislative session or on the eve of a campaign, was rapidly closing," he says. "I decided to take advantage of that." He says the governor was supportive. Asked about what appears to be a mass exodus of staffers lately, Erickson says: "I can only speak for myself. It was really a timing issue more than anything else." Communications director Holly Armstrong and Gregoire's chief of staff Tom Fitzsimmons both left earlier this fall, and speechwriter Adam Vogt left his post in July after just eight months on the job. Who's next? — Aimee Curl Media in Transition I was invited to testify at the Nov. 9 FCC hearing in Seattle regarding media consolidation. The event was announced on real short notice, and I couldn't change existing plans. It was tempting to go, if only because of the statement given by FCC Commissioners Copps and Adelstein expressing their disapproval over the short notice. They said prior to the meeting, "A hearing with only five days' notice is no nirvana for Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. This smells like mean spirit." Calling a hearing on short notice only makes any rule change proposal seem like a done deal. It's annoying when public meetings are treated as just a procedure. Hearings are an interface between citizens and their government. Voting is another one, and that connection is suffering enough. The current FCC proposal wants to ease the ban on a single company owning a newspaper, TV, or radio station in the same market. Opponents of media consolidation fear the lack of diversity will not serve the public interest. Turn and Face the Strange Traditional print media is in the midst of a profound transition toward the digital realm. Like with the music industry, there's a need for a new business model. Presenting content in different formats is part of adapting to new circumstances. A type of merging is already happening. Newsprint media are increasingly featuring streaming audio and video content on their Web sites. You can now go to a TV news station site and read a news report. It's no stretch of the imagination to say that TV and computers will soon be one and the same. Commuters listening in their vehicles have so far spared terrestrial radio from tumultuous change. But change will come sooner or later. There is no solid prediction on the future of radio. Indeed, many stations are offering HD services, but consumers have yet to buy the capable receivers en masse. The two satellite radio providers are trying to merge. And I just became aware of WiFi radio. Other potential technologies make it hard to nail down any prognosis. Harmonic Convergence In Astoria Oregon, the local community radio station and the newspaper have started collaborating. It's not cross-ownership. Coast Community Radio is a nonprofit entity, while the Daily Astorian is part of a privately owned Northwest business. They both offer local, national, and international news. Astorian reporters have started to host local-issue programs on the radio. They also provide local briefs between NPR news segments. Original audio content is broadcast over the radio and webcast on the paper's Web site. These programs mostly feature interviews with local officials or people engaged in cultural affairs. Cooperation between this traditional media is also carrying professional ethics over to the wild frontier of on-line commentary. And as far as the public airwaves go, the collaboration is creating programming addressing the local public interest. Consolidated Internet? The Internet is decentralized by design. It's naturally producing hubs of niche programming offered in various formats. The sheer vastness of choice is creating this phenomenon. We must preserve the free flow of information on the Internet. Media consolidation, in the form of loosening cross-ownership rules, is akin to the bigger issue of net-neutrality. A content neutral network will not speed up or slow down information based on its source, destination, or ownership. The companies that own most of the infrastructure of the Internet want more control over the flow of data in the system. In other words, they'll give their preferred content priority and could even block, slow down, or charge fees for other information. This will result in a centralized Internet. The media titans have to resist decentralization. A vast, and neutral, Internet offers equal opportunity, breeds innovation, and fosters competition: principles anathema to the oligopoly.

— Krist Novoselic (Note: Krist Novoselic is a member on the Coast Community Radio board of directors. He blogs every Tuesday on The Daily Weekly.)

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