Truly Local  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  The Beat
From AJR,   September 2000

Truly Local   

The Santa Barbara News-Press breaks loose from its 15-year owner, the New York Times Co., and moves into the hands of a local billionaire.

By Lori Silverstein
Lori Silverstein is a former AJR editorial assistant.     



Not everyone is following the latest trends these days, especially the 145-year-old Santa Barbara News-Press. While mega-media companies consolidate and grab a tight hold of daily papers, the News-Press breaks loose from its 15-year owner, the New York Times Co., and moves into the hands of local billionaire Wendy McCaw.
"It's exciting," says Publisher Allen Parsons. "We're getting in our own ship and sailing out there."
Deciding to focus more on its larger, faster-growing papers, the New York Times Co. put the 45,300-circulation paper up for sale. And McCaw, 48, the owner of a private investment company, Ampersand Holdings, purchased the paper, outbidding newspaper companies like Copley and MediaNews. McCaw reportedly paid about $100 million, and the sale is expected to close this month.
"I was concerned that, if a national chain were to purchase the News-Press, Santa Barbara might not have a truly local paper in my lifetime," McCaw wrote in an e-mail to AJR.
David M. Cole, editor and publisher of the newsletter News Inc., says having someone in the community own the News-Press rather than an "absentee owner" could really benefit the paper. "No one can sit in a community for two years and say they know it," Cole says. "All newspaper groups do it. Having someone live in the community is refreshing, if nothing else."
News-Press columnist Barney Brantingham, who's been with the paper since 1960, says he's seen owners of all types, including T.M. Stroke, who owned the paper until 1964 and whom he calls "the last true local owner."
"The New York Times brought professionalism, and that was good," Brantingham says. "This is a move ahead from the corporate structure of distant owners. She cares; that's the big word. She's got this local passion."
(The News-Press is not the only nonconformist. In Maryland, the Delaplaine family keeps alive the state's last wholly family-owned daily, the Frederick News-Post, by selling it to General Manager George E. Randall and his family.)
Parsons looks forward to plenty of new opportunities. "The New York Times has been hugely magnificent to this paper," he says. "But in a corporate structure there are more rules."
However, Parsons acknowledges, the paper faces new obstacles, such as increased expenses for newsprint.
For the new owner, the move into newspapers is idealistic. "I know it is unusual," McCaw says, "but I am hopeful that this will start a new trend where local citizens invest in their hometown newspapers and make them truly local again."

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