Tracking the local journalism scene

Views 128 | Time to read: 6 minutes | Uploaded: 4 - 1 - 2014 | By: Megan Monroe


Westmont students looking to be more integrated in the local community might start by reading local news and media sources, whether in print or online. Santa Barbara has a rich history of journalism as well as a diverse, thriving media environment today. But since our city has such a large variety of sources to choose from, how can students know where to start reading? Maybe by looking at the history and current landscape of media and journalism in Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara became a part of the United States in 1848 after the Mexican-American war with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in which Mexico ceded land from Texas to California. Shortly afterward, in 1855, B.W. Keep and R. Hubbard founded Santa Barbara’s first newspaper, the Santa Barbara Gazette. The Gazette published both an English and Spanish section, as English was not named the official language of record until 1870.

The ownership of the original Gazette changed several times in the early days. This has created debate about whether the Gazette is a true predecessor of the Santa Barbara News-Press, which claims to be the oldest paper in Santa Barbara. This claim is based on the fact that the owner of the Santa Barbara Post was at one point an owner of the Gazette. What is clear is that the Post (which later changed its name to the Morning Press) was bought by Thomas M. Storke in 1932. He merged the Press with his paper, the Santa Barbara News, to create the name the paper still goes by, the News-Press.

Storke was quite an influential figure in the world of Santa Barbara journalism, as well as in the world of national politics. He was briefly a member of the U.S. Senate from 1938 to 1939, when he filled a spot for a senator who resigned. In 1961, he won the Pulitzer Prize for journalism for a series of editorials he wrote in response to the accusation that Eisenhower’s administration was sympathetic to communism.

The Santa Barbara News & Review was established in 1973. In 1986, it merged with the Santa Barbara Weekly and the Independent was born. In 2010, their circulation was the highest of the county, at 40,000 readers.
The Independent produces a variety of investigative articles on the environment and local politics and has a particular strength in the arts and entertainment. Their reviews of local artists, restaurants and musical performances are especially noteworthy.

The recent history of the News-Press tells a fascinating and controversial story. What is referred to as the News-Press “meltdown” began after the paper was bought from the New York Times company by millionaire Wendy P. McCaw. The ex-wife of billionaire Craig McCaw, Wendy is known throughout Santa Barbara for her environmental activism and philanthropy, which benefited both Granada and the Santa Barbara bowl.

After McCaw took leadership of the News-Press, tensions began to form between her and the paper’s editorial staff. Many of the editors and reporters quit, resigned, or were fired due to disagreements with McCaw over what they saw as her inappropriate intervention with the paper’s content. For example, she forbade her reporters from writing a story about a drunk driving case involving her favored publisher Travis K. Armstrong.

Though McCaw believed that as the owner of the paper she should be able to exert control over the details of stories, many of the staff members believed that her interference was unethical. Five newsroom employees resigned together on July 6, 2006 over what they viewed as a breach of journalistic integrity.

After this incident, many of the remaining staff decided to unionize in order to resist McCaw’s influence over the newsroom. When McCaw fired several employees over the unionization effort, an ugly public lawsuit followed, which resulted in a hearing of the National Labor Relations Board that ended in a ruling that the News-Press violated labor laws.

The conflict has died down in recent years, but the News-Press controversy has permanently impacted the news landscape of Santa Barbara. During the lawsuits, many long-time subscribers canceled their subscriptions.

In recent years, online news sites have gained popularity. In 2007, William Macfadyen founded online local news source Noozhawk.com. Macfadyen, once associated with the News-Press, founded Noozhawk keeping in mind journalistic principles laid out by Storke. They identify some of these principles on their site as “Play no favorites, and never mix business and editorial policy” and “publish the news that is public property without fear or favor of friend or foe,” among several others.

Students may want to consider reading Noozhawk for breaking news, in-depth coverage of local politics, crime and non-profits among other topics.
One of the interesting possibilities created by online news formats is that contributions can come directly from many sources. Edhat.com, which started publishing in 2003, aggregates news written by community members.

Mission and State, created in 2013 by the Santa Barbara Journalism Initiative, is another exclusively online news source that focuses on social issues and policy issues like homelessness, the environment, education and healthcare. The initiative was funded by the Miller-McCune center for Research, Media and Public Policy, which is also based here in Santa Barbara. Their website claims part of their mission is “to promote meaningful dialogue by reporting, in clear and concise language, the latest and most relevant scientific research and innovations shaping the issues of the day.”

Whether you love to get the news instantly online or you prefer to hold a newspaper in your hands to take in the smell of ink and paper, there are plenty of choices for you to get your local news fix.


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