Santa Barbara News-Press owner Wendy P. McCaw and the newspaper’s latest editor-in-chief, Nick Masuda, have parted ways due to an editorial that McCaw wrote dismissing the COVID-19 pandemic as an exaggerated gambit concocted by liberal elites to bring down President Donald Trump.
“Our liberties are being stripped for what, a virus??” McCaw wrote. “Think about this. If this country can be put into this situation by a virus, what would it take to completely turn us into the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany? We are not that far away now having had to stand in line to get into the supermarket.”
Masuda, who took over the helm of the long-flailing News-Press a year and a half ago, found himself in terminal hot water with McCaw for posting a disclaimer at the end of her missive. It stated that the views expressed were those of McCaw’s only “and do not necessarily reflect those of the SBNP staff.”
Words were reportedly exchanged between the two. In one version of events, Masuda — a former sports writer who has done a yeoman’s job trying to reinject local news coverage into the front pages of what was once a proud and vibrant daily newspaper — quit. In another, he was fired.
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McCaw’s editorial appeared the same day a caravan of protestors — wielding and waving their red, white, and blues as rhetorical cudgels — circled De la Guerra Plaza in their vehicles, honking their horns to protest a host of social distancing restrictions imposed by Governor Gavin Newsom and Santa Barbara County Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg.
Masuda acknowledged his departure from the News-Press on Facebook, first expressing his gratitude for the opportunity to have functioned as the newspaper’s editor-in-chief and how that had long been a dream of his. Then, in an aside appropriate for a May Day missive, he added, “But, we all have bosses, and sometimes you simply don’t see the world in the same way. Sometimes you are subjected to things that no person should be subjected to. Sometimes you simply can’t co-exist especially when views go against all that you stand for as a human.”
Masuda did not specify exactly what he’d been subjected to, but it’s hardly the first time that McCaw and the hired help have not seen eye-to-eye. Masuda’s departure, however, could qualify as the final death knell for a newspaper that, from the outside looking in, seems to have already died a thousand self-inflicted deaths at the hands of McCaw, whose personal wealth, presumably, has been the only thing keeping it from collapse.
To an uncommon degree, Masuda had sought to restore some semblance of journalistic content and credibility to a newspaper that for years went out of its way to alienate and infuriate the community. McCaw endorsed Trump in 2016, one of only three papers in the country to do so at that time, in a county that voted for Bernie Sanders in that year’s primary and Hillary Clinton in the general election.
But the poison between McCaw and the community runs far deeper than mere ideology. McCaw has never been one to hide her contempt, and the community has responded in kind. In this context, Masuda’s ascension to the top editorial post was both perplexing and welcome. For the first time in years, local news stories began to show up on the front page. To the extent the News-Press had been consumed by a drawbridge mentality, Masuda was clearly not swimming in that moat. It was, by all outward manifestations, an exhausting undertaking. Anecdotal reports suggested that Masuda was running himself seriously ragged. Those who could afford to lose a little pocket change had started a betting pool: How long could Masuda last?
Journalism everywhere is in deep trouble for a host of structural reasons. Even in that context, the News-Press has been an outlier, pushing the envelope in terms of subscribers and employees lost, and positions left unfilled. The paper’s troubles began in earnest in 2006, when a flood of employees quit due to McCaw’s interference in the newsroom. Masuda’s departure is no cause for celebration — it is a sad victory for the bitter, the paranoid, the kooky, and the wacky.
Correction: Nick Masuda began directing news at the NP a year and a half, not three years, ago.