Buying the News-Press? One of the
first things Sara Miller McCune plans to do if and when she buys
the Santa Barbara News-Press is fire Travis Armstrong. Not
that embattled owner Wendy McCaw has any intention of putting the
paper on the market, as far as I know. But this is how things
played out when McCune got up to accept her News-Press
Lifetime Achievement Award Saturday night at the Four Seasons
Biltmore: By next year’s award ceremony, “I hope to be the owner of
the News-Press,” the businesswoman and philanthropist told
the audience.

I wasn’t there, but according to reports, she was greeted by
gasps and nervous laughter, then the standing ovation by all three
awardees. “Sold,” cracked MC Arthur von Wiesenberger, co-publisher
and McCaw’s fiancé. Quickly followed by, “Just kidding, we’re
having too much fun,” according to online columnist Craig

Then, as McCune headed to the bathroom, she was intercepted by
the always-gracious editorial page editor Armstrong, who reportedly
chastised her for “rude” and “inappropriate” comments. Cooler heads
stepped in, but as McCune was leaving later, Armstrong confronted
her a second time and repeated the remarks, she told me. Replied
McCune to Armstrong: One of the joys of owning the paper would be
“the great pleasure” of firing him.

Whether she will get a chance to enjoy ousting Armstrong is
highly questionable, since McCaw displays no sign of putting the
paper on the auction block. McCune told me that she made the remark
because she wanted to be sure McCaw was aware of her interest.
McCune said she’d sent a proposal to McCaw recently suggesting that
they discuss a possible sale and work out a price, but had received
no reply. McCune said she was honored to be chosen, selected by
past honorees.

Not so “fun” is the firing of highly respected 21-year reporter
and union activist Melinda Burns and business editor Edmond Jacoby,
bringing the total of the departed to more than 30. Among those not
in attendance Saturday night was Teamsters Union lawyer Ira
Gottlieb, who’d shelled out $150 for a ticket but was kicked out of
the dinner as a persona non grata. Ira insisted he planned no

Blogger Craig Smith wondered if it was really necessary to have
entertainment at the event. Surprise guest Jay Leno did a very
funny monologue that Smith guessed cost $75,000 to $100,000 and
might better have been donated to charity. And, Smith noted,
$75,000 is the approximate total raised for the entire
News-Press Holiday Fund last year.

No Dream Home: Elaine Aver won the grand prize in the Santa
Barbara Dream Home Raffle, but not the promised million-dollar
house on the city’s upper Eastside. She got $200,000. That’s
because the nonprofit running the raffle to benefit a Santa Barbara
High School media arts program didn’t sell at least 15,000 of the
full 18,000 tickets. It only sold 9,778 tickets at $150 a pop,
bringing in $1,466,700, far less than hoped for.

Of the $1.4 million, the student program netted a disappointing
$200,000. I wasn’t able to reach Aver, of Laguna Hills, to see how
she felt about the result. Michael Jaffe, president of the
sponsoring California Academy Foundation (CAF), which is composed
of Santa Barbara High parents, said he’s heard of no complaints
from her or anyone else.

I’ve heard of one—a resident who declined to be identified, who
said that only after he bought a ticket and got an info packet did
he see fine print that the house wouldn’t be awarded if fewer than
15,000 tickets were sold. As it is, after all 260 prizes were
awarded, including three cars, and expenses paid, $400,000
remained, Jaffe told me. One Santa Barbaran won $25,000 and another

The $400,000 was split, according to the rules, half to the
grand prizewinner and half to the sponsoring CAF, the fund-raising
arm of 150-student strong Santa Barbara High’s Multimedia Arts and
Design Academy. CAF will turn over “a good check” to the school,
Jaffe said, and use the rest for student tours and other support of
MAD, the program’s acronym.

NP Prosecuted: The National Labor
Relations Board (NLRB) has decided to prosecute the
News-Press for violations of federal labor law regarding
the current newsroom unionization effort. After an investigation,
the NLRB validated charges that NP management violated the
law by canceling union activist Starshine Roshell’s weekly column
and by obstructing and threatening to suspend a group of newsroom
employees in retaliation for delivering a letter to McCaw demanding
improved working conditions and an end to obstructionist tactics in
dealing with the NLRB. The feds are also investigating the firing
of union activist Melinda Burns.The Dish Breaks Off: Martha
Smilgis, whose highly local, amusingly written, and clever column
The Dish, was one of the remaining bright lights of the News-Press,
has quit. Reason: Editors wanted more gossipy chatter. Smilgis, a
seasoned journalist and ex-Time mag staffer, wasn’t willing to just
dish the dirt. Her column was “too political,” she was told. The
much-ridiculed new-hire reporter Vladimir Kogan has also quit.

You can reach Barney at 965-5205 or via He also
writes a Tuesday online column at and
Barney’s Weekend Picks on Fridays.


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