Santa Barbara Politics, Media & Culture

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Mess and News-Press Update 7/12

Barney Brantingham told KEYT News that Nipper is no longer his friend in his interview with PrimeTime Palminteri. is offering news in their daily email "For those of you no longer reading the News-Press".

A rally related to the mess is planned for Tuesday, 7/18 -- see below.

Interesting opinion pice by Dana Parsons in the LA Times about NP workers standing up for their principles. He calls them "journalistic folk heroes".


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Noticed today that in the online edition, the obituaries show up on the editorial page -- irony is great isn't it?

7/12/2006 8:12 AM  
Anonymous ... in the bathwater said...

It's important that even if we cancel our subscriptions, we still remember and support the many staff and reporters who have spent their careers at the N-P, and cannot afford to just walk away.

I've spoken to a few of them and while they are enduring an oppressive climate, their hope and what they're holding out for is that with continued community pressure and outrage, ultimately "things" will change.

So, let's keep the issue, and our outrage, and our absolute insistence on major change, alive until the Wendy decides its not worth it and replaces Travis---or better yet, sells the paper and the paper can then be restored to its once admirable quality.

7/12/2006 8:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dana Parsons is a he, not a "she".

7/12/2006 8:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Travis is on the radio right now presenting again just one side of an issue. I'm counting the um's - 5 mins into it and he is over 100. Give him a call at the station if you'd like to voice another POV at 564-1290.

7/12/2006 10:17 AM  
Anonymous Church/State Separatist said...

Here is a business article today by a very junior reporter for Ventura County Star. The hired flak, Sam Singer (who boasts at his firm web site that he wins awards called "Spin Doctor"), claims to know all about the inner workings and staff mood at News-press safely from his San Francisco office where he is well paid to do more than spin. Here in Santa Barbara we cannot see his nose grow and the lightening strike him.

Santa Barbara News-Press names 4 new editors

By Jenni Mintz,
July 11, 2006

In an effort to restore normalcy to its newsroom after six editors and a columnist resigned last week, the Santa Barbara News-Press has appointed four new editors, the newspaper announced Tuesday.

Staff members who quit cited ongoing disputes over ethics and administration, and left the company's management scrambling to fill four vacancies within a few days, with plans to fill two more positions in the next few weeks.

Three of the four spots were filled in-house, leaving other vacancies within the paper.

Former Nation and World Editor Charles Bucher was appointed assistant managing editor; Scott Steepleton, former senior writer, was named city editor; Tony Peck, formerly an associate editorial page editor, was named interim sports editor.

Brian Banmiller was appointed contributing business editor, and started this week at the News-Press. Until last year, Banmiller was business editor at KTVU Channel 2 News in the San Francisco Bay Area for 16 years.

News-Press spokesman Sam Singer said that despite concern among employees, the newsroom is operating smoothly now, and staffers are "highly respectful of their peers."

Last week, editors walked out and staff members close to tears purportedly directed profane statements to Acting Publisher Travis Armstrong.

"This is a step to taking the newsroom back to business as usual," Singer said. "The paper is on the road to returning to a calm atmosphere."

Though many predicted subscribers and advertisers would withdraw their support, Singer says the News-Press has sustained minimal impact.

"The changes have not had any significant impact on the subscriptions, the readers or the advertising at the News-Press," he said.

He said through the highly publicized upheaval, the News-Press has lost about 100 subscriptions out of its 41,000 circulation, he said.

Singer added the News-Press has not lost any advertising accounts.

Founded in 1855, the News-Press is locally owned by billionaire Wendy McCaw, who purchased it in 2000 through Ampersand Publishing LLC from the New York Times Co.

