Heiress Wendy McCaw bought the Santa Barbara News-Press in 2000 and for the past few months has outraged her editors and reporters with demands that advertisers and friends be given preferential treatment and with odd style dictates (spell blond with an e, for example.) Things began coming to a head last month when McCaw ordered editor Jerry Roberts to quash coverage of opinion editor Travis Armstrong's DUI arrest — then named Armstrong interim publisher and authorized him to start editing news stories. Yesterday, managing editor George Foulsham and the deputy ME resigned, and today Roberts, metro editor Jane Hulse and business editor Michael Todd resigned — followed apparently by the paper's high-profile columnist of many decades, Barney Brantingham.
Roberts, a former top editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, was led from the building by Armstong as reporters and editors protested and reportedly shouted "Fuck you, Travis." McCaw, already estranged from much of the Santa Barbara community over her handling of the paper, now has ravaged what was a high quality, experienced and collegial newsroom. I'm told this week's Santa Barbara Independent has a story on McCaw's antics but it is not yet online. The News-Press website makes no mention of the turmoil, but the online masthead reflects some of the changes. It's definitely a lesson for those who wish for the Richard Riordans and David Geffens of the world to take over newspapers: be careful what you ask for. (The mayor of Santa Barbara says exactly that in a James Rainey news story now on the Los Angeles Times website.)
* Local blog: Nick Welsh, who writes the Angry Poodle Blog for the Independent, posts today:
Jerry Roberts, a former star with the San Francisco Chronicle, has put together an impressive team of talented and hardworking reporters. One might think life at the News-Press would be so hunky-dory that Mrs. McCaw could spend most of her days collecting and polishing awards for journalistic excellence. Those awards have, in fact, been streaming in, but they haven’t prevented life at the daily from degenerating into a living hell...As the News-Press careens headlong into certain disaster, Mrs. McCaw and her betrothed, Arthur Von Weisenberger, have left town for a few weeks’ vacation — but not before issuing a few other edicts from on high. Henceforth, we are told, the word “blond” will always be spelled “blonde” (either as noun or adjective) when applied to females. And unless a woman specifically instructs News-Press reporters that she wishes to be referred to as “Ms.,” her name will be preceded by the more traditional designations “Miss” or “Mrs.” Finally, in another edict, anyone from the News-Press caught talking with me faces a range of penalties, up to and including immediate termination.
Getting closer to Wendy