Santa Barbara Politics, Media & Culture

Monday, September 24, 2007

Comment to Post: Today's Editorial in the SBNP

John San Roque didn't know where to put this but I think it would be useful for discussion -- especially in relationship to Craig's post today.

I realize this completely disregards Citizen Stringer’s post, but I actually have something interesting to discuss.

Editorials in the News-Press yesterday and today, I believe, show a significant turning point. Up until now, Armstrong and the rest have taken the position that they’re right and everybody else is wrong--cabals, etc. The two recent editorials attempt to explain the position the News-Press has taken and the reasons for it. Things are going badly enough now that the NP feels the need to explain—something they’ve not condescended to do before.

For those of you who haven’t read the editorials, there’s some amazing turnabouts and comparisons. The idea that the owner “never interfere(s) with the news judgments of reporters or editors” is rejected absolutely. That wall of separation, evidently, has been torn down. Armstrong (with a straight face, I assume) draws a favorable comparison between McCaw’s current role and that of the owner of the Washington Post during the Watergate scandal. If you’re going to cite some newspaper lore and legend, might as well go big. He also throws in the example of the NY Times publication of the Pentagon Papers, giving credit to the owner for allowing it to be published. Evidently, Armstrong sees analogies between Watergate and the address of Rob Lowe’s vacant lot, or between the Pentagon Papers and a DUI arrest.

He also reveals more about his often-quoted “bias study”, saying that it was done in 2005, before any of the current acrimony. The study showed, according to Armstrong, that 2/3 of the respondents thought the “news articles were biased”. No one polled me, but I would have been in that majority because even back then I thought that the owner and editor definitely biased the news articles. As a matter of fact, I complained several times in writing about just that. Too bad the NP has never printed that study.

Anyway, I think the NP people have realized they are losing this battle for the hearts and minds of Santa Barbarans, so a change of tactics is in order. The role of the paper is being redefined, or perhaps, explained, to those of us who misunderstood what its function should be in this community. I think this is a last gasp. I could be wrong, but I think they’re ready to fold.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like OJ is finally "behaving" but he's still the same guy. Team Cappello calls the shots. TA is more ghostwriter. I doubt they'd give up the position that they’re right and everybody else is wrong for that walk down memory lane. It was ludicrous. The Graham, Pentagon Papers are fantasy & emotional play. The hearings are having an effect.

9/24/2007 9:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've read both and strongly believe that they were not written by Armstrong at all. Yes, the tone is different but so is the syntax, word choice, and sentence structure. Maybe the lawyers are writing the editorials now too?

9/24/2007 9:25 PM  
Blogger Bill Carson said...

Wishful thinking on JSR’s part. The “last gasp” is JSR’s pitiful and desperate prediction that the News-Press is ready to fold.

The real disconnect here is JSR’s inability to understand that Wendy McCaw owns the News-Press. She gets to write what she wants. The customers (readers) have a choice to buy the paper or not. It’s really that simple.

I continue to subscribe, and read, for the simple reason that I agree with the News-Press perspective. The News-Press took a brave step in exposing City Hall. They now write the truth about our so-called city leaders. No more winks and nods. No more status quo.

To the News-Press I say “thank you”. To JSR I say “dream on”.

9/24/2007 10:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are wrong on most all counts. There was bias in the old NewsPress so the poll, whether you participated or not, was accurate. The NP broke no new ground today. They reiterate the same position they have always taken: the owner retains final control over content.

This is hardly a last ditch stance. It is an eminent argument. I wish them well in their law suit. It will be good to have these issues settled once and for all.

The NP has a new and growing constituency and you are missing out on this most newsworthy trend.

The NP is appealing to readers you never bothered to consider existed here in this town. I don't know why this is so hard to understand.

Please spare us another round of wounded defense of the booted employees who thought they knew better than the management that hired them.

9/24/2007 10:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To 10:04 and 10:38 ...

You are right, and you are also so wrong.

I work at the News-Press and see what is happening close-up. And yes, you are right to say that Wendy is asserting control over her newspaper. Legally, that is her right as owner. I agree with that.

I didn't go along with the union crowd in the newsroom because I thought they couldn't win this argument. They thought they could — they mistakenly thought that Wendy would care about the quality of the paper, and would give in to their demands for "The Wall" between opinion and news before she lost her talent, her paper's institutional memory and it's reputation. But the fact of the matter is that she DOESN'T care about losing any of that. It doesn't bother her that the News-Press no longer resembles a normal daily newspaper.