7/12/2006 12:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From John Stodder's blog

"The Real McCaw"

The soap opera at the Santa Barbara News-Press has been enjoyable reading. I’ve been following it via LA Observed and the LA Times. It’s hard to follow what the News-Press is saying about itself, because all of the relevant content is behind a pay barrier, but according to LA Observed, in the wake of reporters and editors quitting in protest, the News-Press’ spokesman issues anodyne public statements about differences of opinion being respected but sometimes requiring a parting of the ways. Classic spin, in other words, that makes the paper’s owner, Wendy McCaw and her new management look even worse.
The point has been made in many places that this kind of upheaval is what LA Times employees might get if a local plutocrat like Eli Broad, David Geffen or Richard Riordan buys the paper. Members of the journalistic fraternity apparently believed Wendy McCaw’s philanthropic commitments — the environment, animal rights — roughly equated to her agreement with traditional notions of journalistic independence. Thus, at first, her purchase of the News-Press from the New York Times Co. was hailed — just as a Riordan, Broad or Geffen purchase would be hailed here in LA.
It has come as both a shock and a disappointment to reporters in Southern California that McCaw would insert herself into the editorial process so aggressively, and on such eccentric matters like how the word “blonde” should be used. But Wendy McCaw is a human being, not a corporation. Corporations have policies that, for better or for worse, constrain emotions, interposing process between whim and act. Human beings, especially wealthy human beings, don’t have the same filters.
So when actor Rob Lowe called McCaw, allegedly to complain that the coverage of his planning commission fight to build a really big house in Montecito revealed his address, I imagine McCaw thought he had a point. Rich celebrities have special security needs. It’s not an unreasonable request, especially coming from a nice guy like Lowe who also supports the environment. So, henceforth, no more publication of Lowe’s address, no more publication of anyone’s address without her permission, lest another worthy millionaire be made to feel paranoid.
The newspaper’s staff objected, of course, that if you’re covering a planning commission controversy, the address is the point of the story. Zoning rules are address-specific. The main complaints about Lowe’s plans were coming from his neighbor. This was a public proceeding, and Lowe’s address was on all the public documents associated with it. Leaving out the address makes no sense, journalistically. If Lowe wanted to maintain his privacy, he should’ve settled with his neighbor quietly. But since he’s asking the local government to exercise discretion on his behalf, Lowe became fair game. At least, that’s how a typical editor would see things. McCaw disagreed, however, and she rocked some careers in the process — quite unfairly, it is clear.
Likewise with the coverage of her newly appointed publisher’s DUI; McCaw apparently believed one story about it was enough, and didn’t want to see a second. The newsroom took this as censorship. McCaw raised the stakes further by giving this same publisher authority to oversee editorial content. That triggered a series of principled resignations by some of the paper’s most respected editorial staff; and the organization of a pitchfork brigade to stand outside the McCaw castle, demanding a return to journalistic norms.
I was all ready to join this brigade, philosphically, until I got bugged by this comment by SF Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius:
The upshot? McCaw and the News-Press look like small time operators, who think they can turn a public trust into a country club newsletter. Roberts and the editors come across as paragons of journalism, standing up to bad bosses, censorship, and dumb editing. And everyone else around the country gets a good laugh.
Mr. Nevius: McCaw doesn’t just “think” she can turn the News-Press into a country club newsletter. She can. It’s hers. It’s not a “public trust.” A courtroom is a public trust. A national park is a public trust. The principle of press freedom is a public trust. But a newspaper will never be a public trust, not unless the government buys it — and I doubt any self-respecting reporter would want to work for a government-run newspaper, although I could be wrong about that.
