Opinion » Street Talk

If it bleeds, it's probably media

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It's a tough time to be in this industry right now. I'm talking about the news biz. The Media with a capital "M." The Fourth Estate. The Press. The Ol' Info Mill.

Forget the smoldering tire fire that is the Santa Barbara News-Press these days, the fact that the Santa Barbara Independent's veteran photog Paul Wellman was found in contempt of court and is being threatened with time in the pokey for refusing to turn over unpublished photos related to a murder case, and the revelation that I may be getting carpal tunnel vision from staring at my cramping hands while I type about stuff happening waaaay down in some other county.

To really see how rough this business is on the cusp of 2008, look no further (metaphorically) or farther (literally) than San Luis Obispo itself. As I've pointed out--and is obvious to anyone with some measurable brain activity--The Tribune has been slicing and dicing and rearranging itself into increasingly pared down tossed news-and-feature salads in an attempt to successfully meet a paper's dual requirements of being a profitable business and useful publication for readers. I jest, and I poke a lot of barbs at the daily, but deep down, my bleeding liberal media heart skips a beat for the pressures facing demanding readers and even more demanding bean counters.

But most tellingly and chillingly, KVEC, the local radio broadcasting bastion of area goings-on, was recently scaled and gutted. Just roll it in rice, batter-fry some tempura vegetables, and you've got a Hometown Radio sushi combo.

I may sound like I'm being flippant, but gallows humor has always been one of my trademarks.

If you don't know, because you've been avoiding pretty much any of the aforementioned media recently, 920 AM officially transitioned from Clear Channel's monolithic--but surprisingly hands-off--clutches to El Dorado Broadcasting. In the days before the changeover, talk show host Dave Congalton--one of my biggest critics, by the way--noted that he hadn't heard of any programming changes. Then Friday rolled around and he announced that right-wing miker Laura Ingraham ("A new breed of talk show, for a new breed of listener") was replacing the morning news. (Another of her slogans: "It's not just a radio show. It's an addiction." They have 12-step programs for stuff like that.)

And Laura ("Power to the people") wasn't the only change. Several staffers got pink slips--and not in the financially gratifying "now-I-actually-own-my-own-car" sort of way. Among the departees is King Harris, former New Times editor and local veteran journalist. The man's worked with more media than Rupert Murdoch.

That's an extreme overstatement, but King is certainly no stranger to the business. A while back, he penned a column for SLO City News about the chain of outlets he's worked for, most of which eventually evolved from local endeavors into corporate building blocks that either ousted him or found him ousting himself. Looks like it happened again.

I hope he keeps writing. Or talking. Or something. It would be a shame to lose his voice on the Central Coast--or anywhere, for that matter.

I dunno. Maybe it's just a bad time to be anyone who speaks his or her mind. Take, for instance, Andrew Christie, director of the Santa Lucia chapter of the Sierra Club, that eco-group that loves stuff like trees and animals and air and clean water and anything that was called "green" back before calling stuff "green" got fashionable. They even have green Wal-Marts these days. Go figure.

Anyway, in defense of all that nature stuff I mentioned already, Andrew showed up at a recent SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting as steamed as a kettle of sustainably harvested Fair Trade green tea. The supes were talking about protecting North Coast views without really protecting them much at all. The subject had been a heated one ever since a group known as Protect Our Property Rights essentially dictated a teeny-tiny-meeny-miney-miniscule measure of protection for the ridgelines in question. Supervisor Jerry Lenthall mentioned that he'd been getting threats about the issue. People were mad.

And Andrew was really mad. He called the board (minus Bruce Gibson, who ineffectually spoke for tougher protections as a citizen because of a potential conflict of interest) a number of names, like unbalanced and the like.

If you don't know, because you've been avoiding pretty much any of the aforementioned media recently, the board ultimately approved a measure that its own Planning Commission had dubbed "flawed." Sorry, Andrew.

The cherry on top of this whole pile, however, rolled onto Andrew's feet later that night when someone vandalized the Sierra Club's office by cutting down a sign and dismantling something called a "solar butterfly." I don't know what that is exactly, but it sounds like something an eco-group would have on its premises, doesn't it?

Anyway, Andrew later said that there was no real harm done--he fixed the butterfly and all--but that the message was pretty unmistakable. I'll say. A dismantled solar butterfly? That's got to be the property rights activist equivalent of a horse head in your bed. Unless it was just random vandalry. There are vandals out there, after all, and vandals do like to vandalize. But talk about timing! Yowza!

I think the message to all of us is clear. Keep your head down, do what you're told, and don't make waves. And try not to work for a company that's going to be sold to out-of-town owners, if you can help it. And don't take photographs of crime scenes, just to be safe. And come up with a catchy slogan to promote yourself, like Laura Ingraham. My new one is: "The Shredder: First One's Free, Kid."

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