Santa Barbara Politics, Media & Culture

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

McCaw Letter to Readers

Talk amongst's The Wendy's take a free press...

July 25, 2006 03:57 PM US Eastern Timezone
Santa Barbara News-Press Owner Wendy P. McCaw Sets Record Straight
SANTA BARBARA, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--July 25, 2006--This morning, Santa Barbara News-Press Owner and Co-Publisher Wendy P. McCaw issued the following statement to readers:

Since the recent resignation of several newsroom staffers, I have done my best to take the high road and not involve the paper in a name-calling contest. I continue to feel that moving the paper forward and putting this behind us is the best course of action. But in light of the recent deluge of misrepresentations, misperceptions, personal attacks and outright lies, I feel I owe it to you to set the record straight.

First and foremost, this is not a freedom of the press issue. I completely support the rights of a free press. I always have and I always will. It is one of the reasons I bought the paper. I support and understand the need for separation between the editorial, news and advertising pages. There is no place for personal opinion or agendas in news coverage.

Violations of our paper's policies and standards are what brought on this conflict. As owner and co-publisher, it was my responsibility to step in and handle this internal matter. Nine members of the staff, out of more than two hundred, chose to resign rather than accept my decisions. I respect their right to do so.

Earlier this month, I appointed Travis Armstrong to temporarily act as publisher. We are in the process of hiring a new editor who is a strong journalist with impeccable credentials to be the buffer between the newsroom and the publisher. Arthur Von Wiesenberger and I are the co-publishers of the News-Press.

It is personally painful for me, and I know it is for all dedicated News-Press staff, to be placed in such a situation. Our energies can and should be focused in positive ways to work together, not on divisive rhetoric. For the quiet majority who sent e-mails and notes of support to me and my staff, I say thank you. I want to assure you that I remain totally committed to overcoming this adversity and staying the course. Let me put a rumor to rest. The paper is absolutely not for sale.

Some newsroom staff have indicated that they wish to be represented by the Teamsters Union. The National Labor Relations Board has rules and procedures under which a collective bargaining unit can be established and employees can express their uncoerced views, including a secret ballot election. While I don't believe that union representation is in the best interests of our employees, the paper or this community, I respect our employee's rights to make their own decisions. Our staff members understand they are free to publicly discuss unionization issues and I expect there will be a full and open debate regarding the attempts by the Teamsters to unionize our paper. Meanwhile, we are taking the necessary steps to ensure the paper is published every day as usual, thanks to our dedicated and hard-working staff.

Let me take a moment to clear the air about the cease and desist letters that were sent out by the paper. One letter went to three former employees and the other to the Santa Barbara Independent. The letter to the employees was based on the company's confidentiality policy, something almost all organizations have in place. That policy clearly states that proprietary and confidential information concerning the internal operations of the paper and internal matters may not be disclosed to our competitors or publicly, even after resigning. All employees are aware of this policy and have respected it to our knowledge, with the exception of those who resigned. In the case of the Independent, there was no question that they published material that belonged to the News-Press without permission in direct violation of copyright law. When we raised this, their attorneys quickly agreed to remove all News-Press copyrighted material.

Our staff members understand they are free to publicly discuss unionization issues. There was no attempt to gag or otherwise hinder free speech. I would not permit such a thing.

One of the basic tenets of good reporting is that there are always two sides to every story. Up to now, most of you have only heard the attacks being hurled at the News-Press by those with other agendas besides journalism. That's over now. I will stand up for this paper, my employees and our community whenever and wherever it is needed. A new chapter in this paper's history is unfolding. I invite you to join me in making a difference in our community - instead of forming the great divide which makes for good tabloid coverage but benefits no one.

I would like to personally thank all of our loyal advertisers and readers for staying with us through this difficult time. I am gratified that in July, our new subscriptions exceeded cancellations, resulting in a net subscription increase of 406. While the vocal minority has tried to make a lot of noise, the quiet majority are showing their support.

Many years ago I accepted the fact that the difficult decisions I must make as owner and co-publisher do not make me popular. I am not running a popularity contest. I am running a newspaper. I will always do what I think is best for the News-Press and our community.


Wendy McCaw


Blogger passing-by said...

Hmmm... let's see, how many think Wendy actually wrote even one word of this drivel? Raise your hands.

7/25/2006 2:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All I have to say is what a joke!

7/25/2006 3:03 PM  
Anonymous John Paul said...

She very well could actually have a good point. Since the only other point of view is offered by the Indepenedent. Perhaps she could back it up with a fact or two though.

7/25/2006 3:22 PM  
Anonymous dd said...

Would've been much better for NP if she had said this sooner.

