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News, busted 

The local TV news was in a tizzy. On Thursday, January 6, the live noon broadcasts on WROC (Channel 8) and WHEC (Channel 10) were interrupted, just as they were trying to report on the Highland Hospital power outage.

A man wearing a beige body suit labeled "Invisible Suit" and a man in a mask jumped into the TV stations' live broadcasts. The two men, plus a third masked man with a video camera, were taken into police custody and later released. In a press statement issued later that day, a group called Newsbreakers ("When News Breaks, We Bust It") took credit, saying they are a nonviolent media watchdog group that "temporarily reclaimed the airwaves in the name of the American people."

But WROC disagreed. On the evening news, reporter Elizabeth Harness (who was reporting at noon when the protest took place, a still is pictured above) said, "the group is nothing more than pranksters intent on interrupting local news coverage." And in a story on WROC's website, the station said Harness was assaulted during the protest, that Newsbreakers pushed her into the side of a van while Invisible Suit man danced behind her. (Newsbreakers' own video seems to show that Harness may actually have backed into the van out of discomfort.)

Both WROC reports and a Democrat and Chronicle story indicated that Newsbreakers would not comment on what they were trying to accomplish. Buck Owens, Newsbreakers' senior political correspondent, says that just isn't so. And as soon as he could reach City on a phone line that accepted unidentified calls, he was happy to explain the organization's goals.

The group, he says, is trying to raise a question. "And that question is pretty simple: Are you happy with the job that news, TV news in particular, is doing?" Owens says Newsbreakers, using parody, protest core problems like "overzealous" FCC regulations and corporate ownership of media outlets. The point is "getting people talking about the issue of TV news quality." He points to discussion boards on medialine.com and b-roll.net, where people, reacting to the January 6 pranks, are talking about just that.

Newsbreakers will not tell their real names, whether or not they're based in Rochester, or even what other pranks they're responsible for. Owens sympathetically calls it "an awkward situation."

You can download the videos and get other information at www.newsbreakers.org.

--- Erica Curtis


Now on cable

Local cable subscribers have likely caught a glimpse of Time Warner's latest ad campaign. Airing at random across the cable spectrum, the ad stars Pittsford Town Supervisor Bill Carpenter, who gives a testimonial on the various benefits Time Warner's cable and internet services bring to his town.

Pittsford resident and Empire State Consumer Association President Judy Braiman has seen the ad, and it has motivated her to lobby the town to change its code of ethics.

The code, she says, should prohibit "town officials or employees from advertising for any company. I think it's absolutely wrong. I'm not saying they're doing anything illegal. But I believe it's wrong."

Carpenter was approached by Brian Wirth, Time Warner's vice president of government and public affairs, to testify in the ad. And Carpenter says he wanted to keep his remarks "limited."

"I put a definition on it," Carpenter says. "I didn't want it to be an endorsement, necessarily, of Time Warner. I wanted to speak from a government perspective on how I think an organization like Time Warner helps town government communicate with its residents. I'm primarily talking about Road Runner and how it helps with cable-access TV." Pittsford uses cable-access fairly typically, as a virtual "bulletin board" to post community news and a community calendar.

Municipalities like the Town of Pittsford negotiate for their cable services with providers --- in this case Time Warner --- every 10 or 15 years. Pittsford is in the second year of its latest 10-year contract, and the advertisement was made after those negotiations. And, like most municipalities, Pittsford negotiates for free Time Warner service in its municipal buildings and schools.

"There's no financial benefit out of this," Carpenter says of his testimonial. "There's nothing I derive out of this. If it weren't for Time Warner, we couldn't have cable-access TV anywhere in Monroe County. You can't get that through the satellite. So when we're talking about competition, I think it's reasonable to say: Hey, that's something they're providing us. It's an easy way for people to tune in and get information about the community. I think that's a good thing."

Carpenter acknowledges his role in negotiating for his town's cable services, but he doesn't feel that role's been compromised by his star turn.

Brighton Town Supervisor Sandra Frankel, for one, agrees with Carpenter when he says "negotiations [with cable providers] today are so limited."

"The Federal Communications Commission and the Telecommunications Act limit significantly what local governments can do as they negotiate for cable TV services, internet, and the like," Frankel says.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of cable negotiations are franchise fees --- the amount the cable provider must compensate each community for its use of local infrastructure, and to offset any costs associated with administering the service. But even those fees have been capped under federal law at 5 percent of the operator's gross revenue on a community-by-community basis. The law allows cable providers to then pass those fees along to costumers.

