Thursday, July 06, 2006

Santa Barbara News-Press

Editors, Columnist Quit Santa Barbara Paper

By James Rainey
Times Staff Writer

5:18 PM PDT, July 6, 2006

Five top editors and a veteran columnist have resigned from the Santa Barbara (Calif.) News-Press, saying Thursday that the newspaper's billionaire owner had been meddling improperly in the editorial content of the 150-year-old publication.

Editor Jerry Roberts was escorted from the building before noon, as several staff members cried and others hurled epithets at Travis K. Armstrong, the latest in a series of publishers to run the News-Press for owner Wendy McCaw.

Journalists at the paper had greeted McCaw's purchase six years ago with relief, saying they welcomed the ascension of a local owner — one known as an environmentalist and philanthropist.

But reporters, editors and some of Santa Barbara's most prominent citizens said Thursday that McCaw's tenure should give pause to many journalists around the country who have been pining for private owners to save them from publicly owned chains, which have been beset by budget reductions, layoffs and other woes.

"When the newspaper was up for sale, we were wishing for a local owner," said Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum. "Now we have one, and all I can say is: 'Be careful what you wish for."'

McCaw has put her stamp on the paper — which she bought from The New York Times Co. in 2000 — with, among other things, vigorous editorials in favor of animal rights: One was in opposition to eating turkey at Thanksgiving.

But the editors who resigned this week said her influence has veered from the iconoclastic to inappropriate in recent weeks.

During that time, they said, McCaw or her representatives killed a story about Armstrong's sentencing for drunk driving; reprimanded a reporter and three editors for publishing the address of actor Rob Lowe as part of a story about the star's attempt to build his "dream house"; and issued a memo ordering journalists not to talk to outsiders about the newspaper's internal business.

The ascension of McCaw loyalist Armstrong into the publisher's office late last week was the final straw for the journalists, they said in interviews today.