UPDATE: Sixth Editor Leaves Santa Barbara Paper in Raging Dispute

By: The Associated Press and E&P Staff

Turmoil at the Santa Barbara News-Press continued Friday with the resignation of a sixth editor. Some of the departed insist ethics are at the heart of the matter, while the newspaper’s ownership say a focus on local news led to the exits.

Five top editors and a longtime columnist quit earlier this week, accusing the owner of undermining the newspaper’s credibility.

Sports editor Gerry Spratt, who worked at the paper for six years, stepped down Friday, for undisclosed reasons, said Sam Singer, spokesman for owner Wendy McCaw. Spratt later said it was over ethics.

Spratt’s move follows the departures of editor Jerry Roberts, managing editor George Foulsham and deputy managing editor Don Murphy, as well as the business and metro editors and a longtime columnist.

The editors said McCaw and her closest associates had become meddlesome. They cited two stories that they believe compromised the paper’s ethics and pointed to the appointment of Travis Armstrong as acting publisher at the same time he was the editorial page editor.

“It’s been a lot of little things that have cast long shadows,” said Michael Todd, the business editor who resigned. “The newsroom sanctity has been breached. We don’t think it is or can be an ethical newsroom in the future.”

Singer said the resignations were due to differences of opinion about the paper’s direction.

“She wants stronger and more local news coverage,” Singer said. “They had different interests and chose to resign.”

The newspaper acknowledged the resignations Friday in a published note to readers, signed by Armstrong.

The News-Press was founded in 1855.

McCaw, a local philanthropist active on environmental and animal rights issues, bought the paper through her company Ampersand Holdings LLC from The New York Times Co. in 2000. Joe Cole, the newspaper’s president and publisher, retired in April, and McCaw appointed herself and her fiance, Arthur von Weisenberger, acting co-publishers.

The editors who resigned cited a story dealing with Armstrong’s drunken-driving arrest as an example of meddling. The newspaper ran a story about his arrest in May over the objections of ownership, Murphy said. A follow-up story was scrapped, he said.

“I loved the job, I loved the paper,” said Murphy, who spent 19 years at the News-Press. “I just felt I had to leave.”

Roberts told The New York Times for a Monday story that employees quit “largely because of ethical concerns…These are primary ethical issues of the blurring of the line between opinion and fact, editorial page and news page.

“More than 100 papers ran a story about the resignations on Friday, but The News-Press was not among them. It ran a column by Travis Armstrong spinning it. To me, that proves the case that they’re mixing up apples and oranges and that the paper is not doing a great service to readers who expect to find news on the front page instead of opinion.”

When asked if the dispute hinged on concerns for journalistic standards, Singer told the Times, “That’s nonsense.”

James Rainey reported in the Los Angeles Times that Singer said that about 75 readers had canceled their subscriptions as of 3:30 p.m. Friday. But two reporters “said they had been told by workers in the circulation department that the readership losses were more than 90 before lunchtime. The paper’s average daily circulation has been 42,145.

“Those who stayed on the job scrambled to put out the weekend editions, with reporters filling in for the five editors who quit Wednesday and Thursday. The staff planned to run more feature stories and, perhaps, to use photo essays to fill space that normally might have been occupied by news stories.”

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