Response to Buckley’s Opinion

By Montecito Journal   |   August 22, 2023

In his dirge over the demise of print daily newspapers, James Buckley seems to assign the initial cause of the recent shuttering of the Santa Barbara News-Press to The New York Times’ purchasing of that publication in 1985.

He expounds on that curious contention by stating that The New York Times didn’t “know” Santa Barbara and “didn’t much care about it either.” He supports that brooding indictment by saying that publishers and overpaid editors “come and go.”

Throughout the 23 years I was the Chief Financial Officer of the Santa Barbara News-Press, there were three different owners and 10 publishers — five of those publishers coming during the first six years Wendy McCaw owned the paper.

In the 15 years that the NYT owned the News-Press, there were three publishers, with Steve Ainsley serving for seven of those years. One publisher retired and another left for health reasons. There were three executive editors during that time.

Not exactly a revolving door as Buckley charges.

The NYT retained most of the News-Press journalists and editors, many of whom had been with the paper a long time, and the new journalists it hired quickly became the paper’s best beat reporters. Well-trained, experienced, journalists don’t have to be long-term residents of a community to be able to cover it well.

Buckley opines that the decline of print dailies is aggravated and accelerated by what he describes as “the same kind of mind-numbing garbage” that they spew “in lockstep with each other.” He notes that the News-Press was an exception to that, which I suspect he means McCaw’s News-Press

I also suspect that by “mind-numbing garbage,” Buckley means content that does not confirm or comply with his preferred ideological leanings. That he considers McCaw’s News-Press to be an exception to his harsh assessment of media does nothing to diminish that suspicion. The News-Press had decidedly lurched to the right under McCaw — talk about not knowing Santa Barbara.

It is true that the NYT didn’t understand Santa Barbara’s unique market. Their formula for heavily investing in advanced printing capabilities and expanded content, then relentlessly raising ad rates was doomed to failure in Santa Barbara’s predominantly small retail ecosystem. Some of us told them that from the get-go, but with their formula having been so successful everywhere else, our cautionary advice was dismissed.

The NYT cared about the product they provided local communities, including Santa Barbara. High standards for journalism, along with a quality printed broadsheet, were company priorities. After paying a hefty price to purchase the News-Press, the NYT invested over $50 million in capital improvements, while increasing employee pay and benefits.

Content — news and entertainment — was a top priority, but never, as some claimed, did corporate dictate editorial slant. The News-Press was Santa Barbara’s daily, not New York’s. The NYT understood and upheld that. It was simply good business. 

However, the NYT business formula was never going to be successful in Santa Barbara. Profit margin goals could not be met, and the NYT reluctantly sold the News-Press

Buckley is wrong about the NYT dooming the News-Press or not caring about Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara newspaper readers never had it so good as when the NYT owned their local paper. 

He is correct, however, that print dailies were doomed no matter who owned them. The advent of the internet and its breathtakingly rapid domination of media, along with online shopping decimating legacy retail, and high delivery costs sealed the fate of print dailies. 

Without robust newsrooms we are left exposed to the ravages of government power abuse and corruption, and to the predations of the private sector’s insatiable forces of greed. 

That’s the real tragedy we should be lamenting. 

Randy Alcorn

Strange Bedfellows

What strange bedfellows Wendy McCaw and the community of Santa Barbara have had with each other since she purchased the Santa Barbara News-Press a number of years ago.

As a second-generation Santa Barbaran, I remember utilizing our illustrious periodical to share current-event stories in the 1960s with my classmates. Each morning or evening, I would await with anticipation the arrival of our newspaper with the familiar thud on our driveway as the news boy or girl delivered it. Not so, in many years now. Disheartened with the gradual demise of this former award-winning publication, I canceled my subscription several years ago. It had become jaded with one-sided political ideology and lack of integrity in the representation of diverse viewpoints, the hallmarks of other stellar newspapers throughout our country.

Ms. McCaw has frequently voiced her support for animals. Notwithstanding the value of her stance, I can’t help but wonder why she doesn’t acknowledge the necessity of protecting other sentient beings? These would be humans, of course. She has systematically plowed over the many reputable employees who have graced the News-Press over the years. Now, in declaring bankruptcy she has once again, thrown her present employees “under the bus.” Tragic as well are the legal reparations which she has neglected to pay to those who worked for her in the past.

Elizabeth Araluce Mason


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