Thursday, January 01, 2009

Wendy's Message; Don't Get Your Hopes Up

For observers and critics of the Santa Barbara News-Press, the new year always means another front-page greeting from the paper's owner Wendy McCaw.

In past years, her "Letter to Readers" has been the source of innumerable straight lines for wise guys like myself.

This year's message was a little different from its predecessors.

First of all there's the photo. Gone is perennial picture of Wendy in a basic black dress and a string of pearls. This year it's been replaced with the photo that graces the home page of her personal website. A very flattering photo but I can tell you that it's dated. Wendy hasn't looked like that for some time now.

Of course if she had used a current photo it would be apparent to all that her nose has grown from telling all those tall tales about how she won her contract arbitration with former editor Jerry Roberts.

And rather than being relegated to a corner of the front page, the Letter to Readers runs in column one.

In past letters Wendy has cited the accomplishments of paper in the year that just ended and has made promises about how the paper will improve in the year to come. We all remember her 2007 guarantee of the "best coverage of local events that can be had."

This year's message was devoid of the usual platitudes about the paper's "values" and she makes no promises about the direction or goals of the News-Press in the coming year for her to under-deliver on. In fact, she appears to have made a conscious effort not to give her critics any ammo.

Instead she talks in general about challenges to the community in the form of the two major fires and the weakened economy. With the paper so short of staff from layoffs and resignations it looks like the assignment editor asked her to write the traditional year-in-review article.

Of the seven paragraphs in the letter, I found the following one to be most ironic:

Santa Barbara continues to be a blessed community because the people who live here care about it. We have repeatedly seen Santa Barbara in difficult times. The outreach by neighbors to those affected by disasters such as the Tea Fire, the random acts of kindness and the compassion in giving to all living thing give us hope for a brighter future.

It's a little peculiar to hear the person who on two separate occasions last year laid off a dozen or so employees without any warning or any severance pay, talk about kindness and compassion.

My prediction for the coming year: 2009 will bring a lot of surprises, but a kinder, gentler Wendy McCaw won't be one of them.

* * *

By the way, if the PGA can suspend golfer John Daly for six months citing his bad behavior, why can't the NPA (Newspaper Publishers Association) do the same with Wendy?

Just a thought.