Looking back at journalistic history, we’re taught to revere bold individuals like Otis Chandler who took control of news organizations and made them better. The bold individuals who take control of news organizations and make them worse tend to be forgotten, but there were probably more of them. The point is — Wendy McCaw’s got the right to choose what she wants to lose money doing. One person’s laughing stock is another person’s passion.
If Wendy McCaw wants to edit the News-Press herself, she can do that. If she wants to spike every story that makes a friend look bad, she can do that. If she wants to turn the front page over to the Audubon Society, that’s her right. If she wants to run weather reports that say it’s raining when the sun is shining, she can do that. McCaw didn’t use her billions to buy the paper and then turn it over to a foundation to run. That might’ve been a good idea, but she didn’t do that. She put herself in charge.
I believe one reason the media establishment has worked itself into such high dudgeon about the News-Press is, at first, McCaw played the dream date role to the hilt. When McCaw bought the paper, part of the appeal was, “She’s so rich, she won’t care if we lose money.” That’s nirvana to newspaper folk. It means they can hire the best — and the News-Press did that, bringing Jerry Roberts down from the San Francisco Chronicle. It means they can cover more stories. It might even mean they can get paid more. McCaw’s ownership initially provided a vision of salvation for other newspapers with hellhounds on their trails. Now, Wendy McCaw is being seen as a cautionary tale for those who pray for a wealthy knight to salvage the LA Times, the San Jose Mercury News or other important publications from the grip of cost-cutters.
So much of the coverage of News-Press turmoil is journalist-centric. Reporters are covering the story from the standpoint of what it would like to be a reporter employed by Wendy McCaw. But reporters aren’t the only stakeholders here. For readers — in Santa Barbara and elsewhere — this might be an opportunity. With falling circulation an almost universal condition for newspapers, many see the classic newspaper format fading into history. Maybe now that Wendy McCaw has dispelled any illusions that she’s planning on running a museum-quality publication, someone will talk her into doing something completely new and different.
Start with her environmentalism. There is so much significant environmental news that never gets covered in the mainstream press; news that, to my mind, transcends the stale dichotomies, business vs. nature, that inform most environmental stories. (If you read this blog regularly, you know I’m drawn to gee-whiz stories about how environmental imperatives might make the future more interesting. Kite-powered freighters anyone?)
If Wendy McCaw wanted to turn her newspaper brand (including its online version) into the world’s leading destination for the coverage of environmental issues, with an editorial policy that aggressively reflected her point of view, she’d have that niche almost to herself. “Santa Barbara” is the perfect name to associate with such a publication, given the historic significance of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill in galvanizing changes in environmental policies worldwide.
Another way to go would be to launch a laboratory for Citizen Journalism. That city must have the highest percentage of under-utilized intelligence of any city in America, with so many early retirees and their spouses and kids hanging out in ranchettes and seaside palaces, cashing their dividend checks instead of doing what made them rich in the first place. There must be at least a few such persons who would be fit the profile of the Citizen Journalist; talented writers who care enough about their communities to monitor local goverment and other institutions, and blog about what they learn. Another source of good minds with not enough to do is UCSB. The News-Press could give new writers an on-line home.
If there’s a market for the kind of coverage of Santa Barbara that the News-Press traditionally provided, it will be filled; either by the Santa Barbara Independent, or by a new venture. Or perhaps by the News-Press itself. Despite the personnel moves, has anyone noted a diminution of the newspaper’s quality since the uproar? I don’t read it, so I don’t know.
Anyway, this is Wendy McCaw’s moment in the spotlight. I hope she does something interesting with it. She might or might not have a master plan, but she’ll have time to develop one. After all, it’s her baby now, and she can do just what she wants with it.

