Drip, Drip: The Bloodbath Continues

The Santa Barbara News-Press remains
very much like the Titanic in frantic search of more
icebergs in which to crash. In this regard, about the only thing
that might save Santa Barbara’s oldest daily paper is global
warming. Business reporter Hildy Medina concluded
she could take no more and checked out last Friday. She’ll be
talking a job with the same Hispanic
Business
publication now employing former
News-Press editor Michael Todd, who was
among the first wave of editors and reporters to resign five weeks
ago.

In addition, News-Press management decided to consign
popular columnist Starshine Roshell to the outer
reaches of journalistic Siberia. Rather than mediating in her
light, but thoughtful fashion on any number of domestic
vicissitudes, Roshell will now be expected to find local hooks for
a host of stories coming over the many wire services to which the
News-Press subscribes. Starshine_Roshell%20pw.jpg Presumably the paper is not happy with
Starshine’s insurgent sympathies. She was among the employees to
show up a public demonstration a few weeks back wearing
duct tape over her mouth (pictured at right)
to protest
the newspaper’s gag order about discussing internal
News-Press matters with reporters from other publications,
which at the time pretty much meant me. (I’m sorry she never got
around to writing a column on how to best accessorize with duct
tape and whether Target—the chain that Starshine once championed
for the city’s airport property, much to chagrin of the Goleta City
Council—had the widest array of colored duct tape
colors
.)

Other than Barney Brantingham’s
and John Zant’s, Starshine’s column was one of the
few personal voices cultivated and produced in the pages of the
News-Press that enjoyed much popularity. For any
newspaper, such voices are essential. For daily papers struggling
to maintain their position and relevance, they are even more so. As
such, the News-Press decision to deep-six Starshine’s
column outright is a yet another example of cutting off their nose to spite the community’s
face
.

In an obviously related fashion, News-Press management
sent out Dear John notes last week to all five of their
community correspondents, notifying them—post-haste—that their
services would no longer be needed. These weekly columns were
designed to keep readers apprised of what’s really going on in the
outposts of the Santa Barbara empire: Montecito, Goleta,
Carpinteria, Santa Ynez, and Santa Maria.

The columns were the brainchild of former editor-in-chief Jerry
Roberts—who resigned five weeks ago—and that might have been enough
to seal their fate. A contributing factor may have been Montecito
correspondent’s Stephen Murdoch’s August 3 piece in which he quoted
someone else comparing News-Press owner Wendy
McCaw
to Leona Helmsley, New York City’s notorious
hotelier and tax cheat whose nasty ways landed her in the hoosegow
back in the ‘80s. Dubbed the Queen of Mean, Helmsley was so
harrowing in her tempestuous quest for perfection that a professional wrestler borrowed her name to help
solidify his bad guy credentials.

While no insinuation of tax fraud has attached itself to McCaw,
other parts of the comparison clearly resonate. Maybe Murdoch’s
crime was that he got it so right. Two weeks after his Leona piece
ran, all the correspondents were summarily dismissed. My hunch is
that the News-Press didn’t want to give Murdoch—a lawyer
by trade—either the opportunity or the satisfaction of claiming a
retaliatory dismissal, so they fired the whole crew. But that’s
just a guess. Or maybe the columns were just too small-town and
down-home for the cosmopolitan sophistication Wendy P and
The Nipper. Maybe they want even more columns
about how members of the intergalactic jet set can pamper
themselves and recharge their batteries. I know it’s important that
News-Press readers know all about all the spas in
Vail, Colorado
and other towns I hope I never visit.

For those seeking to read the tea-leaves, the message being
delivered by the News-Press is pretty obvious:
Screw You. For people who complained about the
paper’s overriding lack of civility in its editorial voices, the
News-Press is clearly turning up the volume. Witness the
recent appointment of Dr. Laura. Although she has yet to
resurrect any of her old chestnuts about gay people being
“deviants,” I expect that she’ll soon give Travis
Armstrong
a serious run for his money when it comes to
delivering the mean and the nasty.

Travis is right about one thing, however. What’s happening at
the KEYT newsroom is a story. Travis’ interest in
it, however, seems kind of self-serving: People who profess to be
upset about the News-Press gag order are really hypocrites
because they’re not jumping up and down over KEYT’s and therefore
their criticism can be dismissed out of hand. For Travis, it’s
always about calling someone else a hypocrite. But to the extent
most people get their news from KEYT, as well as the daily paper,
we’ve got serious problems.

A few months ago, station management—with the guidance of a
media consulting firm out of Iowa—terminated news director
Paul Verkammen. Paul was both a professional
journalist and a local kid grown old. As a result, he brought a
whole lot to the table. Then there was the strange, mysterious case
of the disappearing weather babe. Frankly, I think they
could do away with weather completely, and spend the money on
reporters. But apparently, she left under less than pleasant
circumstances.

And most recently, perennial news anchor Debby
Davison
appears to have been given her walking papers
months before her contract was to expire. Again, I never bought
into the very expensive cult of personality that attends most
anchor people. The money could be better spent on content. But
that’s not what’s happening here. The money will simply go
away.

In the meantime, we still get phone calls and e-mails at The
Independent
telling us we need to go daily. I like that idea.
I like the idea of going twice a week as well. But both would kill
me in about 10 seconds flat. And everyone else working here.

Instead, our plan is to put down our crow-quill pens, enter the
21st century, and create a web page that actually has daily content
and impact. Just doing this has maxed out our dilithium
crystals
, but slowly but surely we’ll be getting there.

Matt
Kettmann
has been named El Jefe del Mundo of
this undertaking, which means we have a better than average chance
of realizing our goals. A former news reporter here for five years,
Kettmann spent the last year-and-a-half as pop culture editor. He’s
also one of those infuriatingly unflappable guys who manages to
keep his head while all about him people are losing theirs. Not
only does he get a whole lot done without seeming to break a sweat,
he’s got tons of good ideas. If you think you’ve got one where our
web page is concerned, send
him a line
.

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