ANALYSIS: Look at Santa Barbara News Media in 2019

 A few significant changes were made in Santa Barbara news media in 2019. So, it’s a good time assess the good, the bad and the mediocre.  

Speaking of mediocrity, the Santa Barbara News-Press finally updated its years-long unattractive website after the departure of city editor Scott Steepleton and installation of former sports writer Nick Masuda as head news guy.  

However, while the website looks much better, the writing and reporting has not improved and remains shallow, pedantic and uneven. The only bright spot at the News-Press is the work of longtime sports writer Mark Patten who covers the local athletic scene with background knowledge and verve. 

The print version of the News-Press, however, is so thin, maybe 16 pages on weekdays, someone would have to tie a rock inside it to throw it on a subscriber’s porch. It seems the paper’s paid subscriptions and advertising continue to decline since its newsroom meltdown in 2006. 

The News-Press bilingual print publication, El Latino, actually has some better writing than the parent company. 

The Independent also updated its website this year in a somewhat uneven fashion. For a day or so, a news editor posted his wedding pictures on the site, which were quickly taken down. 

It should be noted that the Independent is a lifestyle and entertainment weekly magazine and not really a newspaper. It just has some news woven into it. The most entertaining segment in the print version is the cartoon “This Modern World,” which pokes great fun at the guy in the White House. 

However. former News-Press editor Jerry Roberts provides some engaging political commentary in the Independent as does another former News-Press sports guy, John Zant, moves from his stellar past as a journalist into near retirement. 

The online-only Noozhawk website by default is the only local breaking news source, but stretches as it tries to cover the entire county. The once News York Times-owned News-Press learned many years ago that not many people on the South Coast care about a garage fire in Orcutt or a fender bender in Santa Maria or shark siting near Guadalupe. 

Sometimes Noozhawk fails to get all sides of the story, especially in legal issues, but then it has no specific Santa Barbara court reporter or full-time business journalist as can be seen in every other South Coast news publication.

It should be noted that former News-Press sports editor Barry Punzal also covers local athletics for Noozhawk now with special background knowledge and effective energy. 

Voice Magazine, formerly Casa, is a bright spot on the local media scene with its colorful layouts and mix of art, real estate, business and even some Spanish-language bilingual translation. 

A change in ownership at the Montecito Journal was announced in 2019 that included a long list of investors the likes of Kinko’s founder Paul Orfaela, book and magazine publisher Sara Miller McCune and Lynda.com founder Lynda Weinman.

Former Montecito school board chairwoman Gwyn Lurie is weekly’s new editor-in-chief and CEO of the Montecito Journal Group. The journal also published the twice-a-month Sentinel paper. Journal ex-owner Jim Buckley is also an investor.

Both Voice and the journal have posted PDFs of their papers instead of putting their content on a website. A change due in 2020? We’ll see.

KEYT and KCOY, the county’s only two commercial TV outlets, seem more concerned with Ventura County than the South Coast, but then that’s where the money seems to be for media. 

As for South Coast radio, not much seems to be changing at Rincon Broadcasting, with its nine stations with only K-Lite as real competition although rock-based KTYD remains a favorite.

KCLU stands out as the top NPR radio station in the region as it has for two decades. It’s one of four NPR-related stations that can be heard on the Central Coast along with Santa Monica-based KCRW, Pasadena-based KPPC and San Luis Obispo-based KCBX.

2019 saw the shut down of Pacific Standard magazine, formerly know as as Miller-McCune. Initially started as a nonprofit project, the publication could never acquire and advertising base that could at least pay for its overhead.

Finally, the lowly Pacific Coast Business Times stumbles out of  its 20th year with an outdated website and the notion that three or four reporters and a gaggle of freelancers can cover some 150,000 businesses in three disparate counties. 

While the number of its subscribers is not widely advertised, the Biz Times seems, as always, seems to make more money with nine or 10 “awards” events that seem to honor mostly no one special or some feted by other groups previously. The paper then gets the awards recipients’ friends to buy congratulatory ads. 

Look for the Biz Times to move toward updating its website as the News-Press and Independent did in 2019, if the owner wants to spend the cash. 

Full disclosure: The writer has worked for most of these publications at one time or another. 

Posted Dec. 30, 2019.  

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