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News-Press Legal, Hiring Updates

Union Files Opposition Brief; Paterno’s Case Moves Along; Gossip Columnist Hired


We here at Independent.com are quite busy putting some final touches on our new website, which we are planning on launching rather soon. (Of course, we’ll need some time to work out all the kinks even when the new site is up, so please be patient over the next few weeks. Overall, we think the community will dig it the most.)

In the meantime, we’ve been missing some News-Press-related stories over the past few days. Luckily, as was discussed at length in Drew Mackie’s post from last week, we’ve got quite the blogosphere these days in Santa Barbara, so most of those who care to stay on top of things can do so rather easily. But for the sake of keeping our record straight and our readers happy, here’s a fast rundown.

UNION OPPOSES N-P’S NLRB EXCEPTIONS: Last Wednesday, April 11, the Teamsters filed their opposition to the News-Press’s exceptions to the union vote approval by administrative law judge William Schmidt. The News-Press filed their exceptions on April 5.

Teamsters attorney Ira Gottlieb’s 65-page document claims that the News-Press’s filed these objections “because of denial and delay.” Gottlieb’s introduction proves to be quite the colorful indictment of the News-Press, calling the paper’s management dishonest, mocking their “angelic ways,” and accusing the paper of engaging in “overblown myopia-inspired inflammatory rhetoric.” In short, it is a powerful re-argument of the Teamsters position in favor of the 33-6 union vote last September. Read it for yourself here.

PATERNO’S CASE MOVES ALONG: And then there’s the case of Susan Paterno, the journalist for the American Journalism Review who was personally sued by the News-Pressfor her “Santa Barbara Smackdown” article. The News-Press claimed libel, but Paterno’s attorneys responded by filing an anti-SLAPP motion last January

That filing faced its first court date on Monday, April 16, in Orange County Superior Court, before Judge H. Warren Siegel. The hearing was to determine which parts of the libel lawsuit could be opened for discovery to allow the News-Press to defend itself against the anti-SLAPP motion.

Of the 32 charges of libel, the judge only allowed four of the charges to be opened for discovery. Since two of the charges are from the same passage of the article, only three passages are really open for discovery. Those passages are: 1) that overtime and benefits were “slashed” when Wendy McCaw bought the paper; 2) that the News-Press was motivated by improper and punitive reasons when prosecuting editor Michael Todd on behalf of photog Ana Fuentes; and 3) that the story on Travis Armstrong’s DUI was “killed” by someone “on high.”

The judge is allowing “very limited” discovery on these charges. See the cryptic tentative ruling on the judge’s website here.

In order to qualify for possible libel charges and do away with the anti-SLAPP suit, the News-Press must now use that discovery to show that Paterno acted with malice by knowingly reporting incorrect information. The News-Press only needs to show evidence that would support the ability for one of these charges to be proven to get the whole anti-SLAPP suit tossed. Otherwise, the charges all remain and the case moves to a regular forum.

To date, Paterno stands by all of her reporting and writing in the article, so it’s unclear how she could have knowingly reported inaccurate information if she still believes it all to be true. However, the laws about malice and libel suggest that Paterno’s belief is not entirely at issue. Rather, to succeed, the News-Press attorneys need only to show that she was reckless and did not include information that she knew existed.

The judge set June 18 as the date when he will rule on the entire anti-SLAPP motion. If the News-Press cannot demonstrate malice on the part of Paterno on those 4 charges, the case is over. If they can succeed on just one, then the News-Press’s libel case moves forward with all 32 charges still intact.

Paterno’s attorney Charles Tobin explained, “The judge had no trouble appreciating that this is a matter of signifcant public concern under the California anti-SLAPP statute, and that the community of journalists and the people of Santa Barbara have the right to express their opinions about the Santa Barbara News-Press. Susan looks forward to finally prevailing at the hearing in June, recovering her legal fees, and putting this nuisance lawsuit behind her.”

WHEN NEWS EQUALS GOSSIP: Lastly in this rundown of News-Press happenings is their front-page announcement this morning, April 17, of the hiring of gossip columnist and British royal family expert Richard Mineards.

The story – a profile that was perhaps the longest News-Press article in the past six months and probably the longest self-promotional piece ever published in a modern American newspaper – shared top billing with Monday’s Virginia Tech massacre. That usage of paper space is already sparking a backlash from the community, evidenced by letters already being sent to The Indy. We publish one below, because it’s doubtful the News-Press will allow such discourse, given their apparent policy of not printing any views counter to their own.