I think most of the public is growing rather weary of the story, and that's too bad. dd

7/25/2006 4:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ms. (or Mrs.??) McCaw tries her best to sound like the savior of free speech and civility. Read Michael Seabaugh's Healthspan column today in the News Press for a good commentary on how to navigate these treacherous waters. If you don't read the News Press anymore, you can access it on his website:

7/25/2006 4:15 PM  
Anonymous Teresa said...

Just can't take her pleas seriously. What policy and standards violations caused the "conflict" that led to nine resignations? What does that have to do with pulling a DUI story on Armstrong, ordering changes to a story about a Carp council person, and reprimanding those who published an address (700 Picacho Lane) that was already made public?

As Nick Welsh explains it, the Indy did NOT publish the "material" in question, they provided a LINK to Hadley's SBNP article that never got published. Also, is Travis being removed as editor? She says they are hiring a new editor. Is this to replace him?

7/25/2006 7:09 PM  
Blogger john san roque said...

Those of you who have read Blogabarbara for a while now know that I have had problems with the News-Press for over a year, and I have described those issues in my postings. McCaw's letter yesterday had a contact point at the end (Huff Communications Group), so I briefly summarized my history with the NP and sent them on to Huff.

It's clear that McCaw and Armstrong have no intention of dealing with these issues openly. Their letters to the readers do not address real issues. It seems the corporate response is merely to ignore the nearly-universal community antagonism and pretend that some made-up disagreements and recent misunderstandings are the source of this misguided response from the NP staff and the community. Ignore reality; push the big lie.

Here's what I wrote back to Huff in an attempt to supply some context:

To Huff Communications Group:

Over the past year or so, I have written to the News-Press to express my displeasure with the way it edited and then printed two letters-to-the-editor I submitted. The editing removed points I made which were critical of News-Press stances on two issues. Printing my letters changed part of the meaning of my writing. Despite my written complaints to Armstrong and the ownership of the News-Press, I received no reply. I have also written to the News-Press to express my belief that the paper did not separate the editorial stance from the news coverage. I wrote this to Jerry Roberts almost one year ago, citing several examples. He did write back, denying that my examples were valid. Finally I have observed many, many times the skewing of community input by selective printing of letters-to-the-editor, the childish attempts at destruction of local politicians on the editorial page, and the use of editorials for repetitious personal and vindictive attacks without even the pretense of objective journalism or fair play.

All of this preceded any of the current community outpouring of emotion against similar offenses which have become so blatant that the community at large has been forced to respond in an attempt to save the integrity of its local paper. It is not possible for me to accept contorted explanations such at the letter today by Ms. McCaw or previous (and changing) attempts by McCaw and Armstrong to publicize their own unique view of the facts. Since I know from personal experience that the News-Press has distorted the sense of my own letters-to-the-editor and selectively printed information to make its point, I have no reason to believe the latest round of explanations and rationalizations coming now from News-Press management or its representatives.

This recent flap is not merely a spontaneous outpouring of community sentiment against violations of basic principles of journalism. It is the dam finally bursting after many, many months of a community paper hijacked to push an agenda without respect for fairness and journalistic integrity.

By the way, will this be counted as another letter in support of the News-Press from one of the quiet majority McCaw cited?

7/26/2006 8:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think she is playing any games, I think she really believes she is on the side of right, and no-one tells her she has no clothes on, so to speak.

The best solution is to do what Tom Storke did... he made the Daily News a more effective business than the older competitor (the Morning Press) and when the hard times of 1932 came bought the failing Press, merged it, and so we now have the News-Press.

The opportunity now is in some ways similar to 1932... a huge change is in the air. Visionary investors could start a whole new thing, unburdened by the past (perhaps unburdened by a paper edition). And there are at least 9 superb journalists available for hire right now.

7/26/2006 9:11 AM  
Blogger Bill Carson said...

JSR: I disagree. McCaw and Armstrong ARE addressing the real issues. It is the small, vocal minority who are not. There is NOT "nearly-universal community antagonism" about this issue. De La Guerra was filled with a few hundred activists (out of nearly 200,000 south coast residents). The speakers were a mix of ineffective politicians and pro-development activists, all on the same political "team". They're not upset about free speech...they're upset that the News-Press is exposing them for their hypocrisy.

Your claims against the News-Press and your letter to the Huff Group are vague and completely without detail. How can anyone believe what you say when you don't give concrete examples? You even point out that Jerry Roberts (the guy that quit) disagreed with your claims.

7/26/2006 9:27 AM  
Anonymous long time NP subscriber said...

Let's hope that 9:11 is on to something. After reading McCaw's carefully written in-your-face apologia, I don't think there are going to be any changes.

