Thursday, March 20, 2008

Three Questions For A Thursday

Question 1. What does Travis Armstrong want from Brian and Camie Barnwell?

The former city councilman left office at the beginning of January. It's been nearly a year and a half since his wife, a former reporter for the Santa Barbara News-Press, resigned from the paper. Neither is in public life. Yet Armstrong, the paper's editorial page editor, continues to use his op-ed column to pummel the pair by putting the couple's private business in the street.

Most recent example was Armstrong's column from yesterday. Once again he's going off about Barnwell's former wife's motion in their divorce case to have him held in contempt for his inability to get his lender to take her name off the mortgage and his present wife having been sued two years ago over an alleged debt. That latter case was settled out of court sometime last year. As for the contempt proceeding:

In February, a judge delayed the contempt case involving all of this until after March 11. There's been no action according to a review of the case file at the county Courthouse.

And no one is more disappointed about this than Armstrong.

Does Armstrong want credit for Barnwell's defeat in the election last November? I'm not so sure he deserves it, but I'm willing to give it to him if it will shut him up.

Question 2. Why can't anybody ever have an honest difference of opinion with the editorial positions of the News-Press?

Have you noticed that anyone whose positions are in disagreement with a News-Press editorial can't merely be wrong, but instead must be corrupt? Why must the paper vilify anyone who has opposing opinions about development and growth rather than merely respectfully disagree with them?

Yesterday's op-ed column, accused Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf of being a "puppet on a string" and her vote on the issue of rezoning in the Eastern Goleta Valley as being a "sell out."

She basically set in motion a loophole-filled process to update Noleta's community plan that would allow rezonings of open space and ag land.

What we aren't told is that the measure passed 4 - 0 with Fifth District Supervisor Joe Centeno abstaining. Sure, this measure affects an area that is within her district so it's fair to say her position on this carries more weight than her colleagues, but why single Janet out for your vitrol? After all, she was hardly the "lone Wolf" on this vote. (And please, no groaning out loud.)

Question 3. Is the News-Press acting more like a blog than a newspaper?

I start from the premise that a blog, which most certainly includes the one you are reading, is but the opinion of one person. Newspapers should be something more than that.

At last summer's NLRB hearings, I was present in the audience when Armstrong talked about the concept of a newspaper's editorials being the "position of the paper as an institution." Fair enough. But are the News-Press editorials really the position of anyone other than the paper's owner Wendy McCaw?

There is a difference. Institutions don't get personally affronted when readers or members of the public disagree with their editorials positions. They don't warn elected officials, as the News-Press warned Wolf in its editorial the other day, that if they don't vote a certain way they will have a "long and bruising road" ahead of them. In short, "institutions" act like, institutions, and not like angry bullies.

About a year ago, I quoted L.A. Times columnist Tim Rutten's description of the editorial creation process at The Times.

The broadening of the editorial board was intended to make the process of arriving at editorial decisions as public as possible - to create transparency, as we now say. If you were an editorial writer proposing a piece for the next day's paper, you had to sit across a conference table from the editor and the publisher and the paper's senior most news editors and defend not only the argument you intended to make but also its factual basis. It was a rigorous, often bracing experience.

With an editorial board composed of McCaw, her royal consort Arthur, and Armstrong, I strongly suspect that the editorial decision-making process at the News-Press goes something like this; Wendy expresses her opinion, Arthur nods his head in agreement and Travis says, "I'll write it up!"

Furthermore, there is a school of thought that says before a newspaper editorializes about a topic, they should have reported on it as a news story first. There ought to have been some objective, balanced reporting of the facts that precedes the appearance of an editorial opinion. If the News-Press sent a reporter to cover Tuesday's vote at the Board, the reporter either didn't write a story or the story was killed. There was no news story prior to Tuesday's editorial either. If you want a news report of the meeting you'll have to look at the one in the Daily Sound.

As I said, blog's are the opinion of one person. Newspaper editorials, at least good ones, don't come down to the view a single person.

It's no answer to say "it's Wendy's paper." I seem to recall her saying at the time she bought the News-Press that she wanted it for the community and to keep it out of the hands of a corporate owner. So what does she want the News-Press to be, our newspaper, or her overpriced blog?

* * *

A couple of readers wrote in to point out that the bird that went missing in Carpinteria and later turned up in Pasadena was a macaw.

Now, if we could only get another certain McCaw to disappear for 15 months and then turn up 80 miles south of here.