Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Why The News-Press Canned "The Investigator"

I'm back home in Santa Barbara. It seems like so much went on (or went down) in town while I was gone last week, I almost don't know where to start. So maybe it's best to start where I left off.

That would be with the news that the Santa Barbara News-Press gave its Saturday columnist, Robert Eringer (aka "The Investigator) the axe. I can only conclude that someone at the paper had heard Eringer strike up the tune "Wail on the Chief" at least once too often and decided that enough is enough.

Eringer has posted the column that the News-Press wouldn't run, on his own website. (There's a link to it over at Blogabarbara.)

Once you read the column it becomes pretty obvious what was wrong with it; taking letters or e-mails (some of them apparently anonymous) that you receive and publishing the allegations made therein, evidently without contacting the Chief to give him an opportunity to respond, is not exactly what ought to be passed off as "investigative reporting." If nothing else, perhaps someone was concerned that a column such as this running under the moniker "The Investigator" might be opening up the paper to claims of false advertising, or worse.

Experts tell us that a single event seldom causes an airplane to go down but rather, more often than not, it's a series of events (something I repeated to myself on more than one occasion during the 28 hours I spent in the air traveling to and from Argentina). My guess is the same is the case with the firing of Eringer and his attempt to double-down on Sanchez wasn't the only reason he was let go.

Not lost on me, nor should it be on you, is that if what was contained in Eringer's unpublished column had appeared in an op-ed page column in the opinion section, it might have passed muster at the News-Press. Repeating what shows up in an e-mail without divulging the sender's name and slapping the qualifier "allegedly" on it has, for a long time, been Travis Armstrong's standard operating procedure.

But Eringer's column ran on the news pages and if Eringer truly thought he had some dirt on the chief, then he should have taken the time to do a real investigative report which would, at a minimum, require getting people to speak on the record for attribution and, of course, give the chief an opportunity to respond. Anything less than that is the journalistic equivalent of a drive-by-shooting. Evidently, Eringer wasn't willing to move beyond being a drive-by-investigator.

* * *

Another hearse has pulled into the newspaper graveyard. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer will publish its final print edition today.

There's a definite Santa Barbara connection to this latest shuttering. About 10 percent of the staff have been offered positions at the online only version of the paper which will survive the demise of the print product.

Among those making the cut are Gerry Spratt, the former News-Press sports editor who was the first journalist to resign from the paper in July of 2006 after the initial five editors walked out. Colin Powers, who had been the presentation editor at the News-Press at the time, also quit shortly thereafter and took a job as the Page One designer for the PI. No word yet on whether he has been offered a position at the online operation.

And although he was long gone before the Wendy McCaw era, former News-Press editor David McCumber, the managing editor of the PI, will stay on at the online incarnation and keep his title.

* * *

Former News-Press editor Jerry Roberts, who has been writing a column that covers California Politics for the Independent has started his own blog, calbuzz, in partnership with Phil Trounstine.

Their debut post on why Dianne Feinstein won't run for governor, was also the op-ed column in Monday's LA Times print edition.

Welcome to the blogosphere Jerry and Phil. My only question is, what took you so long?
© 2009 by Craig Smith and www.craigsmithsblog.com