Santa Barbara Politics, Media & Culture

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Page Views This Week for BlogaBarbara

I want to give Travis, Wendy, Nipper and Sam an idea about how important the News-Press Mess issue is to our community. This past week, BlogaBarbara has received over 3,400 visits and over 7,000 page views on this topic alone. Typically we were running at about a 1,000 visits a week prior to the walk out. Triple the visits is a major jump.

To our consistent readers, I want to thank you all for your support, your comments (even if I don't agree with them) and most of all your participation as your time and attention is important -- especially in this day and age. I don't take that lightly and hope you will will continue to help me keep this blog going with poignant comments and as-civil-as-you-can dialogue. To our new readers, I hope you put us in your Bloglines or other tool you might use to keep track of what goes on in this community.

Feel free to write a post for me to publish with salient news to


Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the words of Jello Biafra, "Don't HATE the media, BECOME the media!"

Sara, you have become. Well done.

7/15/2006 11:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But it looks like Travis is the one winning FIRST PLACE for editorial pages from his fellow journalists across California at the california newspaper publishers association convention yesterday.

7/16/2006 7:11 AM  
Anonymous Doubting Thomas said...

But it looks like Travis is the one winning FIRST PLACE for editorial pages from his fellow journalists across California at the california newspaper publishers association convention yesterday.

Where is that documented?

7/16/2006 9:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

7:11 I saw that also and was stunned. Does that mean we're all wrong?

7/16/2006 9:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: 7:11 and the awards:

Sure, the editorial pages of the SBN-P of 2005 *looked* great! The issue was the content. Journalists across California had no way of knowing the quality of many of the editorials ---- or the editing of the letters, etc.

That said, I was disappointed there was no Voices section in today's paper. Though I quite often disagreed with the stands of the paper, I appreciated having a range of local op-ed voices in the section on Sundays. And even the stands of the paper were worth considering.

Looking at today's paper, I am beginning to seriously wonder why I am continuing to pay for the subscription.Unlike several of the letter writers, I subscribe purely for the local and (some) CA news — I get the rest on NPR and from the NYT.

But Congrats to the NP staff/owner for the 7 awards, to the StaMaria Times, Ventura Star, and Indy for their awards.

7/16/2006 10:15 AM  
Anonymous Friend of Truth said...

As is widely knows within the biz, the CNPA award for Editorial Pages, only covering year 2005, was more about the variety of substantive issues in the whole section, not just the message in the individual newspaper editorial positions. That award is no endorsement of the Travisty editorialist's views, although Travis and his 3 local friends are spinning that theory.

Those awards also are for material the newspapers themselves nominate as candidate content for an award.

Of course, this is all the more ironic in that the editorial pages of News-Press have sank into the sewer since Bloody Thursday, in both quality and quantity: No editorials at all, repeated letters from Libertarian allies (Lanny Ebenstein was published twice in three days last week, in blatent violation of the 30-day prohibition policy), and the only criticism of the staff purges has been token and tepid, such as a couple of "bring-back-Barney" letters, which are as meaningful as I-like-apple-pie letters.

Editorial excellence, consistent with the CNPA award, would include criticisms of the purges and the motivation behind them, per the coverage by SB Independent and Ventura County Star.

But considering how the policies and direction for the News-Press now is to meld editorial content into the news, this seems like the way they are now trying to improve the news section and have that rub off for more CNPA awards.

7/16/2006 11:23 AM  
Anonymous Friend of Truth said...

The CNPA newspaper awards for 2005 are here under the BNC, Better Newspaper Contest

News-Press got a few for actual news content. How sad and ironic that the Publisher now is endangering their chances for more awards by meddling in the news content as well as discontinuing any meaningful substance now on the editorial pages and in what once was a separate Voices editorial section in the Sunday edition.

The Voices in the Sunday edition now have been silenced, as no section is there anymore.

7/16/2006 11:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The New York Times just published another story.

7/16/2006 6:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Q: And who is responsible for many of those awards? A: The ones who are no longer employed there, dontcha think?

7/16/2006 6:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

NY Times just broke a story on the NP in their online edition. They actually spoke to Mc Caw for the piece.

7/16/2006 7:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The New York Times article

July 17, 2006
At One Paper, All Tension Is Local


SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Wendy P. McCaw, the reclusive multimillionaire owner of The Santa Barbara News-Press, is at war with her own staff. What started as a conflict over journalistic ethics has in the past week escalated into a full-blown rebellion.