Agreed, I don't think she is playing any games and, even if there were someone capable of telling her true facts, I don't think she'd hear or even listen. She looks into her own Dorian Gray-mirror and sees what she wants to see. In Jerry Roberts, they had an "editor who is a strong journalist with impeccable credentials; in the editorial staff, they did also.

The difficulty is knowing what is true. For instance, John San Roque said that several of his letters to the ed. were edited
so as to remove the criticism he made, yet he doesn't say what those points were so, so if one doesn't know who he is and what he said (and I don't) how can one tell what's so or not!

Is McCaw telling the truth that the editors inserted personal opinions - or are the editors correct that the "management" did so --- both by careful editing? How is an ordinary reader ever to know?

Another for instance: have there been approximately 1,300 new subscriptions to the paper to make the net gain of more than 400? (approx. 2% cancelled or 825, more than 400 added)? How can one tell what is truth, what is not-truth? Saying one's telling the truth does not make it so.

For the sake of this city, this community, I truly hope that someone starts up a new paper. The News-Press credibility, including that of the remaining reporters, is impossibly damaged, at least under the present management for a long long time.

I have liked this paper, thought it was greatly improved with the McCaw ownership and Roberts editing and am more than saddened. A blog, sorry, Sara, is not the same.

7/26/2006 9:39 AM  
Blogger Sara De la Guerra said...

A blog isn't the same and I would never pretend to be a journalist -- we need a daily newspaper we can trust and I am glad our community has been having this conversation and glad that the Daily Sound and The Independent are alternatives.

7/26/2006 9:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wendy McCaw says in her "setting the record straight" letter:

"I will stand up for this paper, my employees and our community whenever and wherever it is needed."

Thank you for that promise, Wendy. Now let the world see whether you, personally, will honor it.

"Whenever and wherever." Thank you.

Your employees and paper need you TONIGHT to stand up for them at the journalism ethics forum. They need you badly, as does the community.

It is also a historic chance for you to describe to everyone your vision for what you call the newspaper's "new chapter." If you have a vision.

No filters. No out-of-town lawyers. No distortion. No out-of-town PR "crisis" experts.

Just Wendy.

A historic opportunity for you to "set the record straight".

Just honest and open communication by you on behalf of your paper, employees and community.

A chance to show what every other publisher over the past century would have shown.

Some guts.

Will you be there?

Actions speak louder than words, Mrs. McCaw. Whether your published words today about "setting the record straight" mean anything will be shown by "wherever" you are tonight.

7/26/2006 9:50 AM  
Blogger john san roque said...

A few brief points to Bill Carson:

1. I was at the rally. There were a lot more than a few hundred, and they were in no way all "activists". These were people concerned about having a credible newspaper. Your point about 200,000 south coast residents is really funny. If 10,000 people showed up and overran DLG plaza, would you say that only 5% of the area residents have a problem with the News-Press?

2. They are not addressing the real issues. Do you believe this is about reporters and editors against more local news coverage? Do you think those guys (and woman) gave up their livelihood, and then all decided to lie that it was about meddling by Armstrong and McCaw?

3. I didn't want to repeat examples I have given before, and the point of my letter to Huff was to say that I (and others) have seen these issues as ongoing problems--not merely something that arose because of the DUI or Lowe's address. You can disregard what I wrote and there would be many others who have complained over the past year about the editing and skewing of letters. Did we complain last year in the hopes that there would be a community rebellion in July, 2006 when we could cite our made-up letters that complained about the same things forced employees to resign?

I realize that none of this will convince you of anything. But I think you are holding on to your viewpoint by attempting to discredit many sources of information and people who have no reason to lie or exaggerate. And you need to stop pushing the stuff about "pro-development" hypocrites being behind this. I could tell you that I'm not, but why waste time for both of us?

7/26/2006 10:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

word from the montecito dinner party circuit is the incredibly bad decisions by wendy are the invisible handiwork of the nipper. travis takes the hits and the nipper hides behind wnedy's skirts.

even the friendly to nipper montecito journal damns him with faint praise in this weeks letter to readers by a fellow publisher: "Much has been made of the recently-elevated-to-co-publisher Mr. von Wiesenberger’s inexperience, and certainly there’s truth to it, but people should remember that he has written books, produced a lively and informative Santa Barbara website (, co-hosted a syndicated radio show (“Travels with Arthur & Barney”), and is an acknowledged expert on food, wine, water, and who knows what else. Those are not the credentials of a bona fide publisher, perhaps, but his résumé does bespeak of accomplishment."

the mj unfortunately left out nip's experience in editing his high school newspaper in switzerland. also forgot to mention nailing down support from rich blondEs.

why let nick welsh and vanity faire have all of the fun. what does anyone remember about our new expert in newspaper publishing (along with food, wine, and water) during the good ole nipper's nightclub daze??

