You know, we'd be happy to stop writing about the News-Press debacle anytime soon, repurpose this blog to covering all sorts of S.B. media, and just go back to the regular news-gathering/scoop-snagging gig we've been doing for 20 years now. But it seems that the N-P's owner Wendy McCaw just can't stop bringing the spotlight of shame back her way at least once a week. And by the end of last week, there were two developments in the News-Press mess that piqued our interest.
To be fair, the first news bit is something that Wendy asked for a long time ago, so we won't hold it against her as a weekly cry for attention this time. The National Labor Relations Board, the federal body that deals with that often tempestuous divide between employers and employees, rejected last week three significant News-Press charges related to the September 27 union vote, in which 85 percent of the newsroom voted to join the Graphics Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
The first charge was that newsroom staffers intimidated owner Wendy McCaw when they attempted to hand-deliver a letter to her. The second was that the website SavetheNewsPress.com posted misleading comments. And the third was that supervisors were involved in union organizing, a big no-no when forming a union. All three were rejected by both the regional decision makers in Los Angeles and by the big wigs in Washington D.C.
The second bit of news, however, is something that Wendy must have just recently requested, for it required her attorney Barry Cappello to deliver a letter to a number of lawyers around town at the end of last week. First reported this morning in Craig Smith's blog, where a copy of the letter was also posted, Cappello sent out a similar letter that McCaw's former attorney David Millstein once did. It went to the Lawyer's Alliance for Free Speech Rights, the wide-ranging collection of attorneys who are supporting the newsroom in its beef with McCaw, and asked the members to reconsider their involvement.
There's a major problem with the main thrust of the letter, but before we get to that, how about some minor quibbles. For such a high-paid attorney, you'd think that Cappello or his hired hands would get minor things such as spelling and client name consistency right. The newspaper he is representing, for instance, is referred to as the "News-Press," the "New-Press," and the "News Press" (no hyphen). And this is a very short letter.
If you were paying top dollar, wouldn't you want to see that letters representing your organization at least spell the name of your organization correctly? Or maybe Cappello could have hired a copy editor from the newspaper. Oh, wait, are there any left? (We're sorry Barry, because we usually like your style, if not always your clients or causes. But in this case, you picked the wrong horse, and even the most uninimportant misspellings are now under our lens.)
But the real problem with this attempt at intimidation is that Cappello is arguing that the lawyers should treat the News-Press as a just another business where employees and employers have their problems and decisions, sometimes harsh ones, are made in the interest of economics. For anyone who's been following this meltdown, which has been covered exhaustively in the mass media that Cappello's letter seems to indicate has not yet picked up the story, economics has had nothing to do with it. Well, that is unless McCaw's plan was to orchestrate a major ruse within the newspaper's walls, cause her talented, award-winning employees to flee, and murder Santa Barbara's daily institution all to save the bottom line. Is that what you mean, Wendy and Barry?
As well, this is no plain beef between employers and employees, and everyone watching understands that. That is, of course, why anyone is watching at all. If this was about Jack in the Box and some organized walk-out, it would have been a one-time story. But this has legs like no other.
This is about preserving a crucial link in the fabric of Santa Barbara. It's about having a newspaper where news reporters and editors deliver fact-based, even-handed stories and where the interests of advertisers and whims of owners are hidden from the newsroom and only published, if need be, on the editorial pages. It's about keeping alive and healthy a daily newspaper that serves as a fair-thinking watchdog of governments, corporations, and society at large.
We here at Indy are happy to fill this void for the time being, but we desperately need a daily newspaper that's in good health to keep Santa Barbara the way that it is. No matter all the old jokes about the News-Suppress, the natural rivalries felt by us here at the smaller weekly paper, the now-minor personal gripes about what sucked in the day's paper and why. Nowawadays, we don't even have any news to complain about, since our daily is super thin and full of fluffy features. Without open public discourse and an understanding of what our officials are doing, the future of Santa Barbara is grim.
So if Wendy McCaw is treating her newspaper as simply a business, please just do what most business owners do in times of turmoil: Sell the paper to someone who cares. Or at least stop sending silly letters.