Baying at the Moon

Poodle Looks at Seismic Shifts in Media Landscape

Thursday, October 4, 2012
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TALKING LOUD AND SAYING WHAT? If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no reporter on hand to ask how it felt, did it really make a sound? Such questions come to mind when contemplating Santa Barbara’s ever-changing news-media scene, which increasingly is coming to resemble a hyperkinetic game of three-card monte. Or conversely, a slow-moving train wreck. Having abandoned any belief in the existence of The Truth, I no longer look to the news media to discover what that may be. But lies are ubiquitous things, and the news media can play a helpful role ferreting those out. More profoundly and mundanely, the news media can help a community ​— ​in all its fractured, fractious parts ​— ​talk to itself. And that is huge. But in taking the temperature of Santa Barbara’s news media these days, it’s hard to know where to even stick the thermometer. Since the Santa Barbara News-Press ​— ​which for eons functioned as the town’s journalistic center of gravity ​— ​melted down six years ago, the whole news universe has shifted dramatically. Since then, much of the community has simply tuned out the News-Press, but late last week, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) reminded us what that meltdown was all about.

Angry Poodle

Federal labor judge Clifford Anderson found Wendy McCaw and her management crew guilty of bargaining in such egregiously bad faith that words all but failed him. Anderson found management misconduct “sufficiently aggravated” and “so extreme” both at and away from the bargaining table that employees would have wound up with fewer rights and protections than if they had no contract at all. McCaw et al. illegally fired uppity employees to avoid dealing with the union. They hired temporary workers and freelancers to do the work of what should have been staff reporters who otherwise would have been eligible for union protection and representation. Anderson concluded that McCaw pursued a “calculated strategy to reduce the negotiations to a sham,” and that her bad faith “so infected the core of the bargaining process” that it could not be redressed by traditional remedies. Although McCaw can be expected to fight this to the bitter end, this is just one of a zillion NLRB rulings that have gone against her. News-Press workers can be faulted in hindsight for naïvely thinking that a supernova personality disorder can be addressed through collective bargaining. But questions of tactics and social justice aside, the whole town has clearly suffered by not having a credible daily newspaper.

Once again, for example, the News-Press seems poised to wage a jihad against Santa Barbara Police Officer Kasi Beutel and by extension the entire police department. Once again, freelance reporter Peter Lance is at the forefront of the fray, and he appears poised to drown us in yet another tsunami of incendiary words. For all I know, Lance may wind up being correct about everything he says. But given that his obvious intellectual brilliance is eclipsed only by the narcissism of his writing, I tend to have my doubts. So too, unfortunately, will many News-Press readers, half of whom have already voted with their feet and canceled their subscriptions.

The News-Press diaspora has spawned many journalistic efforts that have since come and gone. The Daily Sound, Santa Barbara’s perpetually underfunded almost-daily, has recently crumbled, and its satellite publication, the ill-fated Montecito Messenger, wasted little time living up to its nickname “The Mess” and collapsing, too. Josh Molina, the onetime News-Press star reporter who held down the fort at both, has since landed on his feet working for Assemblymember Das Williams. While the Mess set out to dethrone the Montecito Journal ​— ​well-known for its snarky conservative edge ​— ​the Journal is now spawning its own Santa Barbara variant ​— ​the Sentinel ​— ​a new weekly publication that reportedly will provide attitude-rich coverage of business and real estate news, among other things. In the spirit of faux competitive camaraderie, I recognize there are serious gaps in community news coverage and wish them well. But as someone forced by the recession to take a pay cut to continue toiling in the trenches of weekly journalism, I know that advertising revenues are tight and would prefer they didn’t exist. Nor has it helped any that The Independent remains embroiled in a draining do-or-die ownership battle between Editor in Chief Marianne Partridge and Publisher Randy Campbell. While Partridge has scored a series of seemingly overwhelming court victories so far, Campbell, always preternaturally stubborn, has filed an appeal, meaning more time, money, and creative energy will be sucked down a useless, fruitless rat hole. Times are tough. Even Peter Sklar of Edhat, a nine-year experiment in mixing community-originated blogging with pictures of palm trees and pets and actual news stories borrowed from other sources, is breathing seriously heavy. Last week, Sklar ​— ​who insisted he wasn’t about to pull the plug ​— ​asked readers, for the first time ever, to begin kicking in $1 a week.

