When Santa Cruz Sentinel arts editor Wallace Baine typed a heartfelt Facebook post announcing that he would be leaving the county’s daily paper after 26 years, he did not anticipate the response he would receive. 544 likes. More than 300 comments. And that’s not counting the people who reached out in person.
“It’s just been a huge and overwhelming reaction that I’ve gotten. It’s been very gratifying, very scary,” says Baine, as he imagines his next chapter and also reflects on all that support. “I’m knocked back on my heels a bit by it. I’ve heard from people that I hadn’t heard from in years. I’ve heard nice things from people I didn’t think liked me too much. It’s been wonderful.”
Baine, who’s leaving at the end of the month, says he can’t offer any details about terms of his departure—beyond that he’s receiving a severance package. “The writing was on the wall for me,” he says. “There’s just no other way around it. And it is maybe time for me to move on personally.”
The Sentinel is owned by hedge fund Alden Global Capital, whose primary involvement in the newspaper business these days seems to be squeezing the remaining loose change out of its newsrooms. Insofar as the Sentinel has had an identity, a distinctive voice and a personality in recent years, that personality has been inextricably linked to Baine, known for his support of the arts community—not to mention his moving prose. (In 2010, GT contributor Geoffrey Dunn praised Baine for a “humor that is dark, wry, piercing and sardonic—shades of Mark Twain mixed with David Sedaris.”) Baine doesn’t expect the paper to do as much local arts coverage in his absence.
Baine has written four books and embedded himself in the arts scene—leading Q&As, hosting local radio shows and emceeing the annual Gail Rich Awards. He realized early in his career, he says, that if he had wanted to leapfrog from one metropolitan paper to another, working his way up the journalism ladder, he could. But he decided Santa Cruz was the kind of town he wanted to live in with his wife Tina, raising their two kids.
He isn’t sure what kind of project he’d like to do next, as writing books can be a thankless gig. He might try podcasting.
“There’s so much right here in Santa Cruz County,” he says. “There are all kinds of people doing amazing things.”
With the exit of Wallace, the Sentinel sinks to not much more than an online bulletin board for musty nonprofit and business press releases, selective crime articles, and a cumbersome calendar of events. Facebook does it better.