Shocked By Media 'Frenzy' p. 42

By: M.L. STEIN BOB PAGE HAS been a big-time publisher and, as a reporter, covered big-time stories. Now, as a small-town publisher, he has mostly loathing for the reporting horde that poured into his current hometown, Rancho Santa Fe.
The wealthy Southern California community where 39 cult members died in a mass suicide last month suffered a media onslaught that left Page with the feeling that journalism isn't what it used to be.
If the media hadn't looked at the community "in a sound-bite manner, they would have gotten a totally different picture of it," the 61-year-old former Chicago Sun-Times publisher said in an interview.
"I'm not [usually] critical of the national media, but my focus now is entirely different. As I sat back and watched microphones being shoved in people's faces, crazy questions being asked, I recalled that when I covered major stories there was always a respect for those being interviewed. But here, people coming out of church on Easter Sunday had to face microphones. Reporters wandered the streets until they caught some unsuspecting person and put a mike in his face."He allowed, however, that some print reporters behaved properly.
Page, who owns the weekly Rancho Santa Fe Review, was not just a spectator. His paper covered the suicides thoroughly, but with an emphasis on how it impacted the town, where multimillion-dollar homes are the norm. He and other Review staffers fielded calls from around the world, including Germany, London, Sydney, Washington and New York.
"We answered just about every dumb question they could dream up," he said.
Although he was at the fall of Saigon when helicopters lifted personnel from the roof of the American embassy, and as a UPI reporter he interviewed such news makers as President Reagan, Page said this was his first close look at a media "feeding frenzy."
"This is a small community and a very private one," Page said. "People have chosen to live here because of its privacy, which is the key to its lifestyle. When something like this happens to them, they are stunned."
Page, who lives in Rancho Santa Fe, directed most of his ire at the broadcast media ? which at one point had 30 satellite trucks in town ? but newspapers came in for a share.
He knocked the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune, for example, for sidebars "in which it seemed the writers' only interest was to show how many ways they could misrepresent this community. One guy called it the 'Beverly Hills of San Diego County.' I respectfully submit that Beverly Hills is the Rancho Santa Fe of Los Angeles County. They are two entirely different types of communities. Our values are home values ? twice what they are in Beverly Hills."
The publisher further scolded the press for linking his community with the cultists. "It was never a Rancho Santa Fe story," he insisted. "Some guys just rented a house here. Only four or five of them were even from California."
In a column in the Review, Page, who left the Sun-Times in 1988, grumbled, "We were cashed in by the reporters and broadcasters who took no more than a 30-second look at the Ranch and then in their 'sound-bite' mentality, totally, completely and absolutely missed telling the whole story of Rancho Santa Fe. . . . Welcome to the herd mentality of America's national press. You've now had the 'privilege' of bearing witness to it firsthand."
The problem, according to Page, is that many news organizations base their coverage decisions on whether or not the competition will be there. The value of a story these days is less important than the question of who else will show up, he said.
Another factor, he said, "is that any time you get an off-the-wall story with a California dateline, the media are going to pounce on it ? particularly the East Coast media."
Despite his criticisms, Page conceded in the interview that he still gets a "certain electric charge" from a major story."It's something that never goes away," he said. "It was fun," he went on, "but it was unique here."
?("As I sat back and watched microphones being shoved in people's faces, crazy questions being asked, I recalled that when I covered major stories there was always a respect for those being
interviewed.") [Caption]
?(? Bob Page, former Chicago Sun-Times publisher, who now owns a small California weekly newspaper in the town where 39 cult members committed suicide) [Photo & Caption]
? Web Site:http://www.
?copyright Editor & Publisher- April 26, 1997.


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