Mass exit at Santa Barbara paper causes wild scene

by E&P staff, editorandpublisher.com

In a wild finish to a simmering "church-state" conflict, five top editors and a columnist have resigned from the Santa Barbara (Calif.) News-Press.

Editor Jerry Roberts, an industry veteran, was escorted from the building before noon, "as several staff members cried and others hurled epithets" at Travis K. Armstrong, the interim publisher who helps run the News-Press for billionaire owner Wendy McCaw, the Los Angeles Times reported.

On Wednesday, Managing Editor George Foulsham resigned, joined on Thursday by Roberts and three other editors, as well as longtime columnist Barney Brantingham.

The newspaper, on its Web site on Friday, offered "A note to our Readers" from Armstrong, declaring, "We want to let you know that five of our editors and a longtime columnist of this paper decided to part ways with our publication." (More from the letter below.)

Journalists at the paper "had greeted McCaw's purchase six years ago with relief, saying they welcomed the ascension of a local owner -- one known as an environmentalist and philanthropist," the Times' James Rainey related.

"But reporters, editors and some of Santa Barbara's most prominent citizens said Thursday that McCaw's tenure should give pause to many journalists around the country who have been pining for private owners to save them from publicly owned chains, which have been beset by budget reductions, layoffs and other woes."

Rainey quoted Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum: "When the newspaper was up for sale, we were wishing for a local owner. Now we have one, and all I can say is: 'Be careful what you wish for."'

McCaw bought the 150-year-old paper from The New York Times Co. in 2000.

Editors who resigned this week accused her of improper meddling in editorial. "What we have as a paper to sell to people is our credibility," Don Murphy, who was the paper's deputy managing editor, told the Associated Press. "On one hand you have someone writing editorials and on the other hand editing news stories. There is an inherent conflict."

McCaw or her associates, the L.A. Times explained, "killed a story about a top editor's sentencing for drunken driving; reprimanded a reporter and three editors for publishing the address of actor Rob Lowe as part of a story about the star's attempt to build his 'dream house'; and issued a memo ordering journalists not to talk to outsiders about the newspaper's internal business.

"The ascension of a McCaw loyalist into the publisher's office late last week was the final straw for the journalists, they said in interviews Thursday."

Sam Singer, a spokesman for McCaw, said the resignations were due to differences of opinion about the paper's direction, the AP reported. "She wants stronger and more local news coverage," Singer said. "They had different interests and chose to resign."

Armstrong's letter to readers on Friday explained:

"It is important to note that newspapers, like all companies and families, have differences of opinion as to direction, goals and vision. Such was the case with our departing colleagues.

"We are fortunate in Santa Barbara to have local ownership and management under Wendy McCaw and Arthur von Wiesenberger. In far too many cities across the United States, a few newspaper chains dominate the marketplace. We are pleased to be an independent voice in Santa Barbara that provides varying and different viewpoints that are not called in to us from Back East, Down South or even another country.

"Our strength is our independence, and that independence doesn't always sit well with everyone....

"Not everyone -- journalists themselves, readers, elected officials and the public -- is going to see eye-to-eye with the manner in which news is reported by any news organization. We believe that the criticism that this paper has received, from all sides, is part of a healthy debate that is essential to providing the many different viewpoints of each and every story.

"The News-Press has thrived as a prominent institution serving this community for more than 15 decades. We intend to continue doing so."

article originally published at http://editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1002....

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey