Some Watered-Down Santa Barbara News-Press News

I hadn’t heard any recent developments in connection with the blow-up at the Santa Barbara News-Press. It seems like the whole thing has evolved into a rather unsexy union vs. management dispute, and that Wendy McCaw’s rule over this particular roost has consolidated since the summer.

But I thought I’d check anyway and see if anyone had missed anything. I came across a story involving McCaw’s fiance, Arthur Von Weisenberger. (What a great name. If I was still a kid, and I was arguing with another kid who was acting like a know-it-all, I might say to him: “Who do you think you are, Arthur Von Weisenberger?”)

It turns out Von Weisenberger is in charge of Bottled Water Web, “The Definitive Bottled Water Site.” In addition to offering the latest in bottled water information, the site has 79 registered users who chat about bottled water. Just today, “anonymous” asked the following penetrating question:

Greetings! Does anyone know the size of a standard 5-gallon water bottle? (In inches, preferably.) Also, do you know the average weight for a plastic 5-gallon bottle? I believe the water itself should weigh about 40 pounds. Much thanks!

But perhaps that’s unfair. Perhaps I’m making this site sound trivial. In fact, Bottled Water Web is a newsmaker. Just last week, Jessica Mullen, staff writer for the UC Santa Barbara student newspaper, the Daily Nexus, filed this report:

Contrary to popular belief, a recent study proves that UCSB students are fueled by fluids other than Natty Ice.

Bottled water, but not tap water, is the preferred drink of a random sampling of over 100 UCSB students, according to a study conducted by Bottled Water Web President Arthur Von Wiesenberger. The next most popular drink choices on the survey were juice, flavored tea, diet soft drinks and milk respectively.

So Natty Ice doesn’t even show up. Boy, the “popular belief” sure was way off this time! By the way, the Urban Dictionary defines “Natty Ice” as “trailer trash beer.” If that’s true, then obviously the survey is questionable, because no UC Santa Barbara student would ever admit to any association with “trailer trash.”

Von Wiesenberger, the long-term fiance of Santa Barbara News-Press owner Wendy McCaw, said the trend reflects students’ increased exposure to bottled water from childhood onward.

“University students today are really the first generation to have grown up in America when bottled water became mainstream in the 1980s,” Von Wiesenberger said in a press release. “Their parents – the baby boomers – brought bottled water into the home as a primary beverage choice, so from an early age these 20-year-olds were accustomed to drinking bottled water as a part of the American lifestyle.”

Survey interviews began on campus this past May. Von Wiesenberger shared the findings at the International Bottled Water Associations 2006 Convention, held in Las Vegas two weeks ago.

Do you get the sense there might have been some built-in bias to this survey? It was taken by a bottled-water website operator for presentation at a bottled water trade meeting. We’ll have to get a look at the questions in this survey.

The data revealed that 42 percent of students drink water “all the time,” and 33 percent consume water more than half of the time. Of the students interviewed, the median age was 20, 68 percent were female, 26 percent were male and 6 percent did not specify a gender.

“All the time?” “More than half the time?” What was the universe of time being measured? Every waking minute? That’s a lot of water. It might have been more responsible for the reporter to point out at this juncture that you can get very sick from drinking too much water — a condition called hyponatremia. Ironically, hyponatremia symptoms “mirror those of dehydration.” You can die from too much water!

In addition to preferring bottled water, over 50 percent of the students surveyed claimed they rarely drink tap water and believe “bottled water is better than tap water,” citing the taste and convenience of bottled water.

First-year global studies major Bethany Abbott reaffirmed Von Wiesenberger’s belief that this generation’s drinking habits and consumer preferences seldom involve tap water.

Certainly, if you’re on the go, bottled water is a great convenience. But it is infinitely more expensive. Slurping at a water fountain on most college campuses is free of charge. A single-size bottle of water can set you back almost two bucks. These are kids who are going to graduate under a heavy load of student loan debt. It might have been responsible for the reporter to point out the serious fiscal consequences of bottled water. Plus, public water agencies frequently hold blind taste tests between bottled water and tap water, and tap water often wins.

“I only purchase bottled water,” Abbott said. “I do not spend money on anything else, be it soda or Jamba Juice. I only buy bottled water.”

According to Agnes Huff, president and CEO of Agnes Huff Communication Group, the study is important to companies that aim to sell students water.

A-ha! Agnes Huff. Where have we heard that name before? That’s right: She is the spokesperson for Wendy McCaw! Working for the McCaw family is turning out to be a lucrative little cottage industry for Ms. Huff’s PR business. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

“The results provide valuable marketing implications for a business attempting to target this important constituency,” Huff said.

How does a result “provide…implications?” You make implications. You imply. They are not provided, passively, like rain falling from the sky, from results. Oh, never mind.

Although the survey was conducted strictly at UCSB, Huff said she hopes to take the study to a variety of schools in order to widen Von Wiesenberger’s research.

“We want to compare results at different campuses to find out if results differ geographically,” Huff said.

Because different results geographically could provide additional valuable marketing implications, doncha know. Plus, what great PR. You go onto a college campus, you ask a bunch of kids if they like drinking water out of a bottle, you publish the results in a press release, and the college paper will run with it. If you somehow find a campus that prefers “Natty Ice,” then, no problem. Don’t write the press release, and no one will be the Weisenberger.

(P.S. If we really want to put the Bottled Water Web and Agnes Huff to the test, someone should ask them to respond to this.)


One thought on “Some Watered-Down Santa Barbara News-Press News

  1. Bottled water is big biz. Its the News-Press that is dismal. I don’t trust any of their #’s. Including “dr laura Schlessinger’s. This time is the twin anniversary; Wendy’s purchase of the paper, 6 years ago. And even more celebrated “dr” laura’s infamous beaver shot, 8 years ago, the one she still was lieing about on CNN, Larry King 9-29-06. She admitted to the “cute” ones, but the “slutty” one on the floor she says is not her. Any 6 year old can see it is. HA! The trancript is available.

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