7/27/2006 12:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From Google News...this in today's Forebes business mag, read widely im sure by wendy's set,

Brady On Media

'Front Page' Revisited
James Brady, 07.27.06, 6:00 AM ET

There hasn't been a screwball comedy this sweet about the newspaper biz since Hecht & MacArthur first staged "The Front Page." And this one is set not in big cities but in a lovely seaside town in California.

If you've never seen Santa Barbara, you're missing something--nice, vaguely Spanish architecture sloping down to the golden Pacific beaches from green uplands, splendid homes, a charming downtown, tall palms and rich evergreens. It seems to have everything: the hot sun, cool breeze, verdant growth and--until about yesterday--one of the best small daily papers in the country, the News-Press, with one Pulitzer and a collection of California general excellence awards.

There's even Fred C. Dobbs, one of my favorite watering places (I hope it's still there), named for Humphrey Bogart's sour, grasping and memorable character in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. But at Santa Barbara's very good local paper, the amateurs have taken over, and the children are running the sandbox.

Maybe you've been following the story in Editor & Publisher or from Sharon Waxman's dandy reporting in The New York Times--which, coincidentally, used to own the News-Press until selling it to the current management in 2000 for a reported $100 million.

The new owner is a sleek, attractive blonde named Wendy McCaw, whose fortune derives from a divorce settlement with cellphone mogul Craig McCaw.

With all that dough, Wendy thought it might be fun to be a publisher. Just think of all the good she could do on behalf of her various causes (vegetarianism and the wild pigs of the Channel Islands being among her special concerns). She hired a San Francisco newspaper pro, Jerry Roberts from the Chronicle, and installed him as executive editor with a mandate to improve the paper.

Things went smoothly at first. Wendy continued to travel to Europe; she dropped by the city room from time to time; she even read the newspaper "occasionally," Waxman reported.

Then Wendy started to throw around her owner's weight, pushing pet stories--one about a lawsuit she won against a local architect. More deliciously, she played up the restaurant reviews of her boyfriend (now fiancé), critic Arthur von Wiesenberger, giving his stuff "prominent placement."

By that point, she and Roberts had stopped speaking, communicating through Wiesenberger, whom she eventually promoted to share the masthead with her as "co-publisher." Publisher Joe Cole quit, and Wendy made one Travis Armstrong her deputy, along with a plethora of other titles.

The real jollity began when the News-Press published the home address of movie star Rob Lowe. Lowe screeched "invasion of privacy," and instead of backing her newsroom, Wendy sided with Lowe and reprimanded the reporter and several editors.

This spring, Travis Armstrong was arrested for alleged drunk driving, and a brief appeared on page 3. Armstrong cried foul and accused Roberts of running a vendetta. No such thing, said Roberts: Armstrong was a public figure, a person of standing in the community, and the arrest was news. When Armstrong was sentenced, a story was written, but on orders from the top, it was killed.

Roberts and five editors resigned in protest; so did a columnist who'd been writing for the paper for 46 years, and other resignations were said to be coming.

Wendy struck back. In a front-page publisher's note, illustrated by a nifty photo of her smiling graciously--and looking very toothsome indeed--she attacked her own staff and accused "disgruntled ex-employees" of misconduct.

Then, in the best of traditions, she retained a "crisis specialist in public relations." Armstrong insisted to Waxman that everything had been done "within [a] publisher's privilege."

Santa Barbara mayor Marty Blum said she was concerned, and she disclosed that local investors were considering the prospect of starting up an alternative daily. Townspeople chanted "Shame!" and employees paraded through town in mourning clothes, most with duct tape sealing their mouths, a symbolic protest against a company gag order. Columnist Barney Brantingham addressed the gathering, wept publicly and declared, "I love that paper."

On Tuesday of this week, Wendy (or her crisis specialist?) issued an editorial-page denial that this was a "freedom of the press issue." Instead, she said, it involved "personal attacks and outright lies." She also claimed circulation was increasing. On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times got into the act, reporting Wendy's counterattack and the latest staff riposte.

There hasn't been so much fun since W.R. Hearst launched the Spanish-American war for his yellow tabloids.

What are we to make of all this? First, amateurs--no matter how rich, blonde or well-intentioned--may dictate editorials, but they shouldn't edit good newspapers. Second, the latest career advice for the ambitious, wishing one day to become publisher: write good restaurant reviews. Third, didn't Rob Lowe some time back abdicate his rights of privacy? Fourth, I guess Joe Liebling was right when he wrote years ago that freedom of the press belongs to the man (or woman) who owns one.

