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Barney Brantingham: New Digs

Longtime chronicler of Santa Barbara life joins Independent staff


When the Santa Barbara News-Press threw a party for me on my 45-year anniversary at the paper, I recited “10 Reasons Why I Stayed So Long.” One was: “I was waiting for an offer from The Independent.”

That got a big laugh. But now, after 46 years and three months, here I am at The Independent, due to shocking recent events at the News-Press. I resigned from the News-Press in protest two weeks ago, and a day later I got The Call from Indy editor-in-chief Marianne Partridge, offering a new home to my column.

The Indy isn’t just a convenient landing place for me. I’ve long had a warm spot in my heart for the paper and the people who work to put it on the newsstands every week. Its philosophy is far closer to mine than the often-wacky News-Press editorials (although I applaud owner Wendy McCaw’s courageous stand against the Iraq war) and poison-pen editorial page columns. (I must say it’s the first time I’ve ever written for a paper that didn’t charge its readers. But there’s something democratic about that, isn’t there?)

I think you’ll find my weekly columns here to be in about the same vein as the ones I’ve written since 1977: human interest stories, scam warnings, comments on Santa Barbara County controversies, and sniping at local politicians and government. In a word — local. I also plan to continue travel writing.

Buying the NP? Reports continue to swirl that residents unhappy with the Wendy McCaw regime are pondering how to buy the News-Press. Philanthropist Sara Miller McCune, founder of what is now one of the world’s leading English-language publishing houses, has sent around emails offering to lead a consortium of investors. “I have been reading, with a mixture of shock, horror, amusement, and awe about the News-Press and the current media furor.” Offer: that’s up to a top accounting firm’s valuation. She’s now in Europe but wants to hear what you have to say via phone or email (SARA@sagepub.com).

Barney in front of the News-Press building
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

Barney in front of the News-Press building

But there’s no sign that McCaw has any interest in selling. She clearly enjoys the bully pulpit of her editorial page, but reportedly hates unions so much that now that one is being formed, folks say as a vegetarian she’d probably rather chew red meat than deal with the Teamsters.

“This is not a freedom of the press issue, or of intimidation of the newsroom,” McCaw told the New York Times in an article published Monday. “There were personality differences in the newsroom, and the people who didn’t want to be there are not there any longer.” Jerry Roberts, who resigned as editor, said she stopped talking to him in 2004, communicating when necessary through her fiancé, Arthur von Wiesenberger. McCaw was interviewed by phone from Europe, where she has apparently been spending time on her yacht during the crisis at her paper.

National Joke: Cartoonist Steve Greenberg of the Ventura County Star satirized the “Santa Barbara News-Suppress” with headlines “Happy news, ads, and opinion all smooshed together,” and “We’re full of celebrities here in S.B. and life is bliss.” Also: “Every top editor quits this paper. No idea why: We guess people are just fussy.”

Spit in your eye: Remember that scene in the movie Sideways when a character dumps a whole spit bucket of wine over his head at a local winery? Well, customers who saw the flick have done the same thing at least twice recently, according to reports from local vintners. (It’s a big no-no at tasting rooms.)

What a kick: On the day of the World Cup final between France and Italy, about 400 Italians (“and one Frenchman,” cracked part-owner Dave Peri) packed Arnoldi’s Café to watch the match on TV. Also, one Scotsman rooting (very quietly) for France. The Italians won.

Ted Danson nearly clipped: A friend reported that he had to swerve to avoid jaywalking actor Ted Danson, his toupee flowing in the breeze, in downtown Santa Barbara the other day. Ted was with spouse Mary Steenburgen, also an almost accident victim, according to my source.

The Man Who Came to Dinner: The 1930s were famous for their screwball comedies and SBCC’s Theatre Group’s production of this Moss Hart/George S. Kaufman play is a sheer delight. The man in question, skilled veteran Jim Brodhead, fills the stage with witty vituperation as a cast of eccentrics cavort around him, especially Jon Koons in a wildly funny part and Devon Bell as the blonde bombshell. Brodhead’s Sheridan Whiteside is a thinly disguised Alexander Woollcott, bombastic New York writer and broadcaster of the time. This is theater at its best. On the boards at SBCC’s Garvin Theatre through July 29.

Madame La Zonga: Echoing the old Jimmy Dorsey song “Six Lessons from Madame La Zonga,” Ensemble Theatre is staging Richard Alfieri’s bittersweet Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks. While Dinner features a stage jammed with actors, Six Lessons has only an unlikely pair, Mary Jo Catlett and Joseph Fuqua, but they deliver a gentle emotional punch with each trip around the apartment’s dance floor.

Backfired: News-Press owner Wendy McCaw’s page-one “Note to Readers” last Thursday, attacking news employees, backfired. It further enraged newsroom people and led soft-spoken young Colin Powers, presentation editor and a key person in putting out the paper, to resign Friday. Why? For one thing, Colin said, “A balanced article on the resignations was killed and replaced by the acting publisher with vacuous absurdities.” Vacant positions were “quickly filled by opportunists,” he continued, “[but] the final straw for me came when the woman who signs my paycheck wrote a letter to readers that violates the foremost reasons she pays me to practice good journalism. The editors who left comfortable jobs for uncertainty in a tough newspaper market didn’t do so because they were opposed to more local news. They left because the hands of the executive suite and op-ed department had extended their reach so far into the newsroom that their fingertips were on the reporters’ keyboards.”

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You can reach BarneyBrantingham at 965-5205 x230, or email barney@independent.com.

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