Staffers have been marching out the door, accusing her of interfering with their editorial independence. When she published her explanation of the departures as an expression of bias in the reporting staff on Thursday, even more quit. On Friday, her staff — or what remained of it — held a rally outside the newspaper building, where some 30 reporters and editors, dressed in black, put duct tape over their mouths, to represent the owner’s gag order issued last week.

Throughout, Mrs. McCaw, who acquired the paper in 2000, has been absent, away in Europe and communicating mainly through her deputy, the acting publisher and opinion page editor, Travis Armstrong.

In her first interview about the resignations, she said on Sunday that the fault was with those who had left.

“This is not a freedom of the press issue, or of intimidation of the newsroom,” she said. “There were personality differences in the newsroom, and the people who didn’t want to be there are not there any longer.”

At a time when the future of newspapers is being challenged by the Internet, and as newspapers around the country — large and small — debate the merits of private versus corporate ownership, The News-Press is an example of what can happen when an active, committed local owner determines to steer her own path.

But the still-unfolding story of the paper, a 105-year-old institution in this upscale, seaside city, remains highly unusual. It is certainly a surprising turn for a paper that won a Pulitzer Prize under its last local owner, Thomas M. Storke, in 1962, and which frequently wins general excellence awards from the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

At the heart of the conflict is Mrs. McCaw, an enigmatic local figure whose fortune, which resulted from her divorce from the cellphone magnate Craig McCaw in 1997, was at one time estimated by Forbes at more than $1 billion. She bought the paper in 2000 from The New York Times Company for more than $100 million (the exact figure was not made public). Known as a libertarian, environmentalist, animal-rights activist and vegetarian, she rarely is seen in the newsroom. Amid all the turmoil, she said she was reading the paper only “occasionally.”

But Mrs. McCaw has expressed strong views via the editorial page, about issues from property rights to the preservation of wild pigs in the nearby Channel Islands. Sometimes her views raised eyebrows, as when an editorial called for people to donate rice and beans, rather than turkeys, to the poor on Thanksgiving.

Mr. Armstrong, meanwhile, has become a magnet for discontent outside the paper because of his sharply worded editorials about local officials, including the mayor, and his own involvement in the news-gathering operation. Since becoming acting publisher two weeks ago, he quashed a news article about the newsroom resignations — running his column with an explanation instead — and killed an article about a city councilwoman’s decision to retire.

In the six years since the paper changed owners, circulation at The News-Press has dropped steadily — as it has at most newspapers across the country — from 48,000 to about 40,000. Still, profit margins have risen to 25 percent from about 11 percent, buoyed by advertising from Santa Barbara’s booming, high-end real-estate market and the elimination of employee benefits like pensions and 401(k)’s, according to a former top executive at the paper, who asked not to be named because the information was proprietary.

The paper’s management has been in flux, with six publishers holding the job over the last five years, even as Jerry Roberts, a respected journalist recruited from The San Francisco Chronicle to be executive editor, professionalized the paper and filled the front page with local news.

In a front-page note to readers on Thursday, Mrs. McCaw essentially accused members of her staff of misconduct, writing that the turmoil at the paper resulted because her ideals of “accurate unbiased reporting, and more local stories that readers want to read” were not being reached.

“When news articles become 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,” she wrote.

The letter was met with outrage and confusion in the newsroom. “It’s a sad thing for her to attack her own newsroom that way,” said Mr. Roberts, who resigned. “What’s the message here?”

In her interview, Mrs. McCaw did not elaborate much on her critique of the news coverage, mentioning an instance when editors published the address of the actor Rob Lowe in a news article about a property dispute. “I’m committed to the highest standards of journalism and quality,” she said. “And I’m committed to putting out the paper.”

When Mrs. McCaw offered Mr. Roberts the top editing job, “she said she wanted to be a strong, local paper,” he recalled over breakfast at the quiet El Encanto hotel, the same place he first met with her about taking the position. “I thought that was a great vision. The fact that she would be a single, local, independent owner, I thought was a great advantage. And for a long time, it was.”

But in 2004, editors rankled at instances when Mrs. McCaw asked for special news consideration of pet subjects, such as litigation she won against an architect, or more prominent placement of reviews by her fiancé, Arthur Von Wiesenberger, then the newspaper’s restaurant critic.

