Saturday, August 16, 2008

Why I Read the WaPo Business Section

First of all, it's not the editorial or op-ed page. And while the WaPo has some reporters who tend toward political stenography, it's also got a number of genuinely fine reporters.

Second, a lot of important stories show up in the business section, rather than on the front page. A few examples from today's WaPo:

Quebec Wal-Mart Workers Unionize: Pact Ordered By Labor Board Covers 8 Employees

A small group of employees at a Wal-Mart store in Canada secured yesterday the only union contract with the company in North America, a victory for labor groups that have campaigned for years to organize the world's largest retailer.

The three-year contract covers eight workers in the tire and lube department of a Wal-Mart in Gatineau, Quebec, and increases starting wages from $8.40 to $10.89 an hour. The contract was imposed by the Quebec Labor Relations Board after negotiations between the company and employees fell apart.
You've got to wonder how soon WallyWorld will shut down that tire and lube department, but if you're keeping an eye on the efforts to give Wal-Mart employees the opportunity to unionize - which many people in the netroots are - this is part of that story.

Another for-instance:

Giant of Internet Radio Nears Its 'Last Stand': Pandora, Other Webcasters Struggle Under High Song Fees

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Pandora is one of the nation's most popular Web radio services, with about 1 million listeners daily. Its Music Genome Project allows customers to create stations tailored to their own tastes. It is one of the 10 most popular applications for Apple's iPhone and attracts 40,000 new customers a day.

Yet the burgeoning company may be on the verge of collapse, according to its founder, and so may be others like it.


Last year, an obscure federal panel ordered a doubling of the per-song performance royalty that Web radio stations pay to performers and record companies.

Traditional radio, by contrast, pays no such fee. Satellite radio pays a fee but at a less onerous rate, at least by some measures.

As for Pandora, its royalty fees this year will amount to 70 percent of its projected revenue of $25 million, Westergren said, a level that could doom it and other Web radio outfits.

This is a big deal, if you care about music. Broadcast radio has increasingly become a desert, as it's gotten bought up by Clear Channel and other conglomerates. Satellite radio is better in some respects, but it doesn't alleviate the problem of far too few people being able to control what music we have the opportunity to hear. Internet radio solves that problem, by letting anyone be a broadcaster.

But if they have to pay fees that the radio stations don't, the whole thing kinda falls apart.

I'd hate to see Pandora go. It's a great service. You can give it a few of your favorite songs, and it'll play other songs it thinks are similar. As it plays songs, you can tell it which ones you like and which you don't, and it'll increasingly shape what is effectively your personal Internet radio station to your tastes. And there's nothing that says you can have only one: it lets you design as many as you have time to listen to. I've heard numerous songs on Pandora that I've liked, and never heard anywhere else.

But whether Pandora sinks or swims, the great thing about the Web is its ability to give everyone a voice. Just as we can all be pundits, we should all be able to be broadcasters.

Anyhow, that's two pretty good for-instances, and that's on a quiet Saturday morning. That's why I check out the WaPo business section.

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