7/27/2006 12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

live, from new york city, and 'editor and publisher', the story that won't die.

'Santa Barbara News-Press' Employees Launch Cancellation Campaign

By Joe Strupp

Published: July 27, 2006 6:15 PM ET

NEW YORK Newsroom employees of the Santa Barbara News-Press who are seeking union representation in the wake of the recent editor resignations have launched a campaign asking subscribers to cancel their subscriptions if the union is not recognized.

The cancellation campaign is being waged by the same group of editorial employees who have asked to be represented by the Graphic Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The group began handing out postcards last weekend to local readers that ask the paper to cancel their subscription if the union is not recognized and a contract is not negotiated.

"We have handed out probably 8,000 postcards," said Melinda Burns, a 20-year staff writer and one of the campaign's leaders. "Some people have just signed them on the spot. We don't know how many we have gotten, but it is hundreds, we are hoping to get thousands."

Organizers are asking subscribers to fill out the cards and send them to the would-be union group. Burns said they plan to collect as many of the cancellation cards as possible by Sept. 5, then turn them in to the newspaper.

Each card states that the person filling it out supports the "Santa Barbara News-Press newsroom staff in its effort to restore journalistic integrity to the paper, obtain union recognition and negotiate a fair employment contract. Cancel my subscription on Sept. 5, 2006 if the employees' demands have not been met to their satisfaction."

The postcard image also is available on a Web site the group has created.

Hundreds of subscribers have cancelled subscriptions since the mass resignation of editors that began July 6, newspaper executives have said. Those quitting included former editor Jerry Roberts, five lower editors, and a longtime columnist and investigative reporter. The resignations were in response to accusations of meddling by owner Wendy McCaw and publisher Travis Armstrong, and have received national interest.

McCaw has since denied the complaints of meddling and stated that some staffers left over a difference in news judgment. She also has said that bias had crept into some reporting.

The GCC wing of the Teamsters, which also represents editorial employees at Newsday in Melville, N.Y., has not received any response from the News-Press indicating it plans to recognize the union, Burns said. That, she said, has prompted the cancellation campaign.

"I don't know whether we have a goal," Burns said about the number of cancellations sought. "I think the advertisers might be interested if we have a lot of cards."

Joe Strupp ( is a senior editor at E&P.

7/27/2006 4:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

here is the best response to wendy "setting the record straight" Roberts' opening remarks at the forum last night, published by the indy on its website:

The Truth Business
By Indy Staff, July 27, 2006

A newspaper’s credibility is the measure of trust that its customers place in what they read every day.

By Jerry Roberts
A former publisher of mine at the San Francisco Chronicle once defined working for a newspaper this way:

"We're in the truth business," he said.

In five words, the publisher summed up, not only the public interest, journalistic mission of a newspaper, but also a key element of the financial side.

This statement, keep in mind, came not from some dewy-eyed reporter in the newsroom - but from a gimlet-eyed business executive, a bottom-line guy whose job was to maximize profit.

What he was saying is that the single most important asset of any newspaper is its credibility.

A newspaper’s credibility is the measure of trust that its customers place in what they read every day.

Readers rightfully expect their news to be as true, accurate, fair, balanced, complete, unbiased, and without fear or favor for special interests as is possible in a deadline-driven business.

This credibility is important, both to readers and to advertisers, who place ads in the paper, not only for its audience and its distribution system, but also for the benefit of implied trust that derives from credibility.

But if credibility is the key to success, how do newspapers achieve it? What are the criteria and the means for attaining credibility?


Simply put, credibility derives from ethical newsgathering and reporting practices.

Fortunately for journalists, we don’t have to guess about what those are. The ethics of journalism are written down and plainly stated by the Society of Professional Journalists, in its Code of Ethics.

This code, which I encourage you all to read for yourself at, is used by many newspapers across America as the framework for ethical practices.

And it's a big reason why newspapers are different than any other manufactured product. Cereal makers have to follow health and safety codes - but there’s no ethical test for Cheerios.

The code has been a guiding light for the news business since 1926, and has been revised four times since then, most recently in September 1996.

During my tenure at the News-Press, we referred to it frequently, in helping us to clarify and to make the kinds of difficult decisions that often confront editors. We gave copies to staff members, and to our interns, and from time to time we had discussions and brown bags and notes from the editors referring to it, particularly when knotty ethical problems presented themselves.

Day to day, it served as a road map for the practice of ethical journalism, in deciding such issues as the use of anonymous sources; the relevance of a person's race or ethnicity to a story; or whether or when to publish names or images of juveniles in news stories.

There has been considerable reporting, discussion and debate about ethics at the Santa Barbara News-Press in the past several weeks.