*Apologies to Graham Parker. Also, edited 7/9 p.m.
(UPDATE 7/11. Life goes on for the News-Press, apparently.)

This entry was posted on Sunday, July 9th, 2006 at 3:25 pm and is filed under News Media, Southern California, Ethics in Journalism, Media & Journalism, Citizen Journalism, Creative Destruction. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

7/12/2006 3:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Blogabarbara gets a shout out.
Good to know a college newspaper beat the News-Press to writing a story about its own mess.

7/12/2006 4:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From the American Journalism Review---

From AJR, September 2000 issue
Truly Local
The Santa Barbara News-Press breaks loose from its 15-year owner, the New York Times Co., and moves into the hands of a local billionaire.

By Lori Silverstein
Lori Silverstein is a former AJR editorial assistant.

Not everyone is following the latest trends these days, especially the 145-year-old Santa Barbara News-Press. While mega-media companies consolidate and grab a tight hold of daily papers, the News-Press breaks loose from its 15-year owner, the New York Times Co., and moves into the hands of local billionaire Wendy McCaw.
"It's exciting," says Publisher Allen Parsons. "We're getting in our own ship and sailing out there."
Deciding to focus more on its larger, faster-growing papers, the New York Times Co. put the 45,300-circulation paper up for sale. And McCaw, 48, the owner of a private investment company, Ampersand Holdings, purchased the paper, outbidding newspaper companies like Copley and MediaNews. McCaw reportedly paid about $100 million, and the sale is expected to close this month.
"I was concerned that, if a national chain were to purchase the News-Press, Santa Barbara might not have a truly local paper in my lifetime," McCaw wrote in an e-mail to AJR.
David M. Cole, editor and publisher of the newsletter News Inc., says having someone in the community own the News-Press rather than an "absentee owner" could really benefit the paper. "No one can sit in a community for two years and say they know it," Cole says. "All newspaper groups do it. Having someone live in the community is refreshing, if nothing else."
News-Press columnist Barney Brantingham, who's been with the paper since 1960, says he's seen owners of all types, including T.M. Stroke, who owned the paper until 1964 and whom he calls "the last true local owner."
"The New York Times brought professionalism, and that was good," Brantingham says. "This is a move ahead from the corporate structure of distant owners. She cares; that's the big word. She's got this local passion."
(The News-Press is not the only nonconformist. In Maryland, the Delaplaine family keeps alive the state's last wholly family-owned daily, the Frederick News-Post, by selling it to General Manager George E. Randall and his family.)
Parsons looks forward to plenty of new opportunities. "The New York Times has been hugely magnificent to this paper," he says. "But in a corporate structure there are more rules."
However, Parsons acknowledges, the paper faces new obstacles, such as increased expenses for newsprint.
For the new owner, the move into newspapers is idealistic. "I know it is unusual," McCaw says, "but I am hopeful that this will start a new trend where local citizens invest in their hometown newspapers and make them truly local again."

7/12/2006 5:56 PM  
Blogger Sara De la Guerra said...

4:50 pm -- thanks for the tip. That article actually was better than some of the coverage we've seen....good for the Nexus.

7/12/2006 6:06 PM  
Blogger snugspout said...

That Nexus article is better than the NY Times or LA Times articles... only thing comparable was Nick Welsh's APB last week. Of course tomorrow's Indy will be filled with info.

Overall, the Nexus has been pretty darned good... its main problem is when it goes bad, it goes very bad, usually due to inexperience of its reporters. But it is the true legacy of TMS.

7/12/2006 9:49 PM  
Anonymous SBR said...

Oh, Sara,
That's a good one.

7/12/2006 9:56 PM  
Anonymous First District Streetfighter said...

So I was perusing the Newspress web site at about 5:30am this predawn morning (July 13), and found this headline for a Law and Order story:
"Local services set for slain UCSB student Services set Services slated for UCSB student slain in Los Angeles
July 13, 2006 12:00 AM"

This preponderance of duplicative phrases in the Headline seems like an artifact of someone working too fast on too tight a deadline. I have seen that before when the new material pops up shortly after midnight at their web site. Once, the piece there shortly after midnight included a reference to the writer's home phone number. But by the time I visit the web site about 8 hours later, such production errors are fixed at the web site, and the copy is fixed up.

THEN, predawn at the web site today, I read the "Note to Readers" attributed to The Wendy, the newspaper owner, as author. That, uh, editorial, I suppose, also looked like it was subject to late-deadline production errors. The headline was okay, but the text, at the web site version, included these strange bits about the 6 top editors who resigned in the Editorial Bloodbath a week ago:

"This requires journalists and editors to separate their personal feelings from their professional news judgment. Otherwise, the reader is ill served and journalistic integrity is lost.

