Sunday, October 22, 2006

Getting Down and Dirty

The first shots of what could turn into an ugly fight between the two major daily papers in SB County appear to have been fired this last week. Santa Maria Times Executive Editor Tom Bolton details the episode on today's editorial pages:

Twice in the last week, this newspaper's integrity has come under unwarranted attack in columns written by the editorial page editor of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

In case you've somehow missed it, for months now the News-Press has been wracked by a very-public conflict between its journalists and its mega-rich owner, Wendy McCaw, over issues of editorial independence and integrity.

Amid the turmoil, dozens of talented and experienced journalists have left the News-Press, including some who now work for this newspaper.

While we've written news stories about much of what has transpired at the News-Press, we have refrained from commenting on the situation on our opinion pages, feeling we didn't need to delve into their dirty laundry.

But when their opinion editor, Travis Armstrong, made baseless accusations questioning our ethics, I felt compelled to respond in writing.

However, rather than allow me to answer his charges in print, Armstrong took small portions of my letter, twisted them, and attacked us again in his column. He also warned me that should I use my own editorial pages to defend our integrity, I would be proving his contention that we are “ethically challenged.”

Armstrong's analysis and logic are so flawed that it's mind-boggling, but it's what I've come to expect from the amateur-hour newspaper to the south.

That Armstrong even feels the need to attack his neighbor to the North amazes me. The News-Press has no one to blame but themselves for the mess they've found themselves in since early July. Their management has behaved abysmally, to say the least.

At the risk of sounding like an amateur psychologist, it seems that Armstrong's accusations against the Times are a classic case of projection. As Bolton points out:

The latest chapter of your desperate campaign has Travis Armstrong labeling the Santa Maria Times “ethically challenged” because members of our news staff are part of our editorial board. You ask where is the dividing line - the “wall,” as you put it - between news and opinion.

It's quite simple: Stories that appear on our news pages are written and edited to the highest standards of accuracy, fairness, thoroughness and impartiality.

We don't write or edit our stories to please our publisher, our owner or their friends, or to punish the people or groups she or they don't like or agree with.

Our editorial pages, meanwhile, provide a robust forum for a wide range of viewpoints, and we print as many or more from folks who disagree with us as from those who share our views.We also offer nearly unfettered access for letter writers, omitting only those very few that are blatantly offensive or libelous.

As is the case at a great number of newspapers across this country - especially smaller ones - our senior editors do help formulate our editorial positions. We do this openly, with full disclosure to our readers. And we take great care to ensure that the opinions we express in our editorials do not insinuate themselves into our news coverage...

Those so clumsily wielding power at your newspaper fail to grasp the obvious: It's not about whether you have “walls” separating news and opinion.

It's about honesty and integrity and whether you can be trusted to do the right thing.

Who is it again that is ethically challenged?

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