Relations deteriorated between Mrs. McCaw and Mr. Roberts, and she stopped speaking to him after the fall of 2004, he said, communicating when necessary through her fiancé.

In early 2005 when Joe Cole, Mrs. McCaw’s lawyer, became the publisher, things settled down. Mr. Cole resigned in April of this year for undisclosed reasons, and Mrs. McCaw and Mr. Von Wiesenberger became co-publishers.

The conflict over the division between editorial opinion and news-gathering arose anew when Mr. Armstrong was arrested in May for drunken driving. The newspaper ran a news article on Page 3, which Mr. Armstrong considered a sign of a personal vendetta against him by Mr. Roberts. Mrs. McCaw said she agreed that the prominence of the article reflected a vendetta.

Mr. Roberts denied that, saying the paper could not favor its own employees, especially a high-profile figure like Mr. Armstrong. “It wasn’t a close call,” he said. “He’s a public figure in this town, and a lightning rod.”

When Mr. Armstrong was sentenced a couple of weeks later, Mr. Roberts planned a short follow-up, but received instructions from his higher-ups not to print the item after Mr. Armstrong complained. Mr. Roberts killed the article, determining then that he would probably have to leave the paper.

The breaking point came during his vacation two weeks ago, when Mrs. McCaw sent letters of reprimand to several editors and a reporter for publishing the address of Mr. Lowe.

Then on Monday, July 3, Mr. Armstrong was appointed acting publisher, whose duties would now include overseeing the news coverage. “That was untenable for me,” said Mr. Roberts. “The whole church-state thing going on was now resolved, in favor of the church.” Mr. Roberts and five other top editors resigned, along with Barney Brantingham, a longtime columnist who had worked there for 46 years.

Mr. Brantingham’s resignation came as a surprise to everyone. “I wasn’t directly affected by all this,” said the columnist, “but I left in protest. I couldn’t work in a newsroom where the news was being manipulated — stories being suppressed and killed, opinion seeping into the news side.”

Mrs. McCaw, who on Friday hired a crisis expert in public relations, said she did not know why Mr. Brantingham resigned, and called it a “personal issue.”

In an interview, Mr. Armstrong did not deny taking an active interest in the daily news coverage as the acting publisher, saying it was not unusual to do so. “It is well within the publisher’s privilege, and even responsibility, to uphold a newspaper’s standards, and it is up to the publisher to communicate that to the employee,” he said last week, in the presence of the newspaper’s lawyer.

Asked to clarify the journalistic standard at The News-Press, Mr. Armstrong said: “Some of it is on a case-by-case basis,” declining to elaborate further.

In the past week, Mr. Armstrong named a new assistant managing editor, a city editor, an interim sports editor and a contributing business editor to replace those who walked out. But the situation has only become more volatile.

At Friday’s vigil, a couple of hundred supporters chanted, “Shame!” as Mr. Armstrong looked down from the Mission-style newspaper tower. Mr. Brantingham, speaking before the crowd, openly wept. “I can’t stand it,” he said. “I love that paper. It’s hurt me so much. And it didn’t have to happen.”

At the vigil, a reporter, Scott Hadly, told his co-workers that he also would resign.

With the newspaper up in arms, the ripples have spread far beyond the newsroom. “We’re surprised, and concerned,” said Mayor Marty Blum, looking out the window of her office in city hall toward The News-Press, a historic building just next door. “We need a good local paper.” She said several local investors were meeting to discuss the options for starting an alternate daily paper.

A protest against Mrs. McCaw was planned for tomorrow in front of the newspaper, and an open forum on journalism ethics was scheduled for Wednesday. Mr. Armstrong said about 200 people had canceled subscriptions.

On Saturday, the paper ran a news article about the upheaval, with a picture of Friday’s protest, and a couple of readers’ letters lamenting the resignations. But so far it has not published letters to the editor like one sent by Lou Cannon, a respected political author and journalist who lives here.

Mr. Cannon called on Mr. Armstrong to resign, writing: “People don’t trust the news when it is merely an expression of opinion.”

Mr. Armstrong gives no sign of preparing to resign. And on Saturday, the paper won two first-place prizes at the annual awards of the California Newspaper Publishers Association, one for the front page, and for the editorial page. Mr. Armstrong did not attend

7/16/2006 8:38 PM  
Blogger David Pritchett said...

Now that someone posted the entire text of the NYTimes article, we need to be clear on this from the article:

"A protest against Mrs. McCaw was planned for tomorrow in front of the newspaper, and an open forum on journalism ethics was scheduled for Wednesday."

