Thursday, November 01, 2007

I Always Read the News-Press While Sitting On A Grassy Knoll

Perhaps one of the occupational hazards of covering the meltdown at the Santa Barbara News-Press as long as I have is that you tend to become a believer in conspiracy theories. In other words, there are no "coincidences" everything is motivated by an agenda.

For example, Wednesday's edition of the News-Press kicked off the lead-up to the paper's Lifetime Achievement Awards dinner which will take place later this month. On the front page was an article, the first in a series of three, about this year's honorees. The profile was about local attorney Joe Howell.

I've known Joe for a long time so I was especially interested in reading the article. And I wasn't about to let the fact that the profile carried the by-line of the paper's gossip columnist, Richard Mineards, a.k.a. "London Britches," (you know, Mr. "Pip! Pip! for now) stop me.

Perhaps I should have let it. The first thing that struck me was the structure of the article. Good articles have a beginning, a middle and an end. This article seemed to start in the middle and was in a big hurry to get to the end.

I had the distinct feeling that Mineards whipped the story out out while his car was double parked downstairs in De la Guerra Plaza.

But then again maybe it's the conspiracy theory effect.

I also noticed the article seemed to be awfully short. So I checked it and it was 350 words and change.

My weekly newspaper column in the Daily Sound is never less than 500 words and usually is in the neighborhood of 700 or 800.

In fact I can tell you that the profiles of last year's Lifetime Achievement honorees were no less than 500 words each. Even Sara Miller McCune's.

Could the decision to give Howell's profile such little space be deliberate? Or was I letting the conspiracy theorist inside get the better of me?

Then came the real kicker. I had seen the story on the News-Press website Wednesday morning between 10:30 and 11:30.

When I sat down to write today's post around 9 pm Wednesday night I went back to the News-Press website to look at the story again and it was gone. Removed. Vanished. Without a trace. (Note as of Saturday morning it was back up.)

That conspiracy theory is starting to look pretty good.

Of course by now, you're asking yourself "what would be the motive for all of this?"

Well, one of Howell's closest personal friends is Steve Ainsley, who is currently the publisher of the Boston Globe and formerly was the publisher of the News-Press for six years when the paper was owned by the New York Times Company. And at Howell's request, Ainsley will be in attendance at the Bacara on November 17 to introduce Howell as he receives his Lifetime Achievement Award.

And yes, the News-Press is aware that Ainsley is coming out here to present the award.

So, could it be that Wendy McCaw, arguably one of the most reviled publishers of the News-Press, is bothered by the fact that Howell is a close friend of Ainsley, arguably one of the most revered publishers ever to preside over the paper?

Am I onto something or have I just been doing this too long?

And by the way, what I've written up to this point is just a little over 500 words in length.

* * *

Next Tuesday evening at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Jerry Roberts, former executive editor of the News-Press, will be among those honored by the PEN Society. Roberts is receiving the 2007 First Amendment Award. The PEN Society is an organization of writers and journalists who monitor First Amendment Issues.

Jerry will accept the award (no, not from Steve Ainsley but rather) from writer/director Taylor Hackford, a Santa Barbara native who is himself a former News-Press paper boy.

* * *

Tuesday morning I had coffee at the Daily Grind with city council candidate Dale Francisco. He had taken exception to me referring to him and another candidate as "the car guys" (a reference to news articles where they appeared to pooh-pooh public and alternative forms of transit). I was happy to give Franscisco an opportunity to further explain his position.

He told me that while he has nothing against alternative or public transportation he doesn’t see either as being a practical alternative for most people who live in Santa Barbara and that he'd rather focus on transportation solutions that will be used as opposed to those that will be under-utilized.

Francisco, along with the other car guy and Ms. McMansion are endorsed by the News-Press.

So what does it take to get the News-Press' endorsement? I asked Francisco if he had been interviewed by the News-Press' editorial board prior to getting their nod.

The answer was no. Other than being a guest a couple of times on the radio show of Travis Armstrong, the News-Press' editorial page editor, there was no interview or meeting with anyone at the paper. The first he knew about the News-Press endorsement is when he opened the paper one morning and read about it.

That’s quite a contrast to the process that existed when the paper was under the ownership of the New York Times Company. Ten years ago when I ran for Superior Court Judge, candidates who desired the paper's endorsement had to come in and meet with the paper’s publisher, editorial page editor and executive editor.

I guess these days the primary qualification for the News-Press’ endorsement for city council is that your last name isn't Barnwell, Schneider or Williams.

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