Fired Reporters Rally Outside News-Press Building; More to Come All Week
It was the first of what will be a daily affair: former News-Press reporters — including the six fired within 24 hours on Monday and Tuesday — stood together in solidarity and marched in front of the newspaper’s headquarters while chanting “McCaw Obey the Law” repeatedly. This will be repeated, and they’re hoping for more community support, for the rest of the week, from 3 to 5 p.m. in De la Guerra Plaza. (Noisemakers are encouraged.)
Before the intentionally disruptive marching, however, a handful of media outlets and some community members watched as the employees delivered heartfelt speeches about their recent terminations and plans for the future. Dawn Hobbs, the eight-year courts/crime reporter and outspoken union advocate, said in angry tones, “McCaw can fire us—yes she can—but she cannot get rid of us…We want our jobs back and we want back pay!”
Tom Schultz, who’s covered a variety of beats in his nearly nine years, spoke next. Though more subdued that Hobbs, he was clearly flustered, flabbergasted, and frustrated by his firing Tuesday morning. “Santa Barbara,” he said, looking directly into the TV cameras, “ this is about you. What kind of paper do you want representing your town?”
He was followed by Melissa Evans, who was also fired this morning. She made a comment about preparing her words, because she’s never really done this before. (And that is a very poignant point here, in that reporters are usually the ones who give voice to those under attack by people with money and power. Now, in this thoroughly bizarre, ultimately sad twist of fate, the reporters are the aggrieved and are using tactics that they most likely learned while reporting on the protests of others.)
“I never thought that I’d be standing in front of this building saying that I’d been fired,” Evans explained very eloquently, adding, with poignancy, “and saying that it was the proudest day in my career as a journalist.” Evans said that she was holding her head high, but that, “We deserve better. This town deserves better.”
Perhaps the saddest speaker was John Zant, who’s covered sports for the News-Press for 38 years and was the paper’s most senior employee after Barney Brantingham left. Distraught with a shaky voice, Zant, who was fired Tuesday morning, said, “This is a very sad day for me.” He said that it was funny that disloyalty had been brought up as a reason for their termination because “these are very loyal journalists.”
Melinda Burns, who was fired last October after her staunch union support, took the loyalty thing further. “We’re loyal to our jobs as journalists,” she said, “and we’re loyal to telling the truth and we’re loyal to the art of newsgathering and reporting.” Burns called the firings “shameful” and explained that they would be targeting advertisers and asking for them to stop spending money at the News-Press. Though the notion of an advertiser boycott has been bouncing around for months, this was the first official announcement by the union supporters that the advertisers would now be targeted.
Before turning around and starting to yell at the building, Schultz added, “We’re not unreasonable people. All we want is to meet face-to-face at a table and talk about the issues at our workplace….Let’s sit down and have a conversation—I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.” And then Hobbs jumped up, still incensed, and said, “This is just the beginning…Help us take our newspaper back! You take your newspaper back!”
Then the group, which also included Rob Kuznia, Barney McManigal, and Anna Davison, turned around, walked directly at the News-Press building, and began chanting “McCaw Obey the Law.” They were supported by a Teamsters affiliate who yelled through a megaphone. This went on for 10 to 20 minutes, causing windows in the building to open and close and some faces to appear for brief periods behind the blinds. (It was not McCaw’s office area, however.)
After awhile, a security guard came around from the parking lot and watched. He made a cell phone call, and a few minutes later, a bicycle cop arrived to watch. Meanwhile, a parking cop was giving tickets to cars parked in front of the building. After some time, the chant turned to “We’ll Be Back” and then it ended.
Expect much more in the days to come. All are invited to attend these rallies, which start at 3 p.m. and go to 5 p.m. every day in De la Guerra Plaza.