Paper’s Owner Fires Back
by Nick Welsh
Teamster organizers flanked by current and former Santa Barbara News-Press newsroom workers announced they were commencing a communitywide drive to hurt News-Press owner Wendy McCaw in the pocketbook until she agrees to restore journalistic ethics and free speech to the newsroom. Because McCaw rebuffed an entreaty from a delegation of prominent community leaders, Teamster organizer Marty Keegan said he is now asking News-Press subscribers to call the paper and cancel their subscriptions. He claimed the pledges he’s already received, coupled with subscriptions canceled in the past two months, total about 3,000, or roughly one-tenth of the News-Press’s total subscriptions. In addition, Keegan said he will begin soliciting advertisers to cancel their contracts with Santa Barbara’s oldest daily newspaper.
McCaw’s publicist Agnes Huff issued a statement dismissing Tuesday’s press conference held in front of the News-Press building as “a media stunt” and part of a “predictable series of pressure tactics” engineered by the union in conjunction with a small group of “disgruntled workers.” Huff called Keegan’s claim that News-Press circulation has dropped in response to the ongoing controversy over newsroom ethics an “outright lie.” That controversy began on July 6, when former editor Jerry Roberts and four other high-ranking editors resigned in protest. The number of newsroom employees who have resigned now stands at 16.
Well-known journalists Lou Cannon and Sander Vanocur — both South Coast residents — said they joined four other prominent community members in seeking to arrange a meeting with McCaw, but they were snubbed for their efforts. They had hoped to discuss widespread community concern that her personal agendas and friendships were exerting undue influence over the paper’s news coverage. “We were very saddened that she’s seen fit not to give us the courtesy of a reply,” said Cannon, who cancelled his subscription after the News-Press refused to print a lengthy letter to the editor he wrote on the journalistic ethics controversy. Vanocur said he would not cancel his subscription, explaining, “I want to see what their next totalitarian move will be.”
Cannon and Vanocur’s request for a meeting with McCaw was communicated through a letter hand-delivered by Harriett Phillips, a longtime Goleta activist who until recently has enjoyed cordial relations with News-Press editorial writer Travis Armstrong, a lightning rod in much of the controversy. Phillips said Armstrong “blew his top” when she told him that she was part of the delegation seeking to meet with McCaw. McCaw’s publicist stated that McCaw never received a copy of the letter. In a similar vein, 11 newsroom employees who tried to deliver a pro-union letter to McCaw during their lunch break last Monday were suspended without pay for two days. Huff claimed the 11 were intimidating and disruptive and refused orders to return to work.
Armstrong and Huff have blasted the union campaign now unfolding at the News-Press, dismissing the oft-stated concerns about journalistic ethics as a rhetorical smokescreen deployed by a union desperate for new members. Teamster organizer Marty Keegan replied, “As hard as it is to believe, we believe in ethical journalism.” He said professional ethics protections could be written into contracts simply by inserting a clause allowing reporters to have their bylines deleted from stories that had been drastically altered. Vowing to go toe-to-toe with McCaw, Keegan pointed out that the International Brotherhood of Teamsters is not without considerable resources. “If we don’t stand up for these writers here, we’ll quickly come to a point where no one in the media will be willing to write about what labor’s doing in a positive sense,” he said. “When that happens, labor’s in real trouble. But so are all of us.”