Actually, the rally Tuesday is not "a protest against" but is this:

The purpose is to demand that Santa Barbara News-Press ownership and management operate the newspaper with a clear separation of news and opinion, and thus restore the credibility and believability of this newspaper. We also want to honor the now-NINE editors, columnist, and senior reporter who resigned their jobs to stand up for journalistic integrity. And, we want to show support for the employees who remain, under siege, and cannot leave while they start organizing under a labor union. Finally, we are encouraging readers to cancel their subscriptions and to inform advertisers that the newspaper has lost credibility and the public's trust. Call them at 966-7171 to cancel your subscription and get a refund (actually a fast and easy process, and they even ask why a cancellation).

7/16/2006 10:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I still can't figure out what makes these people this hostile towards the Newspress. Not being allowed to do a second article on Travis' DUI or being punished for printing Lowe's address. Geez.

The whole thing is like a religion. Circumstancial heresay followed by an endless supply of hype and fervor.

After the Tuesday protest fades, which it will, what are you guys gonna do? How about a float for the Solstice parade next year?

Roo Rah Rout, we don't know what we're angry about!

7/16/2006 11:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Pritchett,
If the rally is to demand that the Newspress "restore the credibility and believability of this newspaper", then can you tell me when that credibility was lost? Travis has only been acting publisher for two weeks. Are you saying that the paper lost it's credibility before then? Because this rally looks like a bunch of opportunists getting together to go after Travis Armstrong. This really has nothing to do with the news-reporting in the Newspress, does it? By the way, I've noticed Cathy Murrillo is a little sloppy in her news reporting, right done to getting people's names wrong. But I always figured that the Indy was primarily an entertainment weekly, so I just shrugged it off. Now I see people on this blog acting as if Indy's got better news-reporting than the Newspress. Yikes.

Maybe there should be a rally at The Independent too to make sure we have our bases covered.

7/16/2006 11:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude! Losing that many respected reporters over mixing editorial and news is not an accident...even the NY Times is covering this....even in the last two weeks Travis has placed opinion over the news.

7/17/2006 12:08 AM  
Blogger David Pritchett said...

When in doubt, criticize someone's wife. Nice.

Singer and Millstein, your oppo research is sloppy. For what you are paid, at least sub out the work to someone local who is not working off old information 9 months old.

Or are you overly clever with a pun writing about a "Murrillo" and "getting people's names wrong"??

Try again. Or, just come to the rally and blend in with the crowd of 500. That's tough duty coming to Santa Barbara and billing all those hours.

7/17/2006 12:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, the proximate causes of this mess look trivial, just as the Watergate break-in was trivial as was the tax evasion of Al Capone.

But the deeper causes are far from trivial, as they were in the cases of Nixon and Capone.

Wendy and Travis are simply inappropriate newspeople. The best solution is the marketplace that they worship... a new paper should come along or an old one should expand to drive the News-Press down. Tom Storke did that, if memory serves... he ran a better newspaper (The Daily News) and eventually drove the Morning Press into insolvency, then he bought it.... that is how we got the News-Press.

7/17/2006 11:00 AM  
Blogger Dominatrikes said...

Travis Armstrong has alienated much of his readership for a long time now. And these mass resignations only proved that indeed it wasn't just the two of us at my house getting annoyed at the breakfast table about editorials we disagreed with. It always seemed like something more was going on over there, and now we know that there was.

Nine people don't quit, and the remainder don't stage a demonstration with duct tape over their mouths, and national and global media don't cover a story like this over trivial issues about spelling and addresses.

The problem is the leadership of the News-Press treats a large portion of the community (politicians, citizens and employees) with contempt and they let that contempt seep into the news. The contempt isn't just about political views they disagree with. It's a contempt that says to me, "I'm so rich and powerful I don't care if the little people have adequate news I only care if I can control what they know so I can shape community life to my personal goals."

As a reader I'm insulted. But I also feel that the mass resignations sent a message of support to regular people like me. And for that, I feel that honoring those who left is called for. I plan to be at the rally. But I will leave if it turns into a big, embarrassing hippie/anarchy-fest.

7/17/2006 4:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The News-Press has really been a newspaper for the past few years and getting worse all the time. So, people turn to the web and blogs. Good opportunity for blogabarbara

7/17/2006 4:41 PM  

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