Thursday afternoon’s demonstration in De la Guerra Plaza did not leave a very flattering impression of Santa Barbara News-Press owner Wendy McCaw.
Over the course of the hour-long rally — in honor of the five-year anniversary of the beginning of the departure from what was once a very good newspaper — McCaw was called almost everything under the sun by speakers: the bully of De la Guerra Plaza, one of the most anti-union owners in California, a loser, dragon lady, a woman who divorced well, and, according to former reporter Dawn Hobbs, an “iron-fisted, union-hating, law-breaking tyrant.”
Five years ago this month, editor Jerry Roberts, columnist Barney Brantingham, managing editor George Foulsham, deputy managing editor Don Murphy, business editor Michael Todd, and metro editor Jane Hulse all walked off the job, no longer able to put up with McCaw’s influence on the news side of the paper’s operation.
The initial exodus led to more and more newsroom employees following suit, while those remaining voted overwhelmingly to join the Teamsters union. The move didn’t faze McCaw, however, who over a couple days in February 2007 fired six reporters for participating in a demonstration, an event later deemed by an administrative law judge to be protected activity.
That vote to join a union didn’t lead to a contract being signed with the paper, but later led to a judge saying the paper refused to bargain in good faith. That issue, along with several other legal wranglings related to resistance against McCaw, remain stuck in courts.
But Thursday’s gathering of 100 or so people showed that the community hasn’t forgotten about the News-Press Mess, as it’s come to be known.
Within the crowd was a good chunk of former staffers representing more than a century’s worth of reporting experience — Barney Brantingham and Starshine Roshell, John Zant, Jerry Roberts, Dawn Hobbs, Melinda Burns, Tom Jacobs, Anna Davison, Dennis Moran — to name a good number of them.
“Wendy McCaw owns this newspaper but she does not own democracy in this city,” said Marty Blum, the former mayor who was often the focal point of former editorial page writer Travis Armstrong, McCaw’s former right-hand man who was also at the heart of the meltdown.
Thursday’s rally was not only pro-newsroom, but also pro-union as various speakers talked about their support for the employees’ efforts to organize. “Our commitment comes from being right, and these people are right,” said Teamsters organizer Marty Keegan.
A spokesperson from Representative Lois Capps’s office read a note from the congressmember, who thanked the workers for standing up “for a free and independent press and the rights of workers everywhere to organize.” A representative for Assemblymember Das Williams had similar words.
Daraka Larimore-Hall, chair of the area Democratic Party and a union organizer himself, also lambasted the paper for going on a crusade against unions across the country, and trying to bring that fight to California in its opinions on the editorial page. “We live in a society where we respect one another, care for one another, and have compassion for one another,” he said.