BlogaBarbara

Santa Barbara Politics, Media & Culture

Friday, March 23, 2007

Separation Anxiety

This community post is written by MicDeNiro:
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In a parallel universe down the 101, some of the same issues in play locally appear to be problems at the Los Angeles Times as well.

In his blog posting announcing his resignation as editorial page editor, Andres Martinez writes:

"Among the biggest possible conflicts of interest a newspaper can enter into is to have the same people involved in news coverage running opinion pages. I am proud of the fact that Jeff Johnson, Dean Baquet and I fully separated the opinion pages from the newsroom at the Times. I accept my share of the responsibility for placing the Times in this predicament, but I will not be lectured on ethics by some ostensibly objective news reporters and editors who lobby for editorials to be written on certain subjects, or who have suggested that our editorial page coordinate more closely with the newsroom's agenda, and I strongly urge the present and future leadership of the paper to resist the cries to revisit the separation between news and opinion that we have achieved."

I'd be interested in seeing how Blogabarbara posters weigh in on what appears to indicate that some of the claims of the News-Press management and its editorialist/opinionator may actually be grounded in problems other newspapers face.

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12 Comments:

Blogger john san roque said...

I read the article in the LA Times this morning. The issue was clear that the editorial page editor quit after he felt the publisher and the editor of the LA Times had lost confidence in his judgment over a particular issue. That issue was the appearance of favoritism in the selection of a guest editor for an upcoming editorial section.

This morning I read Armstrong’s commentary on the LA Times situation. I honest-to-god don’t understand what point Armstrong is trying to make. I was going to try to speculate, but it would take a lot of space and words here. However, I am interested in this issue and ask that someone who is more analytical than I translate what Armstrong is saying today about the situation at the News-Press—and how it relates to what happened at the LA Times.

I don’t think the basic topic of the guest editor has anything to do with separation of news and opinion, but that topic comes up as background for the LA Times issue, and it’s the essence of Armstrong’s commentary today. I’d really appreciate it if someone could clarify what Armstrong is arguing for (or against).

3/23/2007 12:01 PM  
Anonymous wineguy said...

Ummm...wasn't the problem at the News-Press that the editorial department tried to get the news re-written to match their agenda? That would be the opposite of the LA Times situation, wouldn't it...?

3/23/2007 1:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An excerpt from Travisty's piece today -- twisted logic:

The Times only relatively recently switched to a structure -- such as at the News-Press -- where the newsroom editor and opinion editor each report directly to the publisher.

As I've noted before, Mrs. McCaw's steadfast commitment to maintain this division has over the last six years riled certain former newsroom editors or reporters who've coveted input in or outright control over the opinion pages. Some of these "journalists" tried to exert veto power over the publishing of letters critical of coverage or about claims of reporter bias in stories. They've lobbied for editorials, suggested political endorsements and tried to get commentaries from friends or others published.

These are some of the hypocrites who've been out in the plaza or elsewhere protesting the News-Press on journalistic grounds. (In further betraying their former craft, they've teamed with local politicians who want to shut down the News-Press because they don't like our editorial opinions.)

In all the coverage of the changes at the News-Press, the local and national reporters have uniformly ignored the fact that the supposed "wall" between news and opinion is murky at best at most U.S. dailies because the opinion editor often works directly for the newsroom editor.

I recall being interviewed by New York Times reporter Sharon Waxman last summer while I served as acting News-Press publisher. She seemed completely unaware that such situations are common. I suggested she just look at the nearest dailies up and down the coast.

Ms. Waxman would have found at the Ventura County Star that Editor Joe Howry and Managing Editor John Moore are on the Star's editorial board. Star opinion editor Marianne Ratcliff told me last year that if every single member of the Star's editorial board opposed a certain stance, Mr. Howry could veto them. He basically oversees news coverage at the same time as serving as ultimate editorial page director.

The Santa Maria Times also has this ethically challenged setup. Its editorial board includes the executive editor and managing editor. In reaction to a column of mine, the Santa Maria editor Tom Bolton even wrote a column defending the arrangement and printed it on "his" editorial pages.

3/23/2007 1:32 PM  
Anonymous boB said...

It seems to me that:

(1) TA will attempt to spin any situation to appear in a way that is favorable to his "position".

(2) His logic is hard to follow because it is so twisted. Pieces of writings or situations get extracted and reconstituted into some form of support for his positions.

