As the Santa Barbara News-Press controversy continues, many county residents are choosing to get their news through alternative media sources, including Internet blogs.
The combination of resignations and firings at the News-Press since July has left the newspaper with less than five news reporters to cover local issues and events. With only a skeleton of a local news section in the News-Press each day, Matt Kettmann – senior editor at the Independent – said his publication, online blogs and other print media have seen a steady increase in readership.
The alternative media outlets have also grown in popularity because of their extensive coverage of one of the most popular topics in town – the News-Press itself. Since July, newsroom employees and the paper’s upper management, including owner Wendy McCaw, have been embroiled in a fight regarding content. Specifically, the employees have declared impropriety on McCaw’s part for allegedly meddling in newsroom decisions, while upper management has countered by saying writers and editors were biased in their coverage and needed to change.
Although the Independent is a weekly publication, it has covered the News-Press and other stories online with “news-flashes,” which are often posted before other daily papers hit the stands. Since the News-Press controversy began, the number of visitors who read the Independent’s website has steadily climbed by several thousand.
“The News-Press meltdown has increased online readership throughout Santa Barbara County,” Kettmann said. “We now get nearly 30,000 readers of Independent.com every week.”
Meanwhile, the Daily Nexus registers an average of 20,823 successful requests for pages each day and has a print readership of roughly 25,000. According to an analysis through Alexa.com, the Independent’s average successful request for pages each day is comparable to the Daily Nexus’.
The Daily Sound, a free paper that prints Monday through Friday and caters to the South County, has also expanded in recent months, although editor and publisher Jeramy Gordon does not fully attribute the growth to the News-Press scandal. Gordon said the Sound is following a business plan that has also contributed to the growing readership, bringing it from its original 3,000 readers to 7,000.
Santa Barbara bloggers are also watching their hit counters grow, especially those devoting their attention to covering the News-Press itself. Craig Smith, a Santa Barbara and Ventura College of Law professor, has covered the developing News-Press controversy extensively in his online blog and said his readership has also increased since last summer.
Smith said the issue at the News-Press is censorship, as exemplified by the fact that the News-Press will not cover its own actions with news articles, but will only mention the various lawsuits and protests in editorials or open letters to its readers.
“The problem is – and for a long time has been – that ownership has been meddling in coverage of the news, dictating what stories can and cannot be covered by the news reporters,” Smith said. “The worst thing they have done is firing journalists on [allegedly] trumped-up charges of bias.”
Other bloggers like “Sara de la Guerra,” who runs www.blogabarbara.blogspot.com and remains anonymous, operate their websites as a discussion board and allow users to post comments that often stir up arguments between readers.
Meanwhile, websites like www.edhat.com and www.newsoffthepress.com, which compile local news, articles and blogs, have also become resources for online newsreaders. News Off the Press, a website created by UCSB student Liam Keane, aims to serve as an alternative to the News-Press.
Keane, who attributes his website’s growing success to the lack of a reliable daily paper, said he made the site in an effort to help people boycotting the local newspaper find news.
“At this point, they’ve fired too many editors and staff that built the News-Press,” Keane said. “Now that they are gone, people don’t have a reason to trust it anymore. I think the days of the News-Press are over.”
While Kettmann said saving the News-Press’s reputation is an uphill battle, he believes the paper can continue to serve the community – as long as owner and publisher Wendy McCaw steps away from the newsroom.
“We all want the News-Press to survive,” Kettmann said. “If McCaw really wants to win back the community and keep her paper, she’ll have to do a lot of honest apologizing, a lot of smart hiring and then remove herself from the news department’s day-to-day operations.”