Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Free daily takes hold in Santa Barbara

A free daily in Santa Barbara, Calif., appears to be taking hold partially because the town's incumbent daily is self-destructing. The San Francisco Chronicle reports today (Oct. 24) on the new Santa Barbara Daily Sound, which was founded and is edited by Jeramy Gordon, 24 (third from left in photo). Gordon cut his teeth at the Palo Alto (Calif.) Daily News, perhaps the nation's most successful free daily newspaper. After the Palo Alto paper was acquired by Knight Ridder, Gordon headed to Santa Barbara to set up his own paper. A few months later, lightning struck. Much of the staff of the 100-year-old-plus Santa Barbara Free-Press walked out in a dispute with owner Wendy McCaw over such things as whether to print the address of actor Rob Lowe.

Here's a portion of today's Chronicle article:
    "When we started, everyone said, 'It's not going to work. This town doesn't need another paper,' " said Gordon. "Well, I hate to give Wendy McCaw credit for the success of this paper, but we definitely had a bump in circulation and advertising because of them."

    Gordon said his paper, a 16-page tabloid available at coffee shops and strip malls, has been flying off the racks and advertising is up since its first publication in March. The daily printing run has already risen to 5,000 -- 6,000 on Fridays -- from 3,000. That could double next year. Advertisers, some of them turned off by the turmoil at the News-Press, have noticed.

    "They've done a great job and they're getting a lot of attention," said Nikki Ayers, who runs Ayers Automotive Repair and recently started advertising in the Daily Sound after having dropped the News-Press.

    People involved in the media -- including some who have tried to chip away at the News-Press in the past -- said that when the Daily Sound opened, it wasn't so much criticized as ignored. Looking a little like a competently produced college newspaper, few knew what it was, or cared. No longer.

    "Instant geniuses," said Nick Welsh, executive editor of an alternative weekly, the Santa Barbara Independent, which has also seen an increase in advertising. "Nobody looked at them for a while, but I think they do an impressive job. They are credible, and this mess has made a lot more people take notice."

    Those observations were echoed by William Macfadyen, the vice chairman of the Chamber of Commerce in Goleta, just north of Santa Barbara, a News-Press editor a number of years ago and founder of a newspaper that tried and failed to make a go of it in the area recently, the South Coast Beacon.

    "He was sort of clueless at first," Macfadyen said of Gordon. "But I think he's done a good job of taking advantage of the situation without being in anyone's face about it."

    Gordon agreed, saying he understood little about the area at first, and he acknowledged that his paper's homey touches meant its coverage was basic rather than path breaking. But he added that the worse the problems at the News-Press, the more welcome he felt.

    "The advertisers are willing to look at us now," said Gordon.
PHOTO -- Daily Sound staffers (from left) Charles Swegles, Janelle Holcombe and Jeramy Gordon, and consultant Kristina Thorpe, at work. Photo by Elisa Miller, special to the Chronicle.