Though you’ve likely heard about this by now, I’ve got to give a shout about the modern miracle that is the new Google Streetview map of Little Rock, North Little Rock and Central Arkansas. Type in an address — most any address — and you get a picture of that address, taken from the street. Once you get over being weirded out that there’s a picture of your house on the internet (then again, you can console yourself with the fact that there’s a picture of EVERYBODY’S house on there), it’s pretty cool. Even for a native, typing in random addresses can be like a little safari into our concrete jungle — backroads, monuments, tourist traps, cars parked in front of the local porno bookstore, whatever.
By our best guesstimate (based on an “It’s a Boy!” sign in the yard of a Times staffer’s house, corresponding with a birth last July), Google sent their camera drone cars through Arkansas sometime late last summer.
They did a thorough job of it too, managing to get down nearly every street in Little Rock and North Little Rock, as well as hit-or-miss coverage as far west as Roland, north almost to Clinton, east to DeValls Bluff, and pretty much the entire city of Pine Bluff to the south.
Check it out at: http://maps.google.com.
By the time you read this, the Oxford American will more than likely be rising from the tomb, fresh from its fourth — or would that be fifth? — brush with death.
On Wednesday of this week, the Oxford American board of directors met to discuss and vote on a proposal that would see the University of Central Arkansas make an emergency infusion of $160,000 of fresh cash into the magazine, which was recently taken for what could amount to over $100,000 by an embezzling employee. Under the terms of the deal, the money would come from donations, and the OA would have to repay the funds within six months. In return, UCA would take control of the magazine’s day-to-day financial operations, including making all hiring, budgetary, and auditing decisions.
Warwick Sabin is UCA’s vice president for communications, and a member of the OA’s six-member board of directors. He helped put the $160,000 deal together. Sabin said that UCA has put around $600,000 into the OA since it moved to the UCA campus in Conway in 2004. At that time, the magazine was reconfigured as a 501(c)3 non-profit, which Sabin said is an increasingly common arrangement for limited-circulation magazines these days.
Sabin said that, despite the magazine’s rocky financial past, the Oxford American seemed to be in fairly good shape before the embezzlement came to light in January. “It wasn’t flush with cash, but it was able to pay salaries, pay writers, pay the printers,” he said. “This embezzlement came at a very bad time, because the OA needed to pay its writers and it needed to pay the printers to get the next issue out.” Staffers learned of the theft when a $25,000 check to the printers bounced.
Sabin said that it is UCA’s position that the theft was very preventable, if the magazine had been following normal business practices. “Someone ought to have been checking the books on a regular basis to ensure that the expenses and payments and the normal course of business was happening as it should be, and that clearly didn’t happen,” he said.
As a board member and someone who loves the OA, Sabin said that failure is frustrating, “especially because we know that the magazine has always had some trouble on the business side. This arrangement was set up to prevent that, and the board had approved of hiring a very experienced publisher to oversee the business operations, which we thought would address the previous problems.”
Asked if the future employment of publisher Ray Wittenberg or any other OA management might be in jeopardy over the failure to catch the theft before it became a train wreck, Sabin said that was for the OA board to decide, and only after the magazine is on firm financial footing again. “There has really been no discussion about that yet,” Sabin said. “All of the attention that I’ve been devoting to the issue revolves around simply meeting the short-term finances of the magazine … I think once this agreement is hammered out, some of the details about specific financial arrangements and specific personnel decisions will be addressed.”
Alan Leveritt, publisher of the Arkansas Times and a member of the Oxford American board, said that there’s no reason that management heads have to roll because of a theft. He said that many publications have weathered an employee-perpetrated embezzlement.
“That just happens,” Leveritt said. “The only real way to prevent embezzlement is to have a trusted employee in that position. But if they want to steal from you, they’re going to find a way to do it … I can’t see any reason why (OA management) shouldn’t stay on.”
Arkansans of the sticks, rejoice! Arkansas is one of 17 mostly rural states slated to get a slice of a new $267 million government grant designed to bring Wi-Max high-speed internet access to the hinterlands. Wi-Max is delivered over the air in much the same way as cell phone service, utilizing existing cell towers.
As announced by the Department of Agriculture’s rural development broadband group last week, the government will contract with Denver-based Open Range Communications to build out broadband infrastructure for 518 rural communities outside the range of cable or DSL high speed internet service, including over 50 small towns in Arkansas. Open Range said they hope to serve half a million households within five years. In addition, the company has raised $100 million from the private sector to install services for emergency responders.
“Communities that lack broadband are often bypassed for new economic development investments,” Department of Agriculture undersecretary Thomas Dorr said in a statement. “Broadband is as important today as providing rural telephone service was 75 years ago.”