Negotiations aside, Carpenter doesn't feel it's inappropriate for him to sing Time Warner's praises.

"My ability to say 'these are the things they offer' does not influence our expectation of how they continue to deliver service to residents," he says. "I don't think it's outside my role to be able to say that. If I'm pushing them as a service, which in some ways I am, I understand why people might have objections. And that's why my discussion is limited to how Time Warner benefits communities as a communication tool."

Time Warner's Wirth says the company will likely approach other heads of municipal government to participate in the campaign. Asked if she'd participate, Frankel declines.

"I hear where Bill is coming from," she says, "but it's not something I would be comfortable doing."

--- Chad Oliveiri


The opening round

It's almost two years away. And the incumbent candidate hasn't yet said whether he'll seek reelection.

But that hasn't stopped the state's gubernatorial race from grabbing early headlines. It's also serving as the occasion for brand-new state GOP Chairman Steve Minarik's debut on the Albany stage. The Rochester ad man and longtime Monroe County Republican Chair cut his teeth as a statewide attack dog with a sharp critique of Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

In a January 6 press release, he lambasted what the release described as Spitzer's "anti-business approach to New York's economy." Citing a similar criticism leveled against the crusading attorney general by the US Chamber of Commerce, Minarik said "The reality is that Mr. Spitzer is a job-killer who will do and say anything to grab a headline, and promote his fledgling campaign for governor."

The release came just a day after Gov. Pataki's State of the State address, which met with widespread criticism. Minarik, though, praised the speech, telling several media outlets it sounded like a reelection speech.

The anti-business knock against Spitzer could be a preview of how Republicans plan to approach the campaign, regardless of whether or not Pataki decides to run; Minarik repeated his charges that Spitzer is anti-business and therefore "hurts jobs and hurts taxpayers" a day later in an interview with the editorial board of the New York Daily News.

Assigning Randy

As Randy Kuhl gets his feet wet in Washington, there's already one small tidbit of good news for his district.

The region's newest congressman was assigned seats on the House of Representatives' agriculture and transportation committees. While they don't have the high profile of Amo Houghton's committees --- Ways and Means and International Relations --- both deal with issues of critical importance to Kuhl's largely rural, far-flung district.

The powerful Buffalo-area representative Tom Reynolds pointed out in a press release announcing the assignments that Kuhl would be the only New York representative on the ag committee. That's especially important, not just for his district but for the entire state, since despite New York's huge ag industry, it routinely loses out on lucrative federal farm subsidies.

Kuhl also sought a waiver allowing him to serve on a third committee. Press Secretary Bob Van Wicklin told City Newspaper that Kuhl expects to know by next week if he'll receive it. If he does, Van Wicklin says Kuhl will vie for a spot on the House education committee. Kuhl chaired the corresponding committees during his time in the state Senate, Van Wicklin says.


Mourning the Montage

The Montage Grille was too big for this town --- too cool, anyway. And so it closed its doors last week. Apparently, a little class in downtown's nightlife can't measure up to the allure of beer pong and a million versions of the same lame McBar.

The supper club was truly a musical montage, with big names sharing the stage with the not so big in virtually every genre. Perhaps a few new categories were created on Montage's stage, especially during Rochester International Jazz Festival.

It'll be hard to imagine Jazz Fest without the Montage Grille, when this venue was clearly the place to be every night.

And when do you think you'll get to see artists like John Hiatt, Link Wray, Dave Alvin, Sophie B. Hawkins, Nancy Sinatra, Joe Locke, Sonny Fortune & Rashied Ali, Ike Turner, Dave Edmunds, Roomful Of Blues --- just to name a meager few --- up doctor-close and feel the heat literally come off the stage in such an intimate setting?

And the food; man, did the Montage dish out some good grub. There's nothing like eating chocolate cake over white linen and watching a band you love playing inches from your face. And there probably won't be again with this club's closing.

As the years go by, when folks remember historic moments at the Montage, more people will claim to have "been there when" than ever actually were. If you ever darkened the door at this joint --- even once --- you'll mourn its passing and wonder where you're gonna go now. If you never did, the girl at the end of the bar in the DMB T-shirt wants to do a Jell-O shot with you.

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