April 24, 2006: Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum and Supervisor Susan Rose are barred from participating in a talk show hosted by a consortium of non-profit agencies on News-Press radio station KZSV 1290 AM, although the show sponsors paid for airtime.
April 27: Editorial page editor and columnist Travis Armstrong, in a News-Press interview, said station policy prohibited people from appearing as guests on one show-even if leased by a separate entity-if they’d declined invitations to appear on other programs. Sponsors privately expressed shock at such a policy. Mayor Blum said she’d been on his show once, and that she had never committed to being on a program discussing June elections. Armstrong responded by writing that Blum had a “sense of entitlement,” and that her attitude was akin “to something out of a former Communist bloc.”
April 27: Publisher Joe Cole announced he was leaving the newspaper and severed all professional associations with owner Wendy P. McCaw so he could spend more time with his family. Cole’s announcement ignited a firestorm of speculation whether he quit or was fired. One of Santa Barbara’s most successful business attorneys, Cole also had served as legal counsel to McCaw and her Ampersand Holdings Co. He is credited with hiring Jerry Roberts-former executive editor of the San Francisco Chronicle-as executive editor of the News-Press.
April 27: On the same day, McCaw announced she was appointing herself and her fiance, Arthur von Wiesenberger, as publishers. The News-Press reported that von Wiesenberger-a bon vivant, food writer, travel critic, bottled water expert, and owner of the once-famous Montecito nightclub Nippers-edited his high school newspaper in Switzerland.
May 6: Armstrong bestowed the Goleta Chamber of Commerce’s “Goleta’s Finest Award” at the Bacara Hotel.
May 7: At 2:45 a.m., police officers spotted Armstrong driving the wrong way down Santa Barbara Street, arrested him for drunken driving, impounded his car, and booked him into county jail.
May 9: The daily ran an interview with Armstrong, who said he had arranged to be driven back from the Bacara, knowing that he might be drinking, but then had a few more glasses of wine at home. Upset with thoughts about work, he went for a late night drive to clear his head. According to newsroom insiders, von Wiesenberger tried to kill the story.
May 25: After The Independent reported that News-Press staffers initiated “The Jerry Watch,” to see how long Roberts would continue working for the daily, some employees were questioned privately by management to determine whether they had spoken to Independent reporters.
June 9: Armstrong pleaded guilty to driving with nearly three times the legal blood-alcohol limit, was fined, and sentenced to four days’ jail time. A News-Press article describing the court action was killed, reportedly at the insistence of the publishers.
June 20: Roberts left on holiday. Armstrong started attending news meetings, and was accompanied by a human relations officer who took notes. The meetings no longer were held in Roberts’s office.
June 21: Despite the objections of a neighbor, the Montecito Planning Commission approved actor Rob Lowe’s proposed 14,000-square-foot house to be built on a now-vacant lot at 7000 Picacho Lane. Reporter Camilla Cohee included the address in a story about the proceedings. Responding to a call from Lowe asking that the address be withheld, Armstrong emailed two editors. But by then, the article had been printed.
June 22: The employee handbook was officially revised to warn that employees who talk about internal matters with other news organizations face immediate termination.
June 23: Though addresses are commonly included in land planning stories and the daily has had no prior written policy on withholding addresses, McCaw issued letters of reprimand to Cohee and three editors: Jane Hulse, George Foulsham, and Michael Todd, all believed to have reviewed the story. The letter to business editor Todd stated: “Lowe’s address has damaged our credibility with the Lowe family and potentially damaged relations with other high-profile readers. : As a result of this error, the Lowe family canceled their subscription.” McCaw concluded: “It is now company policy that no addresses are to be published” without the publishers’ approval.
June 28: All four news staffers sent letters of protest. Todd wrote that the address was necessary to the story, that punishing reporters for violating policies that did not exist before publication to “border on the malicious and defamatory,” and that to give special treatment to “high-profile” residents like Lowe violated the doctrine set down by former News-Press owner and publisher T.M. Storke: “Publish the news that is public property without fear or favor of friend or foe.”
June 29: McCaw dismissed Todd’s arguments about journalistic ethics as “specious,” and that it should be “a matter of common sense and decency” not to publish the actor’s address. “This is sensationalism, it is unethical, it is not the kind of paper I intend to run,” McCaw wrote. As his tone was “argumentative” and “blatantly disrespectful,” according to McCaw, Todd was placed on indefinite unpaid leave pending the outcome of an investigation into a non-sexual remark that offended another employee six weeks prior. He was then escorted from the building.
June 30: McCaw and von Wiesenberger left on vacation. Armstrong was named acting publisher for reportedly three months. He was given unprecedented authority to alter news articles. When Cohee filed a story about Carpinteria City Councilmember Donna Jordan’s decision not to seek re-election after 16 years in office, according to News-Press sources, Armstrong instructed Cohee to include more negative information. Thus far, the article has not run. July 2: Jerry Roberts returned.
July 5: Deputy Managing Editor Don Murphy, a 19-year veteran of the paper, resigned. Iconic columnist Barney Brantingham, after 46 years in the newsroom, submitted his resignation.
July 6: At 9:45 a.m., Jerry Roberts submitted his resignation along with those of Metro Editor Hulse and managing editor George Foulsham. The human relations director escorted out Roberts. He stopped to hug some tearful colleagues. Armstrong showed up, took Roberts by the arm, and said, “You have to leave now, Jerry.” This elicited a chorus of profanity from those assembled. “Fuck you, Travis,” shouted Hulse. “Haven’t you done enough?” Others expressed similar sentiments. Armstrong next told Hulse to leave. At her house, her husband, a reporter for the L.A. Times, presented her with a cheesecake bearing the inscription, “F&%$ Travis.” Later that day, Sports Editor Gerry Spratt also quit.
July 6: The upheaval made the front page of the Los Angeles Times. A News-Press spokesman, Sam Singer, a San Francisco-based consultant specializing in crisis management, was quoted as saying that the editors left due to a disagreement in editorial direction. McCaw, Singer explained, wanted more local news. Reporter Scott Hadley wrote a story for the News-Press detailing the resignations, but it has yet to appear.
July 7: In a front-page editorial, Armstrong compared the struggle between the newsroom and McCaw to a family dispute. Briefly acknowledging the unprecedented exodus, he confirmed the paper’s commitment to excellence. No letters to the editor on the subject were published. Employees reported that hard drives from computers used by five of the six editors who resigned were removed to Ampersand headquarters. Unconfirmed reports suggested the administration had hired an agency to track employee phone calls.
July 8: Jerry Roberts tried to retrieve the contents of his desk from the News-Press, but security guards won’t let him in the building.
July 9: The paper announced the appointment of four replacement editors; all but one were hired internally.
July 11: At the Board of Supervisors meeting, a homeless man who goes by the name Lazarus said that McCaw and Armstrong were in need of county mental health and alcohol services, and that people with their problems should not be allowed in positions of power or importance.