Randy Alcorn — the News-Press’ chief financial officer for 23 years, but disgusted by the paper’s dysfunctional chaos — was planning to resign. But owner Wendy McCaw beat him to it.
Alcorn got the message late Monday afternoon via a visit by what News-Pressers have dubbed “The Angel of Death.” Yolanda Apodaca, human resources director, arrived with the dreaded letter of bad news and politely walked him out of the building.
Alcorn had already cleaned out his De la Guerra Plaza office over the past few weeks. “I would have preferred to have made an orderly transition” and completed year-end financial reports, but that wasn’t to be, Alcorn told me.
McCaw, no doubt aware of the cleaned-out office and his job-hunting, made what Alcorn called “a pre-emptive strike.” Her reasons? He explained, “We didn’t see eye-to-eye and she wasn’t comfortable with me.”
Alcorn told me that he was deeply discouraged that the paper had degenerated into a “propaganda campaign and petty vindictiveness” instead of dealing with the serious problems of running a daily newspaper.
Alcorn’s firing was seen by observers as a major loss to a paper already staggering under lost circulation, defecting advertisers, and ongoing controversy, including McCaw’s opposition to newsroom unionizing efforts. More than 30 journalists have quit or been fired since the meltdown began in early July.
Alcorn admits that he was critical of how the paper was run. “I was critical that our focus was off running the News-Press” and instead was focusing on “enemies” in the community. “I’m a professional,” said Alcorn. “I manage with facts and report things as they are. I pretty much say it like it is.”
Alcorn was known as a straight shooter and for his integrity, character traits that might have led to his downfall. “He’d tell you exactly what he thought, what you needed to know,” said one Santa Barbaran. “He was the Rock of Gibraltar.”
Pained by the disintegration of a once-excellent paper, Alcorn said that at one point, with many in the community critical of McCaw and demanding that she sell the paper, he proposed to her consultants a possible way to defuse the situation. McCaw could save face in the community by turning over management to her nonprofit foundation, with a professional team, with profits given back to the community.
The response he got from her team: “Who’s going to tell her?” Alcorn doesn’t know if McCaw ever heard of the proposal.
McCaw has shown no interest in selling the paper or giving up control. In a memo last week, she insisted on the right to determine not only editorial views but “content” of the paper. “I don’t think she’ll ever sell,” Alcorn said.
Alcorn once seemed to be riding high on Libertarian owner Wendy McCaw’s hit parade, enjoying a prime spot on the Sunday op-ed page, writing an intelligent, articulate column reflecting, many felt, strong Libertarian views. (The introductions to the column can still be viewed by going the newspress.com and searching for “Randy Alcorn.” You must pay to see the full versions, however.)
But in November Alcorn’s column disappeared from the paper. The day after Thanksgiving he cleaned out his office and has been doing job interviews.
“The whole thing with the newsroom was avoidable,” he said. “It has created a lot of havoc,” there and in other departments. “She had made it worse and worse. The whole place was like a morgue. I knew I was going to leave when she and Arthur (von Wiesenberger) took over as co-publishers. I was not on her team from the beginning.”
As a result, “he’d been marginalized,” taken out of the top management loop, one former News-Presser said. “They weren’t telling him anything.” One source said that a possible strike against Alcorn was that he “was associated with Jerry Roberts,” the former editor and publisher who quit July 6 and who had worked closely with the finance chief. Roberts, who is in San Francisco recuperating from emergency surgery to remove his spleen and gall bladder, is defending himself against a $500,000 contractual claim by McCaw.
Alcorn was at the paper for over 23 years, having worked under three owners, 11 publishers, and eight executive editors.
Said one Santa Barbaran: “I don’t think anybody loved the newspaper as an institution more than Randy. He loved that place as a long-time Santa Barbara institution.”
One question being raised by several former employees: Will others be leaving the paper of their own accord, due to the tense working conditions, after year-end bonuses, if any, are passed out?
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You can reach Barney Brantingham at 805-965-5205 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He also writes a Tuesday online column in the Indy and a Friday Barney’s Weekend Picks.