It is surprising, however, that few of the many stories referred to the Code of Ethics in examining and analyzing the issues that brought us here tonight.

I was invited here to speak about journalistic ethics, and in doing so, I want to talk in some detail about the SPJ code, and walk you through what I view as the connections between some of its tenets and recent events.

Before doing so, however, I want to make a few, brief personal observations.

First, to me, what has happened to the paper and the people who work, or who used to work there, since July 6 is extraordinarily sad. It is the most heart-breaking experience in journalism in my 32 years in the business.

Second, as some of you may have read, several other journalists and myself have been threatened with lawsuits for speaking publicly about these issues. For this reason, I’m going to address my comments only to upon incidents that have been widely reported on in the public domain, as I have consistently done since leaving the paper.

Finally, I want to say that I loved my job and I loved the paper; I have great admiration and affection for all my colleagues and great respect for their work and for their work ethic.

So I'm not here to attack or to bash the News-Press, or anyone associated with it. And I’m not a spokesman for anyone but myself or any agenda except ethical, quality journalism.

Ethical, quality journalism, as articulated in the SPJ Code of Ethics, is the reason that nine professional journalists, most of them with decades in the business, left the paper within days of each other.

I can tell you that it's not an easy thing for people with kids or mortgages, or both, to go home and tell your family you've done that, and I can assure you nine people didn't choose to do so lightly.

Now the factual incidents underlying this dispute - a drunk driving case, a zoning hearing involving a celebrity and a management shuffle at a local paper - at first glance may seem insignificant. This is especially true at a time when national papers are involved in sweeping First Amendment battles involving war, secrecy and patriotism.

But if the back stories of the News-Press controversy are small-caliber stuff, the journalistic principles underlying it are anything but. I believe this case has generated so much passionate community reaction and attracted national attention because of the fundamental importance of these values.


The SPJ Code of Ethics outlines the principles of professional journalism in clear, simple, plain language that fits on two pages.

The preamble of the code says this: "Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist's credibility. Members of the society share a dedication to ethical behavior and adopt this code to declare the society’s principles and standards of practice."

The code states a few fundamental principles, and a series of specific guidelines that offer pathways for journalists to achieve these aims.

I no longer work at the News-Press because I believed that a series of decisions, with which I disagreed, ran counter to the Code of Ethics in a way that was untenable.

These concerns boil down to three key issues: the church-state divide, double standards and public accountability. Let me touch on each of them in turn, and tell you specifically how they relate to guidelines in the Code of Ethics.


American newspapers operate under a so-called "church-state" structure in which newsgathering and reporting operations function separately and independently from the editorial and opinion pages.

This structure reflects a guideline of the first section of the Code of Ethics that states newspapers should "distinguish between advocacy and news reporting."

This notion circles back to credibility: readers should be able to trust that reporting in the news sections is free from reflecting any bias, slant or agenda, including the editorial page, the section of the paper that rightfully reflects the views of a newspaper’s owner.

When I returned to Santa Barbara from vacation a few weeks ago, I learned, as has been widely reported, that in my absence, the editorial page editor was given authority over the news-gathering operation, with control over the selection, placement, content and editing of news stories.

To me, and to others, this change meant that the line between church and state had not only been crossed but obliterated. It seemed clear that the Code of Ethics guideline to "distinguish between advocacy and news reporting" was being breached.

As a practical matter, what does that mean?

When 150 news organizations around the world, from Hindustan, India, to Jackson, Mississippi, published or broadcast stories on July 7 about the departure of senior editors and the star columnist at the paper, the Santa Barbara News-Press was not among them.

Instead, as first reported by the Los Angeles Times, a news story prepared by a reporter was spiked, as we say in the business. In its place, prominently displayed on the front page, the paper ran an opinion piece from the “acting publisher,” who nevertheless was identified on the masthead as the editorial page editor.

There are two other guidelines of the code that seem relevant to this issue: The first says, a newspaper should "support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant."

The second says a paper should "clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct."

I will leave it to your judgment whether the News-Press met those tests in the days after July 6.


Turning to the issue of accountability, the Code of Ethics calls on journalists to "be accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other."

One of the specific guidelines for doing that says that journalists should, "Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others."

Since my days at the Chronicle when we reported in detail and depth on the controversial sale of our own paper, one thing that has always meant to me is that a newspaper ought to cover itself with the same standards that it uses in covering everyone else.

Among other things, that says to me that there should not be special treatment for public figures who work at the paper that differs from that afforded a public official or any other public figure who does not.

Yet, as reported by the Associated Press on July 6, the News-Press spiked a story about the drunk driving case of perhaps its highest profile executive, although such stories ran in the past about public officials in similar brushes with the law.

