Protest Will Wrap Around the Paper’s Building on Public Streets
(Photos by Paul Wellman)
The protest bells shall be ringing in downtown Santa Barbara once again this week. On Wednesday, December 6, from noon to 12:45 p.m., the journalists who remain employed at the News-Press will be gathering with their supporters, including fired reporter Melinda Burns (pictured), to march on State, Anacapa, Ortega, and De la Guerra streets, encircling the newspaper’s headquarters. “The Organized Newsroom,” as they’re known, will march with signs and strength around the News-Press block, starting and ending in De la Guerra Plaza where speakers will provide the community with an update on their demands and plans since the newsroom voted overwhelmingly to join the Teamsters union.
It is being billed as a “lunchtime march against Wendy McCaw,” the paper’s owner who is now known internationally for causing the bulk of her experienced, award-winning staff to quit. Others, such as Burns, were fired or had their roles reduced due to their union support and criticism of the owner’s increasing influence over what was supposed to be objective news.
The march will be yet another attempt to persuade McCaw to “build back the wall between opinion and news,” according to a press release available at SavetheNewsPress.com. The lack of that wall has fostered an “atmosphere of intimidation and betrayal” that’s clearly not conducive to healthy news reporting: over the past few months, the paper’s output has dwindled to at times embarrassingly low levels and stories have been entirely missed that the paper would have otherwise broke. And in one case, a fire drill was reported to be a real fire that was described as occurring within a couple blocks of the News-Press building.
One of the march’s main demands will be the reinstatement of Melinda Burns, who was fired by McCaw after 21 years. Nearly 700 people have signed a petition to bring her back, and is intended to bolster that support. But most importantly, the march is designed to make McCaw begin negotiating an employment contract that the newsroom considers fair.
Meanwhile, McCaw, who does not do interviews, has challenged the union vote and, despite worldwide criticism and community ridicule, has not budged on her stance of doing as she pleases. The only sign of compliance with anyone other than herself was the recent tear-down of the green chainlink fence that the paper had erected around their parking lot. Critics claimed that the fence was to block the pro-newsroom signs in cars of employees, but the paper said in an odd editorial that it was to block improvements underway. In any case, the paper did not apply for the correct permits, so the city threatened with fines and the fence was taken down.