"When news articles became opinion pieces, reporting went unchecked and the paper was used as a personal arena to air petty infighting by the editors, these goals were not met.

"Some of the people who lost sight of these goals and appeared to use the News-Press for their own agendas decided to leave when it was clear they no longer would be permitted to flavor the news with their personal opinions.

"Some disgruntled employees and their allies (commercial and political) are now sniping at this paper and spreading agenda driven misinformation to other media.

"My commitment to you is that this community will have a newspaper that is of the highest caliber with unbiased reporting and strong local focus."

I was thinking that surely a fast production error really twisted the writing and the actual intent was to refer to the current Publisher as the subject of those statements. Must be, no?

So, when I find my print-edition out on the lawn this morning at 6:30am, those production errors I read at the web site naturally be fixed in the final printed version. Right? NO WAY those statments attributed to The Wendy really are not production errors and instead are what the News-Press intended to print and publish in final form. Right? The text (extensively quoted above) must be an error or a junior copyreader's attempt at a joke. Right?

7/13/2006 6:18 AM  
Anonymous Indio Muerto said...

THE GREAT AND POWERFUL BLONDE HAS SPOKEN. The Suppress has a new "Note to Our Readers" today (7/13) in which she refers to anyone who has left the paper as "Disgruntled ex-employees." It doesn't seem like she is reading the tea leaves too well here. The melt-down continues.......

7/13/2006 6:40 AM  
Blogger Dominatrikes said...

Black is white. Red is green. Stop is go. Did you read today's note to readers?

I kept my subscription so that I could see what happened after the fallout. I'm finding today's note and the letters to the editor a bit hard to swallow. Especially the letter they chose to print that said that PBS and the BBC provide timely news but the News-Press is where they go for in depth coverage. Huh?

7/13/2006 7:02 AM  
Anonymous voice of reason said...

I posted this on another thread, but people have moved on. I think it's an important point and needs to be said again:

I had relatives visiting from red-state Florida today. When I told them about the rally being planned against the News Press, they wanted to know why the community is more worried about a local independent newspaper, moreso than the national media monopolies. Is Wendy pumping pro-war rhetoric at us like Fox? Hardly.

The anti-NewsPress people keep whining about her agenda. They point to Travis as the delivery man. But what is this agenda? No one here has been able to say. Not even blogleader Sara can articulate what the feared agenda is. Travis is pro slow-growth and public input, and he's an animal rights defender. And he's not too fond of our Mayor. Those opinions have been expressed on the editorial pages where it is appropriate to do so. Are anti-NP's telling me that having him run the newsroom is supposed to be scary?

Wake up, there are some serious problems going on in the world that need your activism. Animal lovers running the local newspapers is not one of them.

7/13/2006 8:22 AM  
Blogger coutyofblahblahblah said...

Excuse me, Miss or Ms. or Mr. Voice of Reason, but maybe people moved on from that post for a reason. What's going on in one's own community is important.

7/13/2006 9:56 AM  
Anonymous BONES said...

voice..Wendy's owned the paper for 6 years..if you haven't seen the agenda or the cracks in the shiny coating, then you are obviously IN DENIAL or blinded by the gold dust like alot of Wendy's groupies.Go back to sleep...

7/13/2006 10:04 AM  
Blogger john san roque said...

Sorry--sentr this to the wrong thread earlier:

TO Voice of Reason:

Maybe no one picked up on your previous posting because you're missing the point--actually, several points.

1. We're not anti-News-Press. We're pro News-Press. We want a good and credible local newspaper.

2. The issue is not the McCaw or Armstrong "agenda". The agenda in this recent crisis is simply honest reporting. I actually agree with a good part of the "agenda" of the current NP people: pro-environment, animal rights, anti-war, etc.

