• The True Cost Of A Bad Headline Is A Pink Slip.

    Spicy headlines attract readers. They also attract controversy. Chattanooga Times Free Press editor and political commentator Drew Johnson didn't expect his controversial headline to attract a pink slip and a trip to the unemployment office:

    Political commentator Drew Johnson, who had been editing for the Chattanooga Times Free Press for less than a year, was fired from the paper, after telling President Barack Obama to take his jobs’ plan and “shove it” in a headline, according to WND.

    During the President’s visit to the Tennessee town last week, Johnson decided to change a headline to “Take your jobs plan and shove it, Mr. President: Your policies have harmed Chattanooga enough,” causing the article to go viral and stir up controversy.

    Shortly after, Johnson was fired.

    At first, it seems like Drew Johnson was given the pink slip over criticism of President Obama's economic vision. Except that the meat of Johnson's article was left as-is.

    As it turns out, the Chattanooga Free Press claims that Johnson was told on multiple occasions not to dick around with the headlines. On this one, Johnson went so far as to wait until his editor was out for the day before changing the piece's original, less controversial headline to the above highlighted. Judging from the first of many tweets, Johnson wasn't seeing eye-to-eye with the bosses:

    That's a bit disingenuous isn't it, Drew?

    Drew, you knew full well the Times Free Press couldn't let that Johnny Paycheck reference slide under the radar. It's almost as if you were begging for the hammer to come down.

    Is Drew suggesting that the Times Free Press bounced him not because of their stated policy on headlines or their editorial standards, but because he had the temerity to tell the president to that his economic vision for Chattanooga and the rest of the country would make for a wonderful suppository? According to the Huffington Post, he maintains his ouster was for political reasons.

    The Times Free Press, on the other hand, stands by its decision to let Johnson go for violating the newspaper's standards:

    The language he chose was vulgar and not appropriate for this newspaper. Even Johnson himself admitted that the headline was “harsh and perhaps crass to a fault” in an editorial he wrote for this Sunday, which will not run.

    It also noted that Johnson's editorial freedom wasn't infringed upon except for obvious reasons:

    In fact the only instance when the Times Free Press ever denied Johnson the freedom to present his views was last week when he referred to pornography as a “miracle product” and touted the benefits of pornography stating that if teenagers watched pornography it would result in lower rates of teenage pregnancy.

    Porn as a "miracle product." I bet people would have paid good money to see that article.

    After doing the bit on the headline, I sat down and read the article that was attached to it. Overall, it comes off as a standard-issue conservative op-ed piece that strikes against the president and his efforts to spur job creation. Not much to it, except his article makes constant references to EPB, a non-profit utility serving the metro Chattanooga area.

    Although the big highlight of the president's visit was his brief tour of the Amazon fulfillment center, the president also highlighted the city's fiber optic network infrastructure. That belongs to EPB and it's part of a vast fiber optic network that spans a 600 square-mile, nine-county service area. But it's not just ordinary fiber optic service that skids to an abrupt halt at the last mile. If you're one of the lucky folks living within EPB's service area, that network comes straight to your front door.

    That means fast fiber optic Internet service with speeds of up to 1 Gbps. And since EPB is a public utility, that also means cheap fiber optic Internet service. EPB's slowest Internet tier is 50 Mbps for $57.99/month. Compare that to $89.99/month for Comcast's 50 Mbps "Blast Plus" service (or $69.95/month for those who take advantage of online-only 12-month pricing). And unlike Comcast, EPB offers symmetrical upload and download speeds.

    In all honesty, Drew should be glad he can get some "study material" for his piece on porn's "miracle" properties with lightning-fast speed, but alas:

    The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 helped fund the Gig to Nowhere project, a $552 million socialist-style experiment in government-owned Internet, cable and phone services orchestrated by EPB — Chattanooga’s government-owned electric monopoly.

    The Gig to Nowhere is a Smart Grid, a high tech local electricity infrastructure intended to improve energy efficiency and reduce power outages. After lobbying for, and receiving, $111.6 million in stimulus money from your administration, EPB decided to build a souped-up version of the Smart Grid with fiber optics rather than more cost-effective wireless technology. This decision was supposed to allow EPB to provide the fastest Internet service in the Western Hemisphere, a gigabit-per-second Internet speed that would send tech companies and web entrepreneurs stampeding to Chattanooga in droves.

    In reality, though, the gig, like most of the projects funded by your stimulus plan, has been an absolute bust.

    Drew also criticizes EPB for blowing taxpayer dough on its Smart Grid, which has done a lot to make electric service in Chattanooga more efficient, more cost-effective and less prone to getting knocked out of commission during bad storms:

    While the Smart Grid will cost taxpayers and local electric customers well over a half-billion dollars when all is said and done, there has been little improvement in the quality of EPB’s electric service. Worse, despite being heavily subsidized, EPB’s government-owned Internet, cable and telephone outfit that competes head-to-head against private companies like AT&T and Comcast is barely staying afloat, often relying on loans from electric service reserve funds to afford its business expenses.