Dear Editor,

Once again the Santa Barbara News-Press has proven itself to be the most pithy, unimportant news gathering paper around. Just one day after the worst shooting massacre in modern American history, the front page focus of today’s News-Press was split between an article that reported on the tragedy at Virginia Tech and one that featured the publication’s new gossip columnist.

It is an insult to all of the lives affected by Monday’s rampage that S.B.’s most widely read paper would place equal importance on something as trivial as gossip. I’m embarrassed for everyone associated with such a decision.

Christopher Nevin Johnston”

While we have to take issue with Mr. Johnston calling the News-Press our town’s most widely read paper, we’d have to agree that the choice does seem to be a peculiar one. Why not just hold off for a day or two? What was the rush of publishing the gossip columnist story on the day after a massacre, especially when that columnist was hired back in early March?

That’s not to mention the questions already being asked in the blogosphere about the choice of adding a gossip columnist when there’s a purported dedication to increasing local “news” content. Mineard’s photos make him look like a swell chap – and his lengthy resume indicates that we’ll know everything about the British royal family before anyone else – but he’s probably not expecting the sort of backlash that he’s already triggering.

A series of questions were sent to News-Press spokesperson Agnes Huff on Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. and we are awaiting a response now.

The following comments came from our old website:

Word on the street has long been that Wendy’s true passions are animals (over humans generally, subclassed into those who are willing to write what she wants, and those who won’t) and royals and would-be royals on the society and gossip pages when animals are not available. So, since she isn’t interested in actual news anymore — as doubly proven by this hire and its tactless announcement on the day of the Va. Tech massacre — we may find ourselves with the best damn gossip rag on the Central Coast. Hooah!

Posted by anonymous | April 18, 2007 09:42 AM

Basil and Brits? News Press, your’re a bloody bore!

Posted by Bloody Bad | April 17, 2007 07:43 PM

Santa Barbara’s newspaper of record hasn’t quite fallen to the depths of trashy British tabloid magazines, but it’s not far. All it seems to lack now is a page 3 pin-up girl.

Posted by SBCitizen | April 17, 2007 07:45 PM

Just read the Teamster’s long reply piece. I don’t like unions, but has to wonder how McCaw can be so dumb as to keep beating a dead horse. Isn’t she reading this stuff? The union lawyer obviously relished re-telling the NP’s comedy of errors to the higher court. To have the news editor and opinion editor basically called liars doesn’t help public confidence in the newspaper.

Posted by Can’t make this s$%@ up | April 17, 2007 10:37 PM

Rome burns, Nero plays and Wendy just keeps applauding. Yesterday’s pathetic front page was the most blatant example yet of how bad things are over there. How crass and insensitive can these people be? Wendy has just proved how big of an idiot she is. Scott and Travis should have been fired along time ago, but yesterday’s front page is the icing on the cake. That front page is being laughed at around the world by other newspapers and in journalism classes. They insult the profession and the community. I live out of state so can’t do this, but if I could, I would send copies of the front page to every CEO that advertises in the NP with a nice letter explaining that their advertising dollars are what support this poor excuse for a newspaper (not in those words, of course) Hey, it got Don Imus fired! The only way to hurt WEndy is to make her pay, and pay big. Running a newspaper is EXPENSIVE and if there is no revenue, her big fortune will shrink rapidly, especially with all the legal fees and expenses, plus her high dollar lifestyle.

Posted by Ex Inmate | April 18, 2007 04:58 AM

Ex Inmate is right, advertising needs to get the message not to support her farce.

Posted by anonymous | April 18, 2007 09:42 AM

Maybe Richard Mineards can do an article on “Nipper” the Baron, so we can all see just how he actually became a “Baron”

Just a thought.

Posted by Bob | April 18, 2007 11:55 AM

Hi all,

there seems to be a discrepancy in what Tobin believes the law to be and what the News-Press lawyers believe the anti-SLAPP law to be. i am trying to figure out the reality right now and hope to post an update sometime soon.

bye,

matt k

Posted by matt k | April 18, 2007 12:08 PM

Thank you Matt. Bob, Mineards was in NY scene, Nips at Nippers. There are people who can remember.

Posted by anonymous | April 18, 2007 03:55 PM

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