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[Don't Quote Me]

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Cash flow

Two-tier wage scale at Five on Five -- plus, Jim Braude seeks to reboot Otherwise

by Dan Kennedy

For 18 years, a guest appearance on WCVB-TV's Five on Five has been one of the more lucrative perks available to those local movers and shakers able to do the talking-head thing with some measure of coherence.

But that perk just got a lot less lucrative. In a letter sent recently to the show's occasional contributors, producer Marjorie Arons-Barron announced that, as of January 5, the fee is being cut from $350 to $150. Still not bad for an hour's work on Friday mornings, when the half-hour show is taped. (It's broadcast on Channel 5 on Sundays at 11:30 a.m.) Nevertheless, the new arrangement has prompted some off-the-record grumbling among the show's stable of irregulars. "It sucks," says one.

Although Arons-Barron declined to discuss names and specific dollar amounts with the Phoenix, she did confirm that the show's regular panelists will not be affected by the pay cut. Those regulars are Hubie Jones, an educator and political activist; Doris Kearns Goodwin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian; Avi Nelson, a conservative commentator; and Micho Spring, a politically connected PR person who often fills in for Goodwin.

No permanent replacement has been named for the fourth regular, former Boston mayor John Collins, who died a year ago. The Collins slot, as well as empty seats created by vacations and illnesses, are filled by a cast that includes Democratic political consultant Michael Goldman, former state senator Patricia McGovern, Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby, former Canton state representative Jack Flood, incoming Cambridge state representative Alice Wolf, and Lowell Sun columnist Paul Sullivan. (Moderator Peter Mehegan makes Five.)

Arons-Barron defends the measure as a reasonable cost-cutting move, adding that she often hears from guests who'd be willing to appear for free. Management decided not to cut the regulars' pay, Arons-Barron says, because of the "long-term commitment" they've made to the show.

But the cutback is a reminder of the squeeze that TV news operations are under these days. Channel 5 was once hailed as the best local news station in the country. Though it's still the class of Boston, cost-cutting demanded by its owner, the Hearst Corporation, and competitive pressures created by Channel 7's fast-paced, tabloid-like news programming have diminished the product considerably.

"Some people would say, hey, at least they're keeping the show," says Goldman.

A defeatist attitude, perhaps, but an understandable one in the current climate.

Liberal activist Jim Braude's magazine Otherwise may not be dead, but even he now concedes that it's on life-support. And without a rapid infusion of cash, its most recent issue -- published in early October -- may turn out to be its last.

Braude, the former executive director of the Tax Equity Alliance for Massachusetts (TEAM), says he decided a month ago to suspend publication and devote all his efforts to fundraising. He's hoping to raise enough money to publish every other week for a three- or four-month stretch, which he thinks would be enough time to establish a track record and thus keep the money rolling in.

"It takes some doing to convince even politically active wealthy donors that the written word can have an impact," says Braude. "This is very frustrating. But after doing this for eight or nine months, I'm not only convinced that there is a market for this, I'm convinced that this is what I want to do with my life."

Otherwise debuted last April 4 as a biweekly, but to date only six issues have come out. It's quick, opinionated, and irreverent, and it's continued to improve following a rocky start. Certainly a sharp, locally oriented liberal voice would be a welcome addition to the media scene; the much-praised quarterly CommonWealth, founded last year by high-tech entrepreneur Mitch Kertzman, is too ideologically mushy to fill that role.

Braude says he should know by the end of February whether he'll have enough commitments to reboot Otherwise. Meanwhile, managing editor David Tyler has returned temporarily to the Tab, where he used to be editorial-page editor, and Otherwise's website has been turned off.

Though Braude remains optimistic, one of his columnists, advertising executive John Carroll, thinks the activist has a right to be angry. "I can't believe the so-called liberal community, which urged this guy to start this publication, resolutely refuses to support it," Carroll says. "It really is very discouraging, I think, for anybody who has any kind of hope for a progressive voice out there."

The Don't Quote Me archive.

Dan Kennedy's work can also be accessed from his Web site: http://www1.shore.net/~dkennedy/
Dan Kennedy can be reached at dkennedy@phx.com.
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