The South Coast Beacon is two issues old today. Tom Bolton and William Macfadyen, the two top editors at a paper of 18, try to explain why they started a 20,000-circulation paper for the new city of Goleta.
“We didn’t know any better,” Publisher and Editor Bolton said.
“Our wives were sick of us hanging around the house,” Executive Editor Macfadyen said.
Between the two of them, they have over 35 years experience as editors at the only professional daily paper in town, the Santa Barbara News-Press. They’re both UCSB alumni who have spent their careers reporting and editing the news in Santa Barbara, Goleta and UCSB. Bolton has some experience at the area’s only other daily paper: He was the Daily Nexus editor in chief in 1977-78.
“We have a lot invested in the Goleta community, but we’re professionals, we’re newspaper guys,” Bolton said. “We know a lot about the community and what we’re doing and also part of it is about us controlling our own destiny instead of letting someone else do it for us. We’ve had enough of that.”
They both left the News-Press after clashes with owner Wendy McCaw, who bought the paper in October 2000. Macfadyen left voluntarily, Bolton less so.
“Wendy McCaw bought the News-Press and she said she was going to let professionals run the paper and she would keep her hands off the newsroom,” said Bolton, who was the paper’s executive editor at the time. “I found out pretty quickly that wasn’t the case and I guess I raised the issue one too many times. … I’m really glad I’m not there anymore. Wendy McCaw is not someone I’d want to work for.”
At a time when more newspapers are folding or being bought up by large chains, Bolton, Macfadyen and their staff are attempting the most difficult challenge in journalism: starting a new paper. The Beacon is delivered to between 15,000 and 17,000 homes in the 93117 area code and distributes the remainder of its 20,000-copy press run on newspaper racks in the area. It won’t compete directly with the daily News-Press; instead, it will compete with the area’s two weeklies – the Independent and, more directly, the Goleta Valley Voice.
“We’re hanging our hat on the idea of a high-quality community newspaper,” Bolton said. “The analogy I like is that in the past Goleta has been the tail on the dog, but today, it’s the dog. For news junkies, it’s a great place to work and it will be for years and years to come.”
“It’s competitive out there – there’s serious competition – but in terms of the product we put out, I think we’ve got a shot. I think the readers and the advertisers will come around,” Macfadyen said.
Advertisers won’t come around overnight and it will be a struggle to make the Beacon turn a profit, but Bolton said he’s planned for that.
“We’re going to lose a lot of money in the first year,” Bolton said. “We will produce a high-quality paper, though, and we hope the readers will come and the advertisers will follow. We need the support of the business community to make it.”
Nick Welsh, the Independent news editor and author of the paper’s popular Angry Poodle BBQ column, said he’s happy to see the new paper. The Independent mostly covers arts and entertainment stories and focuses its news coverage on Santa Barbara, although the paper does have a reporter assigned to Goleta.
“Goleta has not been our bread and butter but for the people of Goleta it sure needs to be somebody’s. Will [the Beacon] be competition? Probably, but not intensely so,” Welsh said.
There’s plenty of news in Goleta, Welsh said, but the new paper might have trouble finding enough advertisers.
“They can’t make the revenues needed to sustain their staff and their operation out of Goleta alone. Historically, the money has not been there,” Welsh said. “[Valley Voice publisher] Jim Farr has a tough sales machine going and he will be tough for them to compete with … he’s got a lot of political and business loyalty that it will be hard for the Beacon to encroach on.”
Farr could not be reached for comment; however, he told the News-Press that it was clear to him the Beacon was planning to directly compete with his 15,000-circulation weekly newspaper.
The Beacon plans to compete by covering Goleta and UCSB better than any other newspaper. The new paper’s motto is “Writing Worth Reading,” and Bolton says it will define the paper.
“It’s a promise to readers that the time they invest in reading the Beacon will be well spent,” Bolton said, “and it’s a good tenet for us to hold ourselves to.”