(3) Perhaps LA Times reporters were lobbying to get editorials written. Perhaps LA Times opinion writers were lobbying to get news articles written. What people want to happen, and what does happen, is the key to whether there are proper checks and balances.

(4) The LA Times has a substitute Opinion Page Editorial writer this morning. The page is fully functional. The LA Times has editorials every day that they are scheduled whether the "Editor" is in the building or not. The SB News Press is the first paper that I have ever experienced where over the last few years, the daily "institutional editorials" were written by only one person. And if he was on "sabbatical" they didn't appear.

(5) Finally, the LA Times had a story on the front page describing what happened. And the opinion page editor was able to officially blog his version before he left the building. I guarantee that we will see more in the Times about this situation. Were it only the case that the SBNP was as transparent.

P.S. And finally, BTW, has anyone commented on TA's outing, and then trashing (in his column yesterday), an apology from Camilla Cohee Barnwell? She apologizes to him, says she was wrong to make public statements, and TA says something to the effect "'of course you were', and now let's have one from your husband"!

3/23/2007 2:30 PM  
Anonymous confuse the little people said...

? ? Maybe the intention is to confuse? Travis will return to court. He can say he wasn't biased because he wrote... whatever, like a "plant" editorial. ? ?

History will give us a bigger perspective. What the New-Press is doing makes for a classroom study.

3/23/2007 2:32 PM  
Anonymous WiseGuy said...

John San Roque, perhaps I can help answer your questions.

Here are some excerpts of today's column by Travis Armstrong with an analysis, based on my ongoing observations of the News-Press Mess:

TA: "Is it right for a publisher to step in and kill newspaper content over concerns about conflicts of interest, bias and just plain incompetence?"

Analysis: Travis has never been able to cite even one story to prove conflict of interest, bias or incompetence. Even the full page ads lacked proof. Such opinion unsupported by facts is simply crap and insulting to readers.

TA: "The answer: Yes, except in Santa Barbara where the owner and publisher apparently isn't supposed to have anything to do with content, even though the owner is ultimately responsible for the news and advertising product."

Analysis: Hate to repeat what the NLRB judge said about Travis's testimony, but this twisted logic is a another good example of his "extreme embellishment."

TA: "I can't wait to see if the newspaper industry treats Times Publisher David D. Hiller to a different standard than it has owner Wendy McCaw's efforts to rid the News-Press pages of conflicts of interest and bias by editors and reporters. An independent survey found a vast majority of News-Press readers in the past thought reporters interjected personal views into stories."

Analysis: Two points -- again, where's the proof of conflicts of interest and bias by editors and reporters? And that mysterious independent survey -- who conducted it, how many people participated, and was it fixed to show just one side, the same way Travis fixes letters to the editor and columns on his editorial pages?

TA: "As I've noted before, Mrs. McCaw's steadfast commitment to maintain this division has over the last six years riled certain former newsroom editors or reporters who've coveted input in or outright control over the opinion pages. Some of these "journalists" tried to exert veto power over the publishing of letters critical of coverage or about claims of reporter bias in stories. They've lobbied for editorials, suggested political endorsements and tried to get commentaries from friends or others published.

Analysis: What? The journalists' main complaint was having to go out into the community and interact with people that Travis had trashed in his editorials with mean-spirited and twisted accusations. As for letters, everyone wishes Travis would publish a variety of opinions to reflect the true feelings of the readership. As for submitting suggestions for editorials, reporters are immersed in what's happening in the community. They are expected to make suggestions to the editoral writer about topics to tackle. Especially when the editorial writer is secluded in his office, and never shows up at public gatherings when relevant issues are discussed.

TA: "These are some of the hypocrites who've been out in the plaza or elsewhere protesting the News-Press on journalistic grounds. (In further betraying their former craft, they've teamed with local politicians who want to shut down the News-Press because they don't like our editorial opinions.)"

Analysis: Refer to NLRB judge: "extreme embellishment" once again. Travis has no right to call these professional journalists hypocrites or to say they betrayed their crafts. And politicians are justified in disliking editorial opinions that are unsubstantied personal attacks. This is another example of the pure idiocy in the way this alleged editorial writer articulates his opinions and alienates everyone who has an ounce of intelligence.

*** The News-Press is making an A.S.S. out of the journalism profession with Armstrong-Steepleton-Schlessinger on board. Lady McCaw should kick A.S.S. and replace this Terrible Trio with real professionals.

