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Editor's Notebook: The voice of Wichita?

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What a difference a year makes.

While sitting Tuesday through the Greater Muscatine Chamber of Commerce & Industry's annual meeting and recognition night at the Holiday Inn, I couldn't help but remember going to the same banquet last year.

At the 2009 banquet, my boss at the time sat there with me, commenting on how budget-conscious our colleagues at KWPC radio had to be. They didn't even buy a ticket for then-news director Charles Potter to eat at the dinner. While a crowd of more than 350 feasted, Potter patiently waited in the lobby for the keynote speaker. But he got the story he wanted for his broadcast the next morning.

"Next year, we're going to pay for Charles to sit at our table," my boss said.

It was not meant to be, however.

Potter left KWPC in late October. He has since written more than 30 stories for the Muscatine Journal and plans to write many more.

DeWayne Hopkins retired in December as general manager at KWPC, making him the boss who didn't spring for Potter's ticket to last year's Chamber banquet.

As cheap as that may have seemed then, it only shows how naive I was.

Gary Petersen, who succeeded Hopkins in November, has found successors for Potter in the past few weeks. And here is the bottom line: When it comes to local news, the Voice of Muscatine now comes from a lot of places. But it does not come from Muscatine.

Petersen says turning KWPC's local news-gathering operation over to Wichita, Kan.-based Radio 2.0 was a financial decision. It is the best way for KWPC to gather local news in a way that will benefit the station's listeners, advertisers and employees, Petersen said.

Scott Roberts, Radio 2.0's president, did not return a message I left for him this week, seeking his comment.

His company, according to its Web site, operates its Virtual News Center in more than 20 cities nationwide. It has broadcasters who are located as far away as Orlando, Fla., reporting on what's happening in the Muscatine area.

From my perspective, this is good and bad.

Potter, who says he was paid about $25,000 annually, worked 10 years at KWPC. I don't know how many hours he worked every week, but he seemed to singlehandedly cover everything. You couldn't go anywhere without bumping into him. And I heard about it from many newsmakers whenever Potter covered their meeting or event and the Journal did not.

So, part of me says: Please, KWPC, be my guest. Go right ahead. Replace Potter's recognition with someone who is hundreds, maybe thousands, of miles away. Good luck getting great reporting about Muscatine from someone in Michigan or wherever.

It shouldn't come as a surprise, however, that I regard Radio 2.0 and its virtual newsroom as something less than virtuous.

"The typical affiliate invests less than one-third the monthly base salary of a news person - and you don't have the costs of benefits, turnover, or a wire service," Radio 2.0 says on its Web site. "Until now, local news meant compromise: expensive dedicated staff or a half-effort by a jock who just rips and reads from the wire or the paper."

It must somehow be OK, however, for someone in Wichita to "rip and read" from the Journal. I've yet to hear one of these virtual newscasts on KWPC in which I did not hear a story attributed to the Muscatine Journal.

Petersen says the new service has started slowly, but has hired more people to help report on Muscatine and fewer stories will be taken from the Journal in the future.

And maybe I simply should be pleased Radio 2.0 is at least professional enough to tell KWPC's listeners they are hearing news that has already been reported by reporters who actually work in Muscatine. But the work of those Journal reporters - and the salaries they earn - help subsidize Radio 2.0.

Of course it can sell its service for a third of the salary that KWPC paid Potter. It doesn't have to charge more. After all, it isn't paying for the reporters who attend Muscatine City Council meetings or report on the Muscatine County court system, neither of which can be covered well over the phone from 1,000 miles away.

It's ironic. The Chamber and the Muscatine Downtown Action Alliance both spent time and money this week to promote the concept of supporting local businesses. It was just one of the many local stories reported in the Journal this week by reporters who work here.

As for the reporters for the virtual Voice of Muscatine? I didn't see them at the Chamber banquet or anywhere else in Muscatine this past week. They're sort of like Dorothy at the end of "The Wizard of Oz" -back in Kansas. Or wherever.

Editor Chris Steinbach's e-mail address is chris.steinbach@muscatinejournal.com.

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