But you are wrong to believe that the newspaper is now appealing to a growing audience. I can't believe that you'd write that with a straight face. I work at the newspaper and I can tell you officially that we are now the joke of journalism. I hear it from every corner of the business -- from conservative journalists to liberal journalists.

I have real problems with City Hall, too. But instead of going after City Hall with some fact-finding, investigative reporting, they just throw out insults from a bully pulpit with the teaser of "... in future editorials, we will look into blah blah blah." But there is never any meaningful followup.

And why? Because there are no reporters left at the paper with any experience beyond journalism school except for the Lompoc reporter and a few sports writers. Wendy is spending her money on attorneys and hiring her new pimply faced reporters through a temp agency. That is a fact. Those reporters don't even know where City Hall is located (and it's right next door).

Does this News-Press really, seriously appeal to you? A News-Press that doesn't even cover government meetings anymore? we are missing SO many stories now. I talked to an official out at UCSB who said the university is relieved that this is happening because they've had several embarrassing incidents that have gone undetected and unreported in this journalistic vaccum. I'm talking about taxpayer money going down the drain. And Travis likens Wendy McCaw to Katherine Graham? Please. Nixon would have adored this News-Press.

Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe there is this "growing constituency" that you cite which is only interested in the rantings of Dr. Laura, and yachting news, and gossip about the royal family, and who attended what party in Montecito, and the comings and goings of every freaking turtle and puppy dog in Santa Barbara AND Ventura Counties. I can't find anything else in the news pages, and I work there.

Well, at least for now.

9/25/2007 1:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you serious?

9/25/2007 6:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The News-Press has cited their internal study again and again, but won't release it. Hmmmmmmm.

The comparison with the Nixon era is apt. Cameras, lawyers, paranoia, enemies, hiding from the public in a white building, and citing secret "internal studies."

9/25/2007 7:16 AM  
Anonymous Kemosabe said...

The News-Press crisis is a more serious situation than simply a matter of the owner controlling what appears in her newspaper.

Look at the facts showing the negative results of her type of "control" thus far:

In the name of "banning the bias," owner Wendy McCaw has:
-- banned any letters to the editor, or op-ed opinions differing with her editorial stance on any matter.
-- banned reporters from including in their stories quotes from politicians, community, business or religious leaders the owner doesn't like, even when their quotes are relevant to the stories.
-- not banning a reporter from including a quote from Rob Lowe about a recent fire, in which he remarked, "Wow, I saw a fire! Heh, heh. There was smoke too!" because the owner's social circle is composed of Beavises and Buttheads.
-- banning reporters from covering the meltdown of the News-Press from July 2006 to the present, with the exception of printing only news favorable to the News-Press such as when the NLRB drops a few of the many complaints.
-- banning reporters from covering 80 percent of the beats in Santa Barbara County, because, yawn, real news bores the owner: it's all just so trivial, darling. And then saying, "Reporters want to write what they want, when they want!" How dare they! The owner is angered that reporters actually want to go out and cover all the news, not just her pet projects.

And there's actually a reader such as Bill Carson who thinks he's getting a real newspaper by subscribing to the News-Press? Hey Bill, you'd learn more about the world around you by reading "Mad" magazine, and it's a lot more entertaining!

9/25/2007 7:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

McCaw’s editorials are depressingly the same: animals are good and the city council is bad, especially Marty.

The news pages are full of fish and plovers. Local government is rarely covered.

Columnists prattle on about yatching and the royal family.

The paper reflects an intellect that seems paranoid, extremely limited in range and full of bile. Money evidently doesn’t buy smarts or happiness. It may buy love from one's co-publisher.

The editorials Sunday and Monday were probably written by someone else, possibly by one of Cappello’s minions, as part of his trial tactics. Little that was sacred journalistically remains at the News-Press anyway.

Sunday’s bit cites unnamed “poll results”: “As anyone who has been paying attention to the subject knows, the credibility of traditional journalists is at an all-time low (with national poll results ranking them slightly below politicians), while newspaper circulation is in decline.”

A quick internet search (where my news comes from) turns up the respected Pew Research Center saying that daily newspapers carried a favorable rating in 2005 of 80%, compared to ratings in the 50’s for the Democratic party, Congress, Bush and the Republican party.

Where’s the link to your poll results, Wendy? Come clean, honey.

Maybe you will publish a letter to the editor about it, instead of having readers resort to blogs.

Does anyone want to guess what the local credibility rating of the News-Press these days? Probably below Marty, if anyone has been paying attention to the subject.