Into this chaotic yawning breach, an especially determined group of schemers and dreamers have dared to tread, hatching plans to create a new nonprofit that would fill the void of labor-intensive, in-depth community reporting left in the wake of the News-Press downfall. Last week, this enterprise — led by former News-Press reporter Melinda Burns (fired by McCaw), Hap Freund (former head of Santa Barbara’s public-access TV station), and retired commie pinko sociology professor Dick Flacks ​— ​secured a $500,000 grant from the Knight Foundation, which the Santa Barbara Foundation will now have to match. How this money helps produce the sort of news we all claim we’d like to see has yet to be seen, but I, for one, am most intrigued, and, given how hard this group has worked, most impressed. While Burns lacks McCaw’s millions, she is every bit as determined. I always suspected the endgame here would hinge on which of these two would be the last one standing. One thing’s for sure: If a McCaw falls in the forest, a very big noise will be made, whether anyone’s there or not.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Perhaps all these failings are the result of our elective economic model-capitalism. None of the above mentioned publications has, with few exceptions, has or had what I would call really good investigative journalism. There is no demand.

Most people are looking for entertainment rather than journalism. Most can be distracted from entertainment and could be interested in good journalism if it is something that affects our personal narrow scope and personal view. So if our economic model requires demand, and if there is no demand from the consumer buying public, then why would there be success in investigative journalism.

So we do get information. We get weather, we see sports, neighborhood bar stories, a SBPD cops TV show, press releases from non-profits and all the good they self-reportedly do, photos of flowery botany and the old farts car club rally.

Al Gore said many years ago when expressing his frustration with the lack of attention, action and misinformation on a serious environmental concern said that "we are entertained to death."

The new non-profit sponsored investigative journalistic attempt led by Melinda Burns could be interesting, but again will there be enough demand?

DonMcDermott (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2012 at 6:43 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I get it already...
You're implying the tactics of the local media are scandalous. So you instinctively write a scandal filled column and call it a day....
Sure must be nice to be you (or Lance for that matter)! Getting paid like you're doing demo work and finish carpentry at the same time!

BBOY (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2012 at 9:44 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The implication Nick is making is that the last reputable local newspaper standing is ...............

Botany (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2012 at 10:10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Nick Welsh fails to mention the rest of the Newsource crew: Abe Peck, and the only member with actual bootstrap experience in journalizm: Warren Schultheis ("is the founder & publisher of City2.0, a scalable (currently Santa Barbara-only) community site that aggregates local headlines and provides a free blogging platform for Santa Barbarans. He also is a identity designer / web-developer and currently works for Vox Media, Inc.")

A lotta chiefs, and few indians.

Here's the cobbled-together website for Newsource, I assume a demo for the Knight grant:

binky (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2012 at 10:37 a.m. (Suggest removal)

"... the Montecito Journal ​— ​well-known for its snarky conservative edge ...​"

LOL! MJ is the only local rag I know of where almost every Letter to the Editor is subject to an Editor's Note either congratulating or chiding the author.

The MJ always gets the last word. And they should because Montecitan's are wealthy and above us all!

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2012 at 1:01 p.m. (Suggest removal)

We bloggers are the new media. They say guns are the "great equalizer" in physical combat, and the great equalizer in journalism are the unfettered ideas of individual with computers. Last time I heard, China and North Korea's leaders are getting nervous.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2012 at 2:08 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Noozhawk ain't bad, and from time to time the Daily Nexus does something.

sevendolphins (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2012 at 2:21 p.m. (Suggest removal)

No mention of Noozhawk seems to be a intentional oversight after all they just co sponsored a congressional debate with KEYT , and Edhat seems to have asked for funds (subscribers) for the past several years seems to happen once a year, neglecting to mention the SBView seems totally fair since no one would mistake them for journalism.

Interesting about Josh Molina since the take on him when he worked at the Sound was that he was essentially writing for Das anyways.

pointssouth (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2012 at 3:35 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Before all these publications there was hE@D Magazine from 1996-2003, our focus was Arts and Culture. We started the magazine to fill that void here in teh Santa Barbara area, earned a national audience and the emnity of local publications who we never considered competition. hE@D is still available online and special releases. Our "competitors" may still be around, but I doubt they even make half in sales of back issues that hE@D has, simply because the interest in their publications remains fleeting.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2012 at 4:10 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Edhat is probably the most unique local "news and information" site (not sure what else to call them).

