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Paul Wellman

Peaks and Valleys for S.B. Media

How 2012 Changed the Landscape of Area News Outlets


Thursday, January 3, 2013

From various court cases to shutdowns and an untimely death, the past year was no “best of” for Santa Barbara news agencies, though there is plenty of hope for how this city of 90,000 gets its news.

Noozhawk, the online-only publication which celebrated its fifth anniversary in October, continues to grow, publisher William Macfadyen said, and is “on a trajectory to be sustainable over a long period.” The website hired Tom Bolton, a well-respected journalist formerly of the Santa Barbara News-Press and Santa Maria Times, to be its executive editor in April, and in November it announced that Kim Clark, who also worked at the News-Press for a stint, was coming on to head the sales side. The site — which this year saw a 40-percent increase in traffic from 2011, including a 65-percent increase in the last quarter — also hired another reporter to expand coverage to the North County. Looking back, Macfadyen said, “2012 was a very good year for Noozhawk.”

It wasn’t such a great year for the Santa Ynez Valley Journal or the Santa Barbara Daily Sound, which both shuttered in recent months. The Valley Journal — owned by rancher Nancy Crawford-Hall, who used the paper largely to further her own interests — was shut down “until we have a more reasonable government,” Crawford-Hall described in a farewell column, leaving the paper’s dozen or so employees out of jobs right before Christmas. She said the paper would be “hit hard with new taxes due to Obamacare” and would therefore be unable to pay reasonable salaries.

The Daily Sound, after six years in Santa Barbara, printed its last paper at the end of June and shut down for good weeks later. The five-days-a-week paper was founded in March 2006 by Jeramy Gordon (with this reporter as the first journalist writing there) and had impeccable timing, coming into town just as the News-Press imploded, leading to the departure of dozens of reporters with decades of experience.

Speaking of the News-Press, a federal appellate court overturned a decision by the National Labor Relations Board that the paper must hire back several reporters it fired in the aftermath of the meltdown at the newspaper. The decision means the end of the road for the fired employees, who argued the actions for which they were fired were protected as part of union organizing. The decision was one of just a few victories owner Wendy McCaw has had against the former employees, but it was a very big and important one.

The Santa Barbara Independent has been no stranger to internal wrangling, as employees anxiously wait for the resolution of a lawsuit between the paper’s editor and publisher. Not much has happened since a superior court judge ruled in October 2011 in Editor in Chief Marianne Partridge’s favor in her lawsuit against Publisher Randy Campbell. Partridge filed suit against Campbell — who cofounded the paper more than 25 years ago and is the majority owner — to compel him to sell his shares to her. He had sought to sell his shares to another company, which invoked the other owners’ rights of first refusal, the court ruled.

Campbell appealed that judgment. The two sides have fully briefed their arguments to a state appellate court and await the scheduling of a date for the court to hear oral arguments, according to attorneys for both sides. Oral arguments are expected to be heard early this year, and the court will render an opinion sometime after that.

The Independent was recently joined by another weekly in town, the Santa Barbara Sentinel, which had its 13th issue hit newsstands December 28 and takes a lighter look at the goings-on around town rather than report hard news. The paper’s publisher is Tim Buckley, who also publishes the Montecito Journal. In his most recent column, editor Matt Mazza said they hope to boost production and distribution as early as January. “We are healthy, strong even, heading into the New Year,” he wrote, “and we have lots of ideas and new content to bring as we grow.”

Change is coming to KEYT, which was sold in September from Smith Media LLC to the Missouri-based News-Press & Gazette Company. And, sadly, EdHat — the news-aggregating, citizen-journalism website — mourned the loss of its founder, Peter Sklar, who succumbed to a battle with brain cancer in early December at the age of 50.

And finally, the Santa Barbara Journalism Initiative, a not-for-profit journalism project that’s gearing up for a launch next year, has hired an executive editor, former L.A.Weekly deputy editor Joe Donnelly, who comes with a lot of reporting chops. While many question marks remain about the initiative, what it plans to do, and how they plan to do it, the project is supported by a grant from the Knight Foundation and several local foundations. The goal, according to those involved, is to bring more investigative journalism to Santa Barbara.