Monday’s editorial cites the same old News-Press “internal study,” without letting anyone see it. Top secret. Classified.

Katherine Graham, indeed. Richard Nixon would have been proud.

9/25/2007 8:39 AM  
Anonymous allegro805 said...

Gee, 10:38 has been repeating the same statement about "new and growing constituency" for well over a year now. Keep repeating it and maybe it'll come true. Maybe Peter Pan will show up at your window one of these nights too. Ridiculous & idiotic.

Sara, block his IP address already....

9/25/2007 8:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a reader, I feel good about the changes Wendy is making. Any responsible CEO must take steps to correct problems in his or her business, otherwise the quality of the consumer product suffers and the market seeks alternatives.

Here's what Wendy saw:

1. Readers were complaining about a biased news product, one that kowtowed to local politicians. Reporters ran wild with stories that pushed their personal agendas.

2. Changes in journalism were diminishing the relevance of a print-only product and forcing visionary owners to take a more active role in their news operations.

Here's what she did:

1. She professionalized the news operation, declaring that the pages of her newspaper would no longer serve as forums for reporters' personal biases. Some biased reporters were fired, while others quit after realizing that they could not meet the higher standards.

2. She enhanced platforms for Ampersand to deliver the news, including 1290 News-Press radio and News-Press TV. She has taken a more active role in the management of the newsroom, ensuring high ethical standards and reasserting the News-Press as the most comprehensive, authoritative news source in the region.

These improvements have been accompanied by some strife as politicians complain about the new watchdog approach of the newspaper, and biased ex-journalists fall out of favor. The new direction of the paper may not please self-appointed pundits like Lou Cannon, but Wendy manages the News-Press not for awards or recognition from the broken journalism establishment, but for the readers of Santa Barbara County. She will continue to do so. Any talk of "folding" is ridiculous.

9/25/2007 8:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The N-P need never fold, given Wendy's huge wealth.

You'd think for his $1,000/hour Cappello could at least vet his experts. That the judge can find fault in their credentials in 10 minutes after Cappello has had 1 year to do so shows Cappello's limited intelligence and industry.

I never see a News-Press on the doorsteps in my neighborhood; also at the Library it has become harder to read their copy, because so many people are now reading the want-ads in the copy at the Library. I take this as an indication that no-one subcribes any more, so it is hard to bum a paper to read the want-ads, and so people go to the library.

There are millions of things going on in all public agencies on the South Coast... the school board had a $2 million deficit that turned into ta surplus, the Goleta Water District doubled and tripled rates, etc... the News-Press hasn't been an effective `fourth estate' at all. Wanking on about Barnwell and Blum is just vanity.

9/25/2007 8:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did the News-Press write a story about Monday's NLRB hearings? They had some stories in the past. Maybe I missed it.

At least there's daily coverage of the trial of the News-Press in the Independent, Daily Sound and Craig Smith.

9/25/2007 9:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While it is true the paper is in a state of ruin, it may also be true that the news staffers overplayed their hand. One thing is for sure, if even recent hires straight out of college are bailing for weeklies, it must really suck there. Well, 1:49, does it suck?

9/25/2007 9:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1:49 - comments about what is missing in the NP are well stated. Indeed, I too look forward to more investigative articles as well. I hope once all the dust settles and the NP can concentrate on its core mission being a responsible 4th estate in our democratic experiment.

The old NP was merely a cheerleader for a liberal, bleeding heart status quo that was dragging this entire town down with a well-meaning but terribly misguided social agenda.

Let's hope we can get back to an institution like the NP spending its time and money actually doing the independent civic reporting and stewardship investigations this community needs, since our elected leaders failed to make themselves accountable to anything more than narrow and noisy special interests.

Some one has to keep the fires going and it needs to be done with far more than petty name calling and personal attack scoldings. it has to be done with solid journalism and articles the owner is proud to put her name on.

9/25/2007 9:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To 9/25/2007 1:49 AM:
Great post. Hit it right on the head. Perfect summary on all accounts.

9/25/2007 11:13 AM  
Blogger johnsanroque said...

It’s unfortunate when discussion degenerates into entrenched positions and straw man arguments. The reason I wrote my earlier post is that I saw a change in the substance and style of the editorials. Despite what some bloggers above said, it is very significant to say that the owner controls the content of a newspaper. Whether you agree with that idea or not, it puts the News-Press way, way over to the extreme end of the spectrum. It’s not the “same position they have always taken” (anon 10:38). A couple years ago, in fact, Jerry Roberts wrote an impassioned column about how the wall of separation was not to be breached. Does being a News-Press supporter automatically include you in the group that must destroy Roberts’ national reputation and credibility as an editor by sliming him with child porn accusations? Or do you claim newspaper expertise that makes you qualified to challenge his credibility as a newspaperman recognized and honored nationally by his peers? You say there’s no change—there’s a chasm between the paper of two years ago and management policies in place today.

