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The news… starts now

Who owns the news may very well determine what news you get

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Oh my God, no one is looking out for me anymore! Silas, what were you thinking? No more column, no more radio, no more opinion, no more celebrity. You’ll miss the limelight and the freedom. Hope you can manage. Boy can I relate. All the changes in the news business. I shouldn’t be surprised, really, but I am. It never ceases to amaze me. Newsmakers making news. Forget Dan Rather. Forget Tom Brokaw. Most people already have. That’s what I mean. So many changes these days. Just look at what’s happened in our local meda in the past few months:

• New publisher takes over Santa Maria Times

•Tribune appoints new city editor

•Tribune under new publisher

• KCOY-TV fires longtime reporter

• KEYT-TV gets help from financiers

• KSBY-TV taken over by new owner

• KKAL-FM shuts down its morning news

• KVEC-AM may lose ABC network

• KEYT-AM goes Spanish

• New Times hires new managing editor

The last one is me, and all right, so that happened last August, but it seems like only yesterday.

And so what anyway about all these movements, as it were? Well, they affect the kind of community news and information you get, as a reader, viewer, or listener. Someone, be it aloft in corporate ownership or local management, is deciding what he or she thinks you want. Who knows what the news publishers of the Santa Maria Times have in mind? I won’t be there to find out. Hope it’s good news for Santa Marians. I mean, “All the news that’s fit to print� sounds good, but that just ain’t the way it is. You see, between or among all those incessant ads you have a space to fill.

Not to pick on the Tribune, but it’s always been fun to pick on the Tribune … after all, it is our only hometown daily, so who else is there to pick on? Check out page two of the Trib. “News to use.� Today it’s about the best way to floss your teeth. Page two is syndicated. It’s entertainment. No work, no resources, and readers love it, I guess. But it’s not unlike putting a feature report right after the lead story on TV news, which, by the way, has only a little more than 10 minutes of a news hole to fill in a half-hour broadcast after you subtract the ads, promos, weather, and sports.

So where is the news? Is that all there is?

This doesn’t matter to most media owners, who rarely watch their stations or peruse their papers anyway. They just want to make money. Which is understandable. How can you report news in the first place if you don’t make money?

Take KEYT-TV, the ABC affiliate in Santa Barbara. They have no money. The owner, Bob Smith, now departed, left them high and dry. Which is why they hired an investment group to bail them out. In the meantime they have done a journeyman’s job considering the resources they no longer have. Somebody leaves, no new hires. That kind of thing. Fewer reporters and fewer photogs — less news. And please, KEYT … get some dough for your technical operations; your broadcast signal stinks.

KSBY is under new ownership again. Some publishing company from the East Coast. About as far away as you can get from here. But, according to General Manager Tim Perry, with whom I spoke recently, he finds the change very exciting (KSBY, by the way, has had all kinds of owners since it went on the air in the mid-’50s, the most notable being part of the Murdoch family). I hope so. Their last owner just had to live among the wealthy in Santa Barbara. That’s dedication for you. And don’t you just love it when someone new takes over and says there’ll be very few if any changes? As if you’ve got a diamond in the rough and we just need to polish it.

But if anyone knows change, it’s KCOY, which has always had two problems. One, it’s in Santa Maria (please hold the letters, but let’s be honest). Two, it’s KCOY. KCOY is owned by Clear Channel Corporation, a most benevolent bunch from San Antonio, Texas, who wants to own every radio station, every TV station, every billboard, and every concert venue on the face of the planet, but they still wouldn’t be satisfied.

I was fired from KCOY a year ago and I just want you to know my feelings about that have nothing whatsoever to do with what I am writing. Matter of fact, I’m somewhat pleased I no longer work there, as are about a million other people who have left since I’ve been gone.

The news director, according to those in the know, is somewhat of a tyrant, which makes him a perfect Clear Channel choice. Reporters, producers, assignment editors, and photogs have been getting out in droves. Oh, the faces are still there (read: anchors), but the news gathering team or what’s left of it does not look forward to going to work every morning. Even Danielle Garcia, their longtime and loyal Santa Barbara bureau chief, with all her contacts and knowledge of the area, was abruptly and unceremoniously canned several weeks ago. Oh well, what does a Santa Maria TV news operation need to know about Santa Barbara County?

Clear Channel also owns — along with almost every other radio airwave in town — KVEC-AM, the news-talk radio station here in San Luis. Talk it is, news, it ain’t. Did I tell you I was let go as news director/news anchor there because I was “too folksy�? The nerve. Check it out now. Actually, I don’t mind that either because all Clear Channel radio news does anyway is get it from the paper. I hate to say it, but it’s not uncommon for a CC voice in San Diego to lift news from the Santa Barbara News-Press and send it on to their “news� station in that city. There’s local news for you. But at least it sounds good.

Clear Channel could care less about San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria, or Santa Barbara. KEYT-AM, once heralded as Santa Barbara’s radio news source and now silent, was really no more than a marketing tool for KEYT-TV. KKAL-FM in San Luis once provided morning news, but does so no longer. The reporters bust their butts trying to give us the news we need, despite a lack of resources and support. Which means the next time you read, see, or hear about media movement in our neck of the woods, pray that it’s good news and not news you’ll lose.

Off to floss.

Managing Editor King Harris is watching out for you.

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