3/23/2007 3:55 PM  
Anonymous Confused again said...

I don’t get it either. Here are three of Travis’ statements:

“The Times only relatively recently switched to a structure --such as at the News-Press -- where the newsroom editor and opinion editor each report directly to the publisher.”

“As I've noted before, Mrs. McCaw's steadfast commitment to maintain this division has over the last six years riled certain former newsroom editors or reporters … etc.”

“I recall being interviewed by New York Times reporter Sharon Waxman last summer while I served as acting News-Press publisher.”

When Travis was acting as publisher, wasn’t he also the opinion editor in charge of letters but also had the news editor reporting to him?

Wasn’t Jerry Roberts “editor and publisher” for a couple of years, in charge of business and the news?

This is Mrs. McCaw’s “STEADFAST commitment” to separating news from opinion from her newspaper’s business matters over “the last six years”??

Where are the news stories about her labor disputes been? Isn’t her opinion about unions interfering with the news that’s being reported?

Embellishment?

3/23/2007 9:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The L.A. Times reports, "In a statement issued later, the publisher said, "The trust our readers place in us, built over 125 years, is of the highest importance and we try never to do anything that would call that into question.""

Despite Armstrong's piece, Publisher McCaw's actions and Acting Pubisher Armstrong's actions have diminished reader trust and stand in contrast to those of the L.A. Times publisher.

3/23/2007 9:43 PM  
Blogger Sara De la Guerra said...

Co D -- although I agree with your assessment, I didn't publish it as I don't feel comfortable delving that deep into someone's personal life. Some things should be off the table...

3/23/2007 9:57 PM  
Anonymous jqb said...

I'd be interested in seeing how Blogabarbara posters weigh in on what appears to indicate that some of the claims of the News-Press management and its editorialist/opinionator may actually be grounded in problems other newspapers face.

"claims ... grounded in problems" is vague and meaningless. Quite simply, Andres Martinez wrote against the very sort of thing that Wendy, Travis, et. al. did, namely violating "the separation between news and opinion that we have achieved." He's writing from the other side of the wall, but the principle is the same.

3/24/2007 4:15 AM  
Anonymous Another Ex said...

For those seeking an antidote for McCaw/Armstrong's illogical and twisted view of the newspaper world, check out Tim Rutten's column this morning in the L.A. Times.

Here is an excerpt:

"When Otis Chandler took over as publisher of The Times in 1960, the paper was justifiably held in low regard, and the editorial pages were, by any reasonable measure, positively disreputable. Ever since his great-grandfather, Gen. Harrison Gray Otis, had purchased the paper, its editorials had been used mainly for two things: One was to reward the proprietors' political friends (all Republicans) and to punish political enemies (invariably Democrats). The other was to advance the financial interests of the Chandler family and their associates. Otis Chandler was determined to change that, and, working closely with the then editor of the editorial pages, Anthony Day, remade the department and instituted a system of daily checks and balances under which the editorial page editor reported simultaneously to the publisher and to the newspaper's editor. Moreover, the paper's senior newsroom editors — the managing editor, the associate editor and the national, foreign and business editors, etc., were brought onto the editorial board. (The point was to create a crowd too big to fit into anybody's back room.)

"This wasn't done to blend news and opinion. Instead, the broadening of the editorial board was intended to make the process of arriving at editorial decisions as public as possible — to create transparency, as we now say. If you were an editorial writer proposing a piece for the next day's paper, you had to sit across a conference table from the editor and the publisher and the paper's senior most news editors and defend not only the argument you intended to make but also its factual basis. It was a rigorous, often bracing experience.

"The animating principle was a sense that the editorial pages were the place where The Times most directly expressed its conscience as an institution, something exercised as a public trust. Whatever readers thought of the editorials' conclusions, it was regarded as essential that readers believed those conclusions were reached honestly and dispassionately."

3/24/2007 11:00 AM  
Anonymous Is it Backwards Day for TKA? said...

Pity the poor man. I've read everything published in the last few days about the L.A. Times situation. The Times Publishers did everything RIGHT--- the Editorial Page Editor--Andres Martinez--- was blurring the lines, promoting individuals and his own personal agenda above ethics. So, if we use that logic, Armstrong should resign...Oh, but wait, the L.A. Times publisher cares about ethics....Wendy doesn.t.
Never mind.

3/24/2007 6:33 PM  

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