    The above is the usual argument of public utilities being the business world equivalent of a clapped out Chevy Citation to the private sector's sleek, sexy and efficient Fisker Karma, as personified by Comcast and AT&T. Drew's beef is that EPB is wasting taxpayer money doing what Comcast and AT&T already do, to not only it's own fiscal detriment, but that of it's customers.

    The reality is that both Comcast and AT&T would be perfectly content to extract as much profit as it can without making but the slightest investments into their aging infrastructure. Without a public concern like EPB to make them step up their game, the major ISPs would be more than content to rest on their laurels and rake in the cash, to the everlasting detriment of customers. Which is how Internet service in the U.S. wound up so slow and expensive compared to the rest of the world.

    You can tell poor Drew has it out for EPB and for good reason. According to the former editor, his fiancé found herself out of a job after he wrote a few articles "exposing" the public utility.

    I tried to find info on Drew's fiancé and the reason for her termination, but Google-Fu's failing me. However, I did take a good look at the articles he linked above.

    The first article is a spiel that supposedly outlines how much money EPB wasted on its Smart Grid infrastructure, only to come off as an amateurish wank that ends with these choice nuggets:
    After all, government ownership of companies is the very essence of socialism.
    The true cost of the Smart Grid is liberty.

    The second article is the most interesting. It's about how Iron Labs, an upstart video gaming business, tried to partner with EPB to showcase the potential of the company's gigabit-level services and got cold-shouldered. It then offered to pay for the service and got cold-shouldered again. This led Iron Labs into the arms of Comcast, which proceeded to promote and support the startup.

    The problem? EPB only offers its $300/month 1 Gbps service to residential customers and businesses that only use a fraction of the bandwidth. For everyone else, the price of admission varies. The prospect of EPB having its bandwidth duly tested by hundreds of avid gamers running bandwidth-heavy apps was apparently enough for the company to craft a $9,000/month asking price.

    Drew bangs on EPB for doing what many other ISPs would have done when faced with the same scenario. Meanwhile, Comcast had the cognizance to put a marketing thumb in EPB's eye by welcoming them with open arms.

    Aaron Welch, the president and CEO of Iron Labs, admitted his company didn't necessarily need the gigabit-level bandwidth himself and cleared the air about the whole debacle. You can also see it in the article's comments, provided you get past the Comcast customer rep spam:

    #1. Iron Gaming won the $10,000 Warner Brothers digital media prize in the
    Gigtank Event this summer. We also receive $15,000 in seed capital that
    was funded by local and regional venture groups.

    #2. EPB valued our proposal for the "EPB Gig Gaming Center", an extension
    of the GigLabs project, at $50,000 per an email from Danna Bailey to me.

    #3. We were asking for the "Gig" only to help promote EPB in the media by
    visually showing and making a physical representation of what a "Gig" can
    do for gamers in EPB's customer base. This service would have been
    exclusive to EPB's customer base and have provided a way for Iron Gaming to
    promote our gaming league in the region. Did we NEED a gig, no. When we
    finally asked to pay for the service, we kept getting referred back to
    Danna Bailey and as of August 2 (before the end of the Gigtank Contest) we
    have not heard back from anyone at EPB.

    #4. Our relationship with Comcast has been fantastic from an Iron Labs
    (brick and mortar gaming store) and Iron Gaming (online gaming league)
    perspective. Comcast has helped open doors for us and provided a
    significant amount of support for our startup.

    #5. My only "beef" with EPB is that the people we were dealing with did
    not understand the technical details of what we were offering and therefor
    did not value what the proposal could provide them. To this day I do not
    hold any animosity towards EPB and will still do all that I can in
    supporting them and the growth of the startup community in the "Gig City".

    Aaron Welch
    Iron Labs and Iron Gaming

    In the third article mentioned, Drew compares EPB salaries with those offered by the city of Chattanooga, focusing on the number of people earning six-figure incomes at both. Then he goes on to compare EPB employees to the average resident in Chattanooga. In short, those evil government workers are wasting your hard-earned taxpayer dollars by living high on the socialist hog. And I thought class envy was an affliction only liberals were supposed to suffer.

    To summarize, Drew has a beef with the EPB because:
    1. It's a public concern attempting to offer services that so-called "free market" competitors already offer, making it a juicy target for the former editor's right-leaning fury.
    2. EPB's taken federal handout money to spend on its infrastructure and other concerns, again making itself a juicy target for some good ol' fashioned conservative tongue-lashing.
    3. EPB also ties in to the president's economic vision for the nation. By now, that bullseye is about as big as Lookout Mountain itself.
    4. Drew believes his previous pieces on EPB got his fiancé shit-canned from her job. 
    But don't weep for Drew Johnson just yet. Johnson's tale of how he got burned by his former employer made him the talk of the right-wing media (despite how Johnson's viewpoints are more or less in tune with the libertarian point-of-view), judging from all the support he's gotten from conservative media and his recent appearance on Fox and Friends. He won't have long on the unemployment line - in fact, I do believe he's found himself another job.