Trivializing the accomplishments of Katherine Graham and bringing in Watergate and the Pentagon Papers to justify the current policies of the New-Press is beyond comprehension. As the current News-Press worker wrote above, you CAN fight City Hall, but you don’t do it with name calling and with refusals to allow your opponents to defend themselves in your paper or on your radio station.

If you like the News-Press and want to buy it, no one is stopping you. What you can’t do is stick you fingers in your ears and make up your own version of reality. Maybe I am wrong about the News-Press folding. But that’s not because it’s now serving this community better. The reason is what the NP worker stated: McCaw has the ability to keep it going even though it’s lost credibility, substance, readers, and any sense of fairly representing this community.

9/25/2007 12:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Daily Sound is packing a heck of a lot of substance lately. Dang, I wish they could deliver. One does not know what is happening in Santa Barbara these days if they don't read the Daily Sound.

And the best news today is the feds busted all the marijuana clinics thanks to the excessively abusive behavior of Glen Mower III's ACME clinic that brought the whole thing down. Well discussed here and maybe even helped the feds to do their work. Good riddence.

One more well-meaning, misguided bleeding heart activity gone very, very wrong while the city council just stood there wringing their hands and crying their progressive tears.

Wonder how all the fairly well-run clinics feel about ACME taking them all down with him and his arrogant hate the neighbors attitude?

9/25/2007 7:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Daily Sound is the local daily newspaper of record. It just posted its story about Wendy McCaw's odd court appearance today.

McCaw testified she fired her humans for being, in her unusual mind, anti-pig and anti-coyote (legal).

She claimed she did not fire them for banding together to protect themselves from being fired at her whim for perceived anti-coyote and anti-pigism (illegal).

9/25/2007 9:16 PM  
Blogger George said...

Some biased reporters were fired, while others quit after realizing that they could not meet the higher standards.

Some and others? Tell me who is left in the newsroom? No one at the N-P could meet the "higher standards" besides people hired from a temp agency who aren't let out of the building? Indeed, that's fine journalism.

The N-P is a joke.

9/25/2007 9:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for setting the record straight about life inside the NP 1:49 am. Sure isn't like the old days.

On that subject, I had to laugh at the comment on the old NP being drenched with liberal bias. Actually the newsroom was a nice mix of liberals and conservatives who tried to present both sides of issues. I always though it was rather too conservative, silly me.

As to the issue of reporter bias and reporters writing whatever they want. WRONG! The editors are responsible for content and for editing stories so that they are not biased. The reporters just gather the information on the assignments and write the story. It is the editor's responsibility to edit out bias. Stop blaming the reporters!

That being said as Wendy now has control of the news and has biased everything to her perspective, or lack there of as the case may be, it will probably be a cold day in hell before anybody sees any good investigative reports or any decent stories coming from the NP. Besides, how can you write good stories without good reporters and editors. DUH!

It may be Wendy's paper but there is a code of ethics that goes along with quality journalism. Wendy has seriously breached that code. Legally as owner she can do that, but it shows an extreme lack of respect for her business and the community she supposedly loves.

My writing may have been off the cuff but my intent is very serious.

9/25/2007 10:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wendy has been after "bias" since 2000... bias against coyotes and pigs? Are there a few Eucalyptus trees she's protecting? I don't envy Judge Kocol, putting this in perspective. Both sides seem to approach her as if she's a child. Crazy people can own a business and destroy it. If there was a shadow group manipulating things for their purposes, we'll not know. I can't believe the N-P has lasted this long, even with all her money.

If the reports so far are all there is to her side of her story, didn't she just sink her yacht? It will be interesting to hear from others who listened to her. Her focus and passion seems to be exclusive for the animal kingdom and some vegetation. What about journalism and workers, that are human beings? Will Wendy have much sway in Judge Kocol's decisions? Does her belief in what bias is matter? Does it matter that she doesn't have a grip on reality? I'm perplexed.

I can only think of someone I know who is diagnosed and on medications. They are wonderful in many ways but not ready for prime time. Reading about Wendy tonight I feel like balling myself to sleep.

9/25/2007 10:42 PM  
Anonymous donaldo de Santa Barbara said...