I strongly disagreed with that action, because I did not believe that the paper in doing so was abiding by "the same high standards" to which it holds others.


Finally on the issue of double standards, the Code of Ethics says that "journalists should be free of obligations to any interest other than the public’s right to know."

It also says that newspapers should, "deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests, and resist their pressure to influence news coverage."

When News-Press editors decided to publish the address of a lot in Montecito, where a celebrity actor wants to build his "dream house," they were serving the primary interest called for in their ethics code: the public's right to know.

That address was clearly a matter of public record, identified on public documents relating to the project, referred to repeatedly by citizens and public officials throughout a long public hearing, and even broadcast on a television station that covered that hearing.

By contrast, the addresses of properties owned by lesser known people who become involved in development controversies had often been printed by the paper.

But, as the Associated Press reported July 6, when the celebrity actor complained about the paper publishing the address in a news story about the hearing, four journalists involved with the story were punished for doing so, and their professional credentials impugned.

Now the question of whether to print an address may be seen as a trivial matter, a judgment call of little account. But when such decisions, no matter how small, are removed from the newsroom - where the only interest that matters is "the public's right to know" - and placed into the front office, it puts the paper on a slippery slope in defining exactly what other interests should influence news judgments.


So after 32 years in the newspaper business, I felt forced to leave the best job I've ever had because I felt that the clear ethical principles guiding our work and our judgment in the newsroom had been serially compromised, and I couldn't live with that.

Since the day I was suddenly hustled out of the newsroom without a chance to say goodbye to my colleagues of four years, I've been accused in print of a variety of motives for my action.

I've read, variously, that I had a vendetta, that I disagreed with an unspecified new direction of the paper, that I wanted to publish biased news stories, that I had violated journalistic policies and, my favorite, that I didn’t want to cover local news.

Tonight, I am here to tell you that I, and I believe the others, left for one, fundamental reason: journalistic ethics. I invite everyone in this audience to read the news coverage and the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists and decide for yourself.

The News-Press is a great and historic institution that was here long before any of us arrived and that hopefully will be here long after we’re gone.

I have been privileged over the last four years to act as a steward of that institution, and I have tried throughout to protect and to nurture it, both as a private enterprise and as a public trust, first and foremost by strengthening its credibility.

I am grateful for that opportunity of stewardship and I am grateful to this community.

Thank you for your readership, for your support - and your criticism - of the paper during my tenure and, most of all, for caring so deeply about quality journalism.

Thank you very much.

By Indy Staff | July 27, 2006 | 3 Comments | 0 TrackBacks

Comments on “The Truth Business”
These are the remarks Jerry Roberts made during the sold-out forum last night at Victoria Hall.

I once found this Journalism Ethics Code at the web site for San Jose Mercury-News. Maybe that is why the infamous Acting Publisher left the Merc? The archives there make quite interesting reading.

Posted by First District Streetfighter | July 27, 2006 04:47 PM

Well said.

Posted by Chris Cadelago | July 27, 2006 04:49 PM


Posted by Teresa | July 27, 2006 04:53 PM

7/27/2006 6:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If any employees are putting in effort to tell advertisers to leave the newspaper, that's pretty clear cut grounds for dismissal. And I don't think there are many lawyers in the world who would want to go near that. You're purposely jeopardizing the business of a privately owned company, while collecting a paycheck. It's in Wendy's interest to find out who was behaving in this fashion and fire them at her leisure.

7/28/2006 10:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"purposely jeopardizing the business of a privately owned company" ahh..helllloo!!then she's gonna have to fire herself, Travis and Nipper!

7/28/2006 2:56 PM  
Anonymous ..and now for some real news said...

Check out the Indy's just-posted story on WEdnesday's Forum; also includes photos and text of Lou Cannon & Jerry Roberts speeches---

7/28/2006 3:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

co-pub nip. heeeeeeeeessssssssssssss back...

the perennial fiancé published the above "i'm setting the record straight (again)" song from wendy on his foodie website yesterday and adds his own perceptive (not) insights.

posted pretty early, so he’s still aboard the sinking u.s.s. mccaw or just got back locally from a long night out.
and also posted below, starting right after wend’s sign off on her propaganda.

some of his foodie buddies are not amused.

i hope next the nipper responds to roberts and cannons indy pieces on journalistic ethics. in other words, get out from behind the lunch counter, be a man, show leadership, further a serious debate, be an american daily newspaper publisher, instead of driving editors off the job and hiding behinds the skirts of lawyerisms.

with apologies to churchill, never has a publisher been so unsuccessful in so short of time.

not to mention triggering a tsunami of bad publicity, which still has legs.

before the meltdown and perennial vacation, nip was holding court in restaurants (of course) about his ultra visions for the np. those illusions have now deflated like a bad soufflé.

except for waking up next to blondE, he’d be looking for work like the nine journalists.

oh, well, he’s a union man now.

