Blowout Planned for February 21 News-Press Protest
CORRECTION: The date of this protest, which is being organized by the community and not the former employees, is February 21, not February 14 as first reported. There will be a Valentine’s Day protest on February 14, but it will be the normal sort of protest that’s been happening for the past week.
For many Santa Barbarans who once enjoyed reading an informative daily newspaper called the News-Press, next Wednesday, February 21, will be the day to have their voices heard. That’s because that Wednesday, February 21, at noon, there’s a large protest being planned for De la Guerra Plaza, directly in front of the headquarters for the once esteemed, now internationally tarnished newspaper.
The protest, if you haven’t heard, is being organized by community members to support the former News-Press newsroom staffers who have been fired or resigned since July 2006, the month that owner Wendy McCaw (pictured) allegedly began infiltrating the newsroom with her wacky opinions and protecting her rich friends. Since then, more than 30 reporters, editors, designers, and other newsroom staffers have left or been forced out of the paper, and there are another 20 or so employees from the business side and other departments of the paper who have also left in disgust for the way McCaw has treated her staff. As well, the newsroom voted 33-6 in September to unionize with the Teamsters, but the paper’s management continues to fight that vote. A judge’s verification of that vote is expected soon.
Specifically, the Wednesday, February 21 protest is the result of the firings of the fifth protest six journalists were terminated last week. The journalists (Dawn Hobbs, Rob Kuznia, and Barney McManigal went down on Monday while Melissa Evans, Tom Schultz, and 38-year sports writing veteran John Zant went down on Tuesday) were fired for “disloyalty” because they admitted to participating in a union-related protest the Friday before. That protest, which was followed by similar morning commute actions last week, consisted of the reporters hanging banners over the 101 freeway telling motorists to cancel their newspaper subscriptions. The related firings of the journalists have been reported to the National Labor Relations Board as “unfair labor practices,” as have the alleged threats issued by McCaw’s attorney Barry Cappello.
The Wednesday, February 21, protest at noon will feature much of the same noisemaking, marching, and chanting of the last four protests. There will also be many signs, such as this one, urging McCaw to reconsider her tact and begin acting responsibly and within the limits of the law when it comes to running her newspaper.
The organizers are asking for as much support as people can offer, whether that means full-fledged marching and yelling or just showing up in De la Guerra Plaza to watch. And this time, the Surf Dog cart will be there to provide free hot dogs and lemonade to the protesters, because like many who followed John Zant’s nearly 40 years of sports reporting, Surf Dog owner Bill Connell is super-peeved that his main sports man got the axe this time.
As many as 300 people are expected by organizers to show up to the Wednesday, February 21 protest, which would be about 10 times as many supporters who’ve shown up at the previous protests. And while the News-Press issue is a hot topic for journalists and media watchers around the world as well as those who follow the news on Santa Barbara’s increasingly pervasive blogosphere, Wednesday, February 21’s protest will be a test of how many Santa Barbarans do actually care that their newspaper is being stripped of its staff and turned into nothing more than a place for puff pieces, wire stories, and a decreasing amount of advertising.
Currently, the News-Press only has three news reporters — chocolate fountain entrepreneur Leana Orsua, North County’s Nora Wallace (a true pro liked by all who meet her), and the recently named “staff writer” Hannah Guzik, an apparent Westmont grad who penned most of today’s News-Press issue. Amazingly, that gives The Santa Barbara Independent the biggest news staff in town!
So if you care, turn out on Wednesday, February 21, at noon, in De la Guerra Plaza to show your support for the newsroom staff and your disdain for how owner Wendy McCaw is running a once proud institution into the ground.