News, events and weird stuff happening around Tampa Bay

click to enlarge ANTI-WAR WARRIORS: The Florida Friends for - Peace at the Oct. 26 D.C. rally. - www. floridafriendsforpeace.org
www. floridafriendsforpeace.org
ANTI-WAR WARRIORS: The Florida Friends for Peace at the Oct. 26 D.C. rally.

Media Grinch

All you capitalists out there who put profits before people could learn a thing or two from the organizations that claim to hold you accountable: the news media.For the second year in a row, Virginia-based Media General Inc., which owns The Tampa Tribune, WFLA-Ch. 8 and TBO.com, stiffed its employees to make sure Wall Street investors had a Merry Christmas.

Media General declined to provide its worker bees with holiday bonuses, which averaged about $594 per employee in previous years.

This won't be the last year the employees receive a lump of coal from the public company, which reported fiscal 2001 revenue of more than $807-million.

During an October 2001 conference call, Media General Chairman J. Stewart Bryan III made sure investors knew well that placing gifts under employee Christmas trees wasn't a priority for his media conglomerate.

"We will save almost $2-million this year by eliminating a Christmas bonus for eligible employees, and we have decided to eliminate that bonus for future years as well," Bryan told stockholders. Meanwhile, the 64-year-old chairman's 2001 compensation was a whopping $4.2-million.

Media General isn't the only local scrooge. Employees of the St. Petersburg Times, owned by the nonprofit Poynter Institute for Media Studies, didn't receive holiday bonuses, either.

According to spokesperson Anthea Penrose, Times employees instead received their annual profit-sharing awards in December. "It certainly comes at the right time," Penrose said of the profit sharing.

The Times is privately held, but the annual compensation of CEO Andy Barnes is belatedly made public on the Poynter Institute's tax return. The Times has reported the 2001 compensation for Barnes was $543,679, although some extra benefits may have been excluded from that total.

The tight wallets of local news media mirror a national trend. According to a survey of 421 U.S. companies by Hewitt Associates, a personnel-consulting firm, only 31 percent offered any type of holiday bonus, such as money or food. That percentage has declined steadily year after year, Hewitt Associates says.

Cash-strapped employees at Media General and the Times will find little sympathy from the schleps here at Weekly Planet. After all, we're in the same cheap-ass boat.

The Planet's parent company, Creative Loafing Inc., which owns four alternative newsweeklies in the Southeast, didn't appear to be in the holiday spirit this season. No cash. Nada.—Trevor Aaronson

Talking Head Walking

He swears he wasn't pushed.Still, television chat show host and professional nodder Syl Farrell is leaving the employment of Hillsborough County commissioners.

The dapper Farrell is boogying from the commission's cable channel, known as HTV22, to take up an even greater challenge: trying to put the best face on the goings-on at the seemingly always-under-the-spotlight St. Petersburg Housing Authority. He's going to be the authority's public information coordinator.

Farrell did TV interview shows in Jacksonville and Tallahassee before making his mark locally as moderator of WEDU-Ch. 3's Tampa Bay Week. He left WEDU in 2001 after the Public Broadcasting Service affiliate's then-clueless management scrapped the show in a budget crunch.

WEDU has since revived the show, with Tampa newsman Robert Lorei in Farrell's old chair.

Farrell caught on at HTV22, Hillsborough's growing cable-production house. He conducted regular interview shows, including a year-old roundtable called Weekly Review. Modeled after Tampa Bay Week, Farrell's county panel show has been running in the same Friday nighttime slot as the Lorei-hosted Tampa Bay Week on WEDU.

Weekly Review has been an anomaly on government-access cable. Guests occasionally criticize the government that controls the channel. (Not that there's been much to criticize about Hillsborough government during the past year, of course.)

So it will be interesting to see whether Farrell is replaced and Weekly Review sticks around.

Steve Valdez, the county's community relations manager, says the show will go on extended hiatus after Farrell's scheduled grand finale Jan. 3. Whether Weekly Review or some other talk-show variant resurfaces will depend on the county finding another host of Farrell's caliber, according to Valdez.

"Pretty much the show was Syl," said Valdez. "It's not something just anybody can do."

Finding the cash for a new host shouldn't be a problem.

The commissioners have kept their largely self-promotional HTV22 up to its video monitors in dough. At the same time, they've attempted to shut off the funding spigot altogether for regular citizens who want on public-access cable.

The department that operates HTV22 is working with almost $1-million more in public money than it had three years ago. The department's 2003 budget is $4.3-million, a 27 percent increase since 2000.

(Disclosure: Planet Publisher Ben Eason is treasurer of the nonprofit organization that oversees the county's public-access operation.)—Francis X. Gilpin

The People United

While President George W. Bush seems intent on waging war in Iraq — definitive proof of weapons of mass destruction be damned — Florida activists are equally intent on having their voices heard.Activists from across the state are organizing a bus caravan to transport citizens who oppose the impending war to a Jan. 18 national demonstration in Washington, D.C. So far, about 100 people from the Tampa Bay area are planning to participate. Organizers hope that hundreds more will join them.

While every American should be concerned about the decision to send young people off to war, those in the Bay area have a special connection, said Mauricio Rosas, a member of the local civil and human rights group Voice of Freedom.

"Many of our young men and women who work here at MacDill Air Force Base will be affected by this war that President Bush is initiating," said Rosas. "It is important that we stand up and let them [soldiers] know that we don't want them to die for oil or for the interests of one man."

Voice of Freedom has banded together with Fall Out Shelter, the Democratic People's Uhuru Movement and other groups to protest war in Iraq.

"Voice of Freedom in particular feels that the argument is not with the soldiers," said Rosas. "The argument is with the president and his administration."

It's also with our elected leaders. Rosas has already met with U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, who was receptive to hearing from the people he represents. "He has already spoken on our behalf and I believe that he will continue to speak on our behalf," said Rosas.

Other members of Florida's congressional delegation have been less responsive, according to Rosas.

Miami activist Sara Iglesias says traveling to the rally in Washington is an important step towards local action.

"It's good to show that the people are not supportive of the government's decisions and it's also good for us, as individuals, to know that we're not alone in what we think," said Iglesias. "When we come together, it really gives us a great source of strength."

Last October's rally in Washington spawned weekly demonstrations in Miami and Naples, Iglesias said. People from all over the state communicate through a Yahoo group, and individuals are welcome to participate along with the anti-war groups.

Buses going to the D.C. rally will leave from several pick-up points across the state on Jan. 17. For more information, call Iglesias at 305-205-1693 or visit floridafriendsforpeace.org.

To get involved locally, call Carol Schiffler weekends and after 7 p.m. at 727-328-7273 or visit falloutshelter.com.

—Rochelle Renford

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