Starting Member

2 Posts Posted - 07/25/2006 : 2:59:06 PM
Wendy's third attempt to explain this fiasco in Tuesday's NP opinion was full of the same BS..who does she think she's kidding...go back and read your own paper and you'll get a clue why you are where you are today, can't buy credibility

Bon Vivant

576 Posts Posted - 07/25/2006 : 7:42:00 PM
I was really so surprised to see this post, that someone else responded first.
I don’t care too much for name calling, unless I'm doing it. Howsoever, Ms McCaw, I ask little. Please address these issues;
What were the transgressions of Staff to which you refer?
Why was there an objection to publishing an address that was already part of the public record?
Did Rob Lowe or "his people" specifically complain about the publication of the address?
Was a report about Travis Armstrong's sentencing suppressed and why?
Was an effort made to retain any of the staffers who resigned?
So many heads rolled. Some good heads. Please address the issues. Thanks.
de gustibus non est disputandum


251 Posts Posted - 07/27/2006 : 01:38:46 AM
SB Bulldog, here are my responses to your questions:
What were the transgressions of Staff to which you refer?
Because of the company’s privacy and confidentiality policy, specific details of internal company matters cannot be discussed publicly, and that includes employee related issues. The paper, like all newsgathering operations, has established editorial policies and employee conduct policies. These policies and guidelines govern news coverage, ethical questions and editorial positions. When those company and employee policies are violated, or when there are internal or legal issues that reflect on someone’s character, then it is the job of the owner/publisher to step in and manage the situation. While some former employees have discussed their side, in respect of company privacy policies, we do not feel it is appropriate to provide further detail as to the specifics of employee issues and as a general rule do not disclose such internal matters. While the employees prior statements clearly permit disclosure by us "fair game" we prefer to stay within the spirit of the confidentiality policies of the company.
Why was there an objection to publishing an address that was already part of the public record?
Irrespective of whether an address was made public by others, our paper’s policy is not to report any information that we feel could potentially compromise the safety of a public figure or possibly endanger their family. By reporting the address of the property in question, the safety of Mr. Lowe and his family was jeopardized. Just because it is available elsewhere does not justify our publishing it. Mr. Lowe contacted the paper and was upset that his address was being reported.
Was a report about Travis Armstrong's sentencing suppressed and why?

No. This is clearly a matter of policy and any misperceptions that have been created need to be cleared up. The paper’s editorial policy is to only report the outcome of a DUI case if there was an injury or death related to the case, or if the defendant is a major public figure. Consistent with this policy, the arrest was reported and the sentencing was not.

Was an effort made to retain any of the staffers who resigned?
No. Once the resignations were submitted, they were accepted.

Starting Member

2 Posts Posted - 07/27/2006 : 07:04:41 AM
Oh BOY..more of the same nonsense..Nipper's making excuses as he goes along! What you should have told Rob Lowe is to go jump in a lake and stuck up for your employee! Instead, you chose to reprimand the employee and fret over Lowe's "safety"! HA..the public planning comm meeting had Rob's lawyers referring to his address about TWENTY TIMES!. and by the way, did Travis pass the drug and alcohol screening that you demand of your hires? Your responses, Nipper, are pretty lame!

Bon Vivant

576 Posts Posted - 07/27/2006 : 07:58:29 AM
I'm sad to note that this sounds like the Bush white House.
No direct answers for "policy" reasons. As the Press, you would never accept it from others.
Am I mistaken, or was Joe Armedariz's sentancing covered? No one was injured.
Just pride and common sense.
I've said this a million times. Humans make mistakes. Humans can make it right. I really respect those who take responsibility. Sure, the NP and its ownership don't take their orders from the public, and, to some degree, it's not a popularity contest.
Self-respect, we all need it. It's missing when we don't show respect to others.
de gustibus non est disputandum

7/28/2006 6:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The cancellation drive, like a strike, is protected union activity. It's the law of the land -- the good 'ol USA. It's a right. And thankfully we have that right in this country.

7/28/2006 8:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, lay off of Arthur von Wiesenberger! His Swiss high school paper, which he edited 35 years ago, had circulation soaring to at least 100, since the school only had a couple of hundred students then.

How can anyone even question Nipper's news judgement in relation to Roberts, who was down to about 500,000 daily at the Chronicle and 41,000 daily at the News-Press?

7/28/2006 9:39 PM  

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