Over the objections of Santa Barbara News-Press owner Wendy McCaw, the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) gave the Ethics in Journalism Award to nine of the News-Press editors and writers — including editor-in-chief Jerry Roberts and longtime columnist Barney Brantingham — who resigned from the paper in the past month, citing breaches of journalistic ethics by McCaw and her co-publisher and fiancé, Arthur von Wiesenberger.
The number of departures has since climbed to 15 with the recent resignations of UCSB beat reporter Shelly Leachmann and Special Sections Editor Ann Peyrat. In its announcement, the SPJ said it normally shies away from internal disputes and labor/management conflicts, but after conducting its own investigation into the matter became convinced that ethical violations had in fact occurred.
Prior to acting, the SPJ sought McCaw’s input and she gave it to them, writing, “It is our belief that the SPJ is being used by this group to further their own personal and political agendas, and not as an expression of ethical principles.”
Word of the award came just one day after newsroom employees formally notified the National Labor Relations Board last week that they wanted a union election to determine whether they would be represented by the Teamsters in grievances and collective bargaining. McCaw has made it clear that she opposes any union at her newspaper and accused her detractors of trying to intimidate her — through a threatened subscription cancellation campaign and protests — into recognizing the Teamsters before an election could be held. Meanwhile, newsroom workers filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the News-Press, charging, among other things, that management had recently shuffled beat assignments to punish reporters pushing the union, or to make them want to quit.
The complaint also charged that reporter Dawn Hobbs — a leader in the union effort — has been followed by a woman with a walkie-talkie and has been called on the carpet for disciplinary job reviews as part of retaliation by management.