I really like how you can pose a question to the community and get lots of useful tips. The dog & cat pictures are kinda funny too.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2012 at 4:52 p.m. (Suggest removal)

A careful reading of the press release published elsewhere on this website shows Nick Welsh got some of the details wrong about the new journalism initative:

- The Santa Barbara Foundation got the $500,000 grant, not Burns, Flacks, or Freund. It kind of ruins Welsh's tidy ending to his column, that of the last woman standing.

- It's called the Santa Barbara Journalism Initiative, (not Newsource, as I incorrectly stated above), and "overseen by an executive advisory board comprised of individuals with deep media experience, foundation representatives, and key community leaders. Steven Ainsley, a former publisher of the Santa Barbara News-Press, is the board’s first chair."

- it's unclear from either the Knight website or the SB Foundation press release who has to match the $500k grant; "The Santa Barbara Foundation, the Fund for Santa Barbara, the James S. Bower Foundation, and the McCune Foundation were the primary providers of seed money for the research that went into the successful proposal receiving the grant from the Knight Foundation," so says the press release.

- a small error also sits in Welsh's last paragraph -- the grants were awarded September 5, not "last week."

binky (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2012 at 10:39 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Nick points out that Santa Barbara is simply the Kentucky/West Virginia of the journalism world. Similar things are happening in cities across America as we allow the 4th Estate to wither away into nothingness.

Molina epitomizes the idea that if you can't beat em — or at least pay ring fees to spar — then join em.

Journalism should not be allowed to die, especially while we allow our government to bail out the auto industry, cozy up with Wall Street and "R-Kelly" us every 4 years.

Approval levels and trust of politicians, attorneys AND journalist is at an all time low. Money flows from those serving as the watchdog over individuals with power to those who keep individuals with power, in power.

Something has got to give, and citizen journalist is not what's up. Think about this, we allow our politicians to function off of fundraising appeals, but not our newspapers who are tasked with keeping them in line!? That deserves a big ol, "Come on, Man!"

Collectiveconcious1 (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2012 at 11:52 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Binky, According to their website, the Fund for Santa Barbara has awarded $30,000 for this initiative ("Santa Barbara NewSource").

Nockamixon (anonymous profile)
October 9, 2012 at 4:02 p.m. (Suggest removal)

It looks like that was the 'seed money' mentioned in the initial press release to get the Knight grant:

:: "SBJI was conceived as a complement to local, county news, gaining local and national support for independent, in-depth reporting. The Santa Barbara Foundation, the Fund for Santa Barbara, the James S. Bower Foundation, and the McCune Foundation were the primary providers of seed money for the research that went into the successful proposal receiving the grant from the Knight Foundation."

binky (anonymous profile)
October 9, 2012 at 4:41 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Nickster, you wield a deceptively broadly brush when referencing the only true investigative reporting to take place in SB over the past many moons. To pejoratively describe Peter Lance's series as part of a "jihad" via a "tsunami" and then to reach the unsupported conclusion that he's a narcissist whose single-minded fervor is responsible for the waning readership of the News-Press, really does undermine your glossy rep as a truth-monger.
The boil of corruption on the collective derriere of the SBPD and D.A. has been "lanced" by a series of detailed and thoroughly researched articles. The putrid puss of official deceit and ass-covering leaking from that gaping sore is the stuff of Pulitzers.
Most curious is that The Independent continues to ignore the allegations presented by Lance, as though a popular cloak of silence will somehow protect Sanchez, Dudley, Beutel, Tudor, et al from culpability.
The truth will out and make us free.
Either work toward that end, Nick, or go back to stupid dog tricks.

Beachgirl77 (anonymous profile)
October 10, 2012 at 2:15 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Peter Lance would be a perfect match to ally with "Santa Barbara View".

And if he did not present himself as constantly unhinged, then the Indy just might take him seriously, but he can't, so they don't.

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
October 12, 2012 at 11:47 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Nick iis just uptight because the former hard hitting SB Indy has morphed into an apologist for City Hall and the SBPD. The most hard hitting local story of the last twenty years has been the series by Lance. Scooped by the Newspress and their three person newsroom. Sorry Indy but your standards have fallen. The Poodle has been neutered, hardly angry, more of a lapdog.

Herschel_Greenspan (anonymous profile)
October 13, 2012 at 2:23 p.m. (Suggest removal)

@Herschel_Greenspan: Welsh at least is one of the only people talking about the NDAA so I think your criticism might be premature, but time will tell.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
October 13, 2012 at 3:17 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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