Barney’s On the Beat

By Barney Brantingham

Fired: Randy Alcorn, the newspaper’s veteran chief financial officer, was canned Monday, a major loss to a paper already staggering under lost circulation, defecting advertisers, and ongoing controversy.

Alcorn said he had planned to resign anyway, 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. But, he told me, owner Wendy McCaw made “a pre-emptive strike,” firing him Monday afternoon because “we didn’t see eye-to-eye and she wasn’t comfortable with me.”

Alcorn was known as a straight-shooter and a professional, and his character and integrity 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.”

Alcorn admitted he was critical of how the paper was run. “I was critical that our focus was off running the News-Press” and instead focusing on “enemies” in the community. “I’m a professional. I manage with facts and report things as they are. I pretty much say it like it is,” Alcorn said.

Pained by the disintegration of a once-excellent paper, Alcorn said at one point, with many in the community critical of McCaw and demanding 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 and in a memo last week 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 McCaw’s hit parade, enjoying a prime spot on the Sunday op-ed page, writing an intelligent, articulate column reflecting, many people felt, strong Libertarian views. But in November, Alcorn’s column disappeared from the paper. The day after Thanksgiving he cleaned out his office and has been going on job interviews. “The whole thing with the newsroom was avoidable,” he said. “It has created a lot of havoc,” there and in other departments, according to Alcorn. “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 took over [as copublishers]. 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 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, one source said. 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 about 23 years, having worked with 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 longtime Santa Barbara institution.”

Ben-Dor in Town: Gisèle Ben-Dor, former music director of the Santa Barbara Symphony, quietly slipped into town last week, met up with friends, and reportedly spent a day with a mediator regarding her lingering lawsuit against the symphony.

Woody Allen: I don’t know how Woody Allen finds time to tour with his New Orleans Jazz Band while cranking out a movie a year, but he’ll be playing at the Lobero on Sunday night at 8 p.m. Aficionados can gather for a preconcert dinner at 6 p.m. at Palace Grill on Cota Street. (Woody, famous for avoiding such social affairs and hobnobbing, isn’t expected to be there.)

Sierra Club Feud: Santa Barbara Sierra Club members warn that Ventura County Sierra-ites are waging a campaign to take over the two-county Los Padres chapter. Last year, there were four at-large openings on the chapter’s executive committee. But there were only four names on the ballot — all from Ventura County’s Sespe Group, I’m told. “Nobody seems to know, or want to admit, why four Sespe Group members were the only ones on the ballot last year,” one member told me. Now it’s time for another election, the first contested balloting in some time, I hear. Five Sespe candidates are competing with three from Santa Barbara County, with four to be elected. “The Sespe Group apparently wants to run everything,” the Santa Barbaran said. “The net result is that if Santa Barbara Sierrans don’t vote this year, they will be virtually shut out of the chapter, yet Santa Barbara County has more than 50 percent of the chapter.”

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