Posted by paulrivas on:
"Go ahead, give yourselves a hand!" said moderator Craig Smith, the local blogger famous for chronicling the News-Press meltdown. And with that, the packed house of journalistic heavyweights, concerned citizens and armchair activists, like your Santa Barbara Man About Goleta, indulged in an inspirational and self-congratulatory round of applause, alternately saying to ourselves in our heads, "We want our news!" "We're on the correct part of the spectrum!" or "¡Muerte a los ricos!"
The moderator and five panelists were all nationally renowned in their respective fields. The crowd included nearly everyone who is worthwhile in local journalism, a lot of very clever local luminaries, plenty of us everyday slobs and even a few News-Press goons. And yet solidarity reigned, as all who had gathered enthusiastically agreed that nobody knows what the future of journalism is but that something must be done.
"I write about this stuff all the time, and I don't have a clue," began LA Times man Jim Rainey. What's certain is that the days of department stores dropping 75 grand on a full page of bra ads are over. Those were, however, good times. "Not to mention uplifting!" Craig Smith chimed in, and the crowd went wild.
Susan Paterno was sued by Wendy McCaw for her article on the News-Press situation in American Journalism Review. She won her case and the case even set a legal precedent, but the American Journalism Review is now on the verge of financial ruin after going up against McCaw's billions of dollars and will to destroy. Paterno emphasized that journalism as we knew it is definitively behind us, and that the murky future lies somewhere out there on the Internet.
Explaining the ins and outs of the Internet as a medium for journalism was old-school newsman Jerry Roberts, whose family has also been financially bludgeoned as a result of his being sued by McCaw. Roberts described the virtues of blogging and citizen journalism with the enthusiasm of a beginner. Himself an example of the niche audiences that have proliferated and replaced the mass general interest audiences on which paper news relied, the first thing Roberts reads every morning now is a utilitarian political news site full of annoying ads called Rough & Tumble, whose owner is making money but only by working 12 hours per day on it. "The question is how to marry the public interest or public trust of journalism with the Wild West of the Internet."
With the facts well established, top local journalist Nick Welsh was free to steal the show. "When journalists get together now," Welsh opened, "the first thing they ask each other is, ‘Are you alive?'" He reckoned it will take four or five years before we really know the fate of newspapers. He was quick to admit that newspapers have never been infallible, but maintained that there is no substitute for having a paid news reporter cover strange and twisted events like School Board meetings that normal people rightfully find unbearable: "It doesn't get any more insane than that!" Believe it or not, The Santa Barbara Independent is now the seventh largest weekly newspaper in the country. However, in the early 1980s, the Independent's predecessor the News & Review could barely manage to pay its workers anything other than local business trade coupons. "I was going around with no pay in my pocket," Welsh recalled, "but I was wearing $200 sunglasses!" When Welsh stated simply, "Wendy McCaw and Marianne Partridge: both strong women who are named after birds," the crowd laughed as though this thought had literally never occurred to anyone before.
Dick Flacks (pictured, photo by City2.0 founder Warren Schultheis) came on to rally the crowd with a fist-pumping finale. He reminded everyone that the Independent, the Daily Sound and Noozhawk employ a total of fewer than 10 full-time news reporters, as compared to the 55 people in the News-Press newsroom back when Jerry Roberts still worked there and it was still a legitimate outfit. Something will have to fill this news gap locally, and it's up to local people to determine how to support efforts in this direction. He cited NPR, PBS, Democracy Now!, ProPublica, the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Center for Public Integrity as good examples of quality newsgathering operations that are contrary to the mega newspaper model.
Following the conclusion of the program, and probably either still high on activism or just joking, Flacks called Santa Barbara Man About Goleta, "the best blog in America." He also said that as soon as he heard that I was coming he knew it'd be a full house, whatever that means.
For more coverage of this event, see Matt Kettman's recap on independent.com. Kettman was the crack editor of your barbareño por Goleta's recent gaucho story and is an associate of Rivas Cultural Services. Noozhawk.com also covered the event, and in their lead photograph the Santa Barbara man about Goleta's right arm is clearly visible. This City 2.0-powered summary was written with the express intention of supplementing these articles by highlighting the funny stuff they didn't see fit to print.