3. To illustrate point #2 above, the only two mentions of the current problem in the NP have been "open letters" by Armstrong and McCaw. There have been zero news articles because a news story would have too much truth in it, even after Armstrong got finished polishing it up for publication. (There are also a few really hilarious letters to the editor today which completely contradict any point of view I've heard expressed.)

Here's a simple question: if you can't believe what the News-Press has written about the reason the editors and reporter resigned, what basis would you have for believing any other news article or open letter or editorial?

Isn't that the issue?

7/13/2006 10:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our community newspaper has had some inter-office squabbling and changes are being made. the larger scheme of things, Israel is busy launching World War III.

7/13/2006 11:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bone ...

I don't read the News Press. Instead of just stating that it is obvious, could you fill me in on what McCaw's agenda is? And, what is her motivation to do the things she does? Could it be that she is not evil, just inept? Geez, just look at her choice in boyfriends. The woman obviously makes bad choices.

7/13/2006 11:02 AM  
Anonymous BONES said...

don't be lazy 11:02! Do your own goodness. i'll give you a hint, tho..ANTI-WORKING CLASS, ANTI-UNION, ANTI-GOV'T, PRO-PETTINESS, PRO-CENSORSHIP, ANTI- CRITICISM..she does not take criticism well at all, HYPOCRISY: they used to have an employee anti-drug policy, but I can't find it since Travis got busted. She uses her paper to attack and then hides behind her resources for protection. I never said she was evil, but she is nuttier than a bag of squirrels! SEE YA'LL TUESDAY!!

7/13/2006 11:52 AM  
Anonymous voice of reason said...

To John San Roque,

Thanks for response. I don't really find it surprising that any periodical would choose not to report on its own internal problems.

JSR's question:
Here's a simple question: if you can't believe what the News-Press has written about the reason the editors and reporter resigned, what basis would you have for believing any other news article or open letter or editorial?

My answer:
I don't see that either side has said much. They both accuse the other of trying to insert their own opinions where they don't belong. I saw the KEYT interview with Brantingham. Then KEYT anchor introduces the piece by saying that Brantingham "didn't mince words" -- so I listened intently, but didn't get one bit of information out of Brantingham about what was done to him that was so offensive. He looked pretty disgruntled to me, but he did not give anyone a reason to understand why. McCaw's statement leaves out details as well, but lines up with Brantingham's claims that there was too much head-butting going on. Wendy owns the paper, so guess who gets to stay while the others move on?

But, once again, my Florida friends made a good point. If you are this fired up about the thought of filtered news, consider what can be done to straighten up our national news reporting. War is raging in the Middle East, and the American government is deeply involved. Meanwhile, Amercians are getting filtered news that numbs their awareness of the severity of what's happening in the rest of the world. NP changing staff is nothing compared to wool being pulled over our eyes by mainstream media.

7/13/2006 1:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Travis must be behind this Israel thing. I heard that somewhere near 50% of the entire Middle East is women. That must be infuriating to Travis and his anti-uterus campaign. I also heard Travis is setting up catapults in the De La Guerra Plaza, and he's going to use the protestors as ammo. As super-hyper-critical-workforce progressives rain down on Gaza, collateral blamage will no doubt occur.

7/13/2006 2:51 PM  
Blogger coutyofblahblahblah said...

Anonymous said...

"I also heard Travis is setting up catapults in the De La Guerra Plaza, and he's going to use the protestors as ammo."

Does that mean we should all dress up in our King Arthur gear and clop around with our coconuts outside of DLGP? Maybe we could put together a "Trojan Bunny or Kitty-Cat", and when Wendy "blah blah blah" McCaw (being the animal lover that she claims to be)takes pitty upon this poor lost, giant paper-mache bunny, she'll take us in to the NP Castle. Just don't forget to hide inside the bunny.

7/14/2006 8:54 AM  

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