1.) Too bad McCaw did not simply add reporters to balance the "bias" she preceived. I can entertain the thought that reporting was slanted by entrenched and mundane popular notions but not by "bias."

2.) The only person who should have been fired was Armstrong. Aside from his arrest for the company ethics code violation with an overwhelming DUI blood alcohol reading was his incessant attacks on specific elected officials. For the most part the attacks were on women 1st and Democrats 2d, 3rd south county officials. Armstrong's editorials appeared to me to be descrimiatory because it seemed he left the few men, republicans, and north county officials alone .

It would be interesting to see "unbiased" statistical data to verify or refute the perception that Armstrong's editorials narrowly focused on specific demographics in an authoritarian effort to change our political structure.

9/25/2007 11:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From 1:49, in response to 9:37 ...

Does it suck to work there?

Let me put it this way ... I was typing fitfully on my computer at 1:49 in the morning instead of sleeping peacefully in my bed.

9/25/2007 11:13 PM  
Anonymous First District Streetfighter said...

I would think that for all the big bucks the flacks and hacks for The Wendy are getting paid to turn up the spin machine to 11, they at least could make up a fake blogger name for these comments here.

The real significance with The Red Queen testimony in open court today is that she admits herself that journalistic standards do not matter. We pundits, bloggers, commentators, etc. no longer have to interpret anything.

She admits, under oath, that it is indeed a Vanity Press. Readers and advertisers will respond accordingly.

9/25/2007 11:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ultimtely, it is the reader, not the newsroom or the editors or the owner who determines if a newspaper is biased. I am a long time NP subscriber. The local stories always took a liberal slant. I liked the addition of more conservative columnists. But Wendy was right, the local stories far too often were not accurate reporting of the full spectrum of the event.

Sorry, but this is true because I often was at the very same events and came away shaking my head when I saw the old NP write ups. I get to determine the NP was far too liberal and I also get to say I like the direction it is tyring to go and wish it well.

And I look forward to all this court nonsense to be over so Wendy can get back to creating the newspaper she wants for this community. Agree,the pages are way too thin now. But I expect better in the future.

9/26/2007 7:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've got a bad feeling that Cappello proved his case, which is based on this premise:

Wendy didn't fire all those writers because they were forming a union, she fired them because she's a frothing-at-the-mouth animal rights lunatic.

I mean, the judge can rule that Wendy is a crazy, people-hating (especially women) idiot -- and still rule in her favor.

The union lawyer and NLRB attorneys, I fear, were totally outclassed. Not that I think Barry is anything close to being a classy guy ...

9/26/2007 8:08 AM  
Blogger jqb said...

"But you are wrong to believe that the newspaper is now appealing to a growing audience. "

No, I think it's true ... more and more of the most stupid and vile people in SB are finding that the N-P is their sort of paper.

9/26/2007 9:32 AM  
Blogger jqb said...

"Will Wendy have much sway in Judge Kocol's decisions? Does her belief in what bias is matter?"

Yes and yes. If Ampersand can convince the judge that they fired reporters (correctly or incorrectly) for bias rather than for their union activity, then Ampersand prevails. And unfortunately the NLRB lawyers have done a very poor job of showing that bias is just an after-the-fact justification -- Wendy didn't fire these reporters earlier, despite all this perceived bias, she only did so when she had other reasons to get rid of them.

9/26/2007 9:38 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Bill Carson: Just take a Journalism 101 class. Please.

9/26/2007 10:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "Red Queen" as you like to denigrate, is making a good show in court. Time to stop trivializing these important issues.

What is the bright line between responsibly running your own organization on your own term and retaliatory hirings? Which side of the argument carries the most weight?

I do favor protecting private property rights over complained union demands when all things are equal.. My bias.

All it takes is 50.1% more likely Wendy was trying to make changes she wanted rather than vindictive firings for union activity? That the way I sees it.

9/26/2007 4:33 PM  
Anonymous allegro805 said...

Wendy didn't fire these reporters earlier, despite all this perceived bias, she only did so when she had other reasons to get rid of them.

This phrase above really caught my attention. I'm just curious how all this will play out.

It seems that one can recognize that a publication owner can have the right to fire writers over pereceived bias... BUT, if firings "just coincidentally" occurs within two months of a vote to unionize (as in Burns's and Davison's cases), it seems to be a reasonable assumption that the firing was related to the unionization effort.

In regard to the "Overpass Six" (or however many there were), I would say any justification for firing -- as argued by Capello & Co. -- is on extremely shaky ground.

9/27/2007 5:53 PM  

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