Saturday, July 08, 2006

A Free Press--If You've Got a Spare $450 Million

A Los Angeles Times story includes the lines:

"We are really limping along right now. We are not doing all the reporting and stories we would like to be doing," said one reporter, who asked not to be identified out of fear of being disciplined.

So, where is this paper? Baghdad? The Gaza Strip? Some college paper yearning to breathe free?

Nope--it's the Santa Barbara News-Press. Even before media consolidation was an evil glimmer in Ben Bagdikian's eye, it just seemed to anyone reasonable that it would be better for local interests to own a local newspaper. Alas, that also assumes that the local interest would be someone reasonable--enter Wendy McCaw, who scored $450 million after divorcing her husband in 1995 (who knew cell phone licenses could be so valuable?). She bought the local Santa Barbara daily the News-Press in 2000 from the New York Times Company, and everyone seemed happy, at least until her peculiarities became more peculiar, and eventually more public. She's one of those "I'm rich enough to be a libertarian" kind of people, with only an environmentalist bent to make her politics palatable. Her editorial page has railed against Living Wage legislation--in Santa Barbara, infamous as a place where all the services classes work and then hustle off to Ventura or Santa Maria, because the cost-of-living is so expensive. (A 1300 square foot house on a small lot goes for just under a million.) Then her intended became the paper's food critic, and there wasn't even a disclaimer when he took his "brainiac fiance" out on his reviews. Then the editorial page editor, who seems to hate any woman politician in the region (OK, maybe not everyone, just Lois Capps, Hannah-Beth Jackson, Marty Blum, Susan Rose, Gail Marshall, and Janet Wolfe--did I forget anyone?) gets busted for DWI while motoring the wrong way on a one way street but the paper spikes the story about his sentencing because having a blood alcohol level almost 3 times the legal limit isn't news, well....

It's hard to chronicle all the downhill from there--so fast, so down, so hill. Things blew-up this past week, and now 6 editors and a beloved columnist have quit. Want to know about what's going on? In the News-Press you can read a commentary about the glorious history of publishing papers in Santa Barbara, and how people have differences of opinions, so some move on. But when so many move on, that's not a difference of opinion, that's a parade of righteousness out the doors of hypocrisy and failed journalism. If you want the news, go to a real newspaper, or a blog.

P.S. Rob Lowe--if you want a McMansion, that means you want people to gawk. They need to know the address is 700 Picacho Lane, Montecito. In fact, here it is on a Google hybrid map.


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