Let’s Get Ready to Rally

Will the Masses Show Up for Wake Up Wendy Wednesday?

(Illustration by Bob Aul for the OC Weekly)

On Wednesday, February 21, at noon in De la Guerra Plaza, hundreds of people are expected to show up to support the unionized newsroom staff of the Santa Barbara News-Press and call for owner Wendy McCaw (cartoonized her as a lawsuit-wielding Medusa) to return ethical standards to her newspaper, rehire the reporters and editors wrongfully terminated, and remind her that owning a newspaper means caring about your community and acting like a responsible professional. mccaw%20cartoon.jpg It is expected to be one of the biggest rallies since the meltdown began last July and the first one in 2007 to be organized by community members, and not the unionized employees or the Teamsters union.

Rally organizers are encouraging participants to wear creative costumes and carry witty signs as they picket outside of the News-Press headquarters. Speaking at the event will be city councilmember Brian Barnwell, KCSB radio and community TV journalist Elizabeth Robinson, SurfDog seller Bill Connell, sports fan Kathleen Rodriguez, and John Zant, the sportswriter who was fired two weeks ago after 38 long years at the paper. Some of Zant’s colleagues will also speak.

The event also marks the kick-off of Operation Cold Shoulder, the newest tactic to put financial, social, and professional pressure on McCaw to address community concerns and negotiate with the Teamsters, who have represented the newsroom since a 33-6 unionization vote in September 2006.

According to a press release, Operation Cold Shoulder is the community’s response to “the continuingly abhorrent behavior practiced by the News-Press, such as terminating loyal employees who write the truth, refusing to meet with neutral community leaders, intimidating local small businesses, suing other journalists doing their job, declining to publish well-reasoned but contrary opinions, allowing the important news to go unreported, and other insults.”

The operation will call for more cancelling of newspaper subscriptions; urge advertisers to stop buying ads both in print and on the radio station KZSB; advocate individuals, public figures, community organizations, and political leaders to stop sending press releases to the News-Press and cease doing interviews with the paper or radio station; ask the public to stop using the newspaper for classified ads, calendar listings, garage sale notices, wedding announcements, and obituaries; stop inviting News-Press society page writers to nonprofit events; write letters to the Federal Communications Commission to complain about the ownership of both the newspaper and radio station in town; remind the community that McCaw also owns the Goleta Valley Voice, El Mexicano, and Blue Edge Magazine; and call for picketing outside of the newspaper every Wednesday at noon until the end of March.

For observers of the N-P crisis, the Wake Up Wendy Wednesday rally marks another opportunity to judge the Santa Barbara community’s response to owner McCaw’s trampling of basic journalistic ethics and angry disregard for her former employees. While those monitoring and commenting upon the affair on the blogosphere continue to grow at amazing rates everyday, many are wondering how much the everyday Santa Barbaran cares.

It’s possible that there’s already too much indifference over newspapers in this media-soaked age for anyone to care enough to use their lunchbreak to protest. Of course, those of us in the business hope that’s not true, because we still believe that an active, responsible daily newspaper is a key to both a healthy democracy and an enjoyable life. Does the rest of Santa Barbara feel the same way? Wednesday will give some clues to that answer.

IN OTHER NEWS: The illustration above was done by Bob Aul, who drew if for the OC Weekly. Why was he drawing a cartoon of a lawsuit-happy Wendy McCaw? Because the OC Weekly, like a number of papers throughout California and the rest of the world, felt that the News-Press meltdown was such a travesty that they too had to write about. See Gustavo Arellano’s article from last week here. Thanks to Bob for letting us use the image.

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