Monday, September 10, 2007

Evidence In NLRB Hearings Starts To Take Shape

The News-Press NLRB hearings enter their tenth day this morning starting at 9 am at the Bankruptcy Court building in downtown Santa Barbara.

At the beginning of last week I was saying that it was too early to be making predictions about the outcome of this case. After listening to another week's worth of testimony a few things are becoming apparent.

The editors and reporters who resigned or were fired were far more competent than anyone News-Press owner Wendy McCaw has hired or promoted to replace them.

Scott Steepleton is no Jerry Roberts and, as hard as he tried, Bob Guliano is no Michael Todd.

As much as I hate to say it, the paper may make its firings of reporters Melinda Burns and Anna Davison stick. It won't be because of anything either one said during their testimony, they were both excellent witnesses, and it certainly won't be because either one was biased, in the sense that any reasonable person would construe that word, because they weren't.

If McCaw prevails on this issue it will be because this is one of those situations in the law where perception can trump reality. All Cappello has to prove is that McCaw had reasons, other than disdain for their union sympathies, to fire Burns or Davison. If they were genuinely fired for some other reason that's probably enough to avoid the conclusion that the terminations amounted to an unfair labor practice.

It probably matters not how unfounded McCaw's belief of bias may have been so long as the belief was sincerely held. And I've never questioned the sincerity of McCaw's irrationality on this point.

I doubt that most newspaper readers feel strongly one way or the other about the reintroduction of bald eagle chicks to the Channel Islands. However, whomever placed the handwritten notations on the copy of Davison's article of July 24, 2004 on that subject which was introduced into evidence at the hearing, obviously does.

In a critique that probably only would have been warranted if the article were a scholarly note in a wildlife management journal, the reviewer finds plenty of fault with Davison's story. Evidence, that has yet to be introduced, is expected to show that McCaw is the author of the notes and that she wrote them at or about the time the article appeared in the paper which is long before any one's union sympathies became an issue.

In other words, the paper's defense will be "union member or no union member, I never liked your reporting to begin with and that's why I'm getting rid of you." Or something that closely approximates that. Expect a similar line of defense with Burns. Shockingly perhaps, it just may work.

Figuring to fare much better are the six reporters who were fired for displaying the "Cancel Your Newspaper Now" banner on the freeway overpass back on February 2nd.

Here, the newspaper's defense is something like "gee, we didn't know that demonstration had anything to do with the labor dispute. We thought it was just an act of out-and-out disloyalty, and that's not protected."

They didn't know it had anything to do with the labor dispute! I know it, you know it, and the American people know it. And by the time this hearing is over the judge is going to know it as well. I think it's fairly safe to say the reporters who stood on the bridge will be getting back pay and probably reinstatement.

As for the other miscellaneous charges of unfair labor practices made against the paper which include such things as canceling Starshine Roshell's column because she was a union supporter, or illegally spying on employees who were engaged in union demonstrations, any findings against the paper will be purely symbolic. There are no monetary penalties that can be imposed for these violations.

On the witness stand this morning will be fired News-Press reporter Dawn Hobbs who was one of the leaders of the Union in the newsroom. Monday Night Football may be making its regular season debut tonight, but the real Monday match-up figures to be in the courtroom today when News-Press attorney Barry Cappello begins his cross-examination of Hobbs. It will be a clash of two strong-willed personalities.

* * *

More about the latest journalist to leave the News-Press. Charles Bucher by all accounts is good man who was criticized early for being an "opportunist" for trying to take the reins of the paper in the wake of the resignations of the key editors on July 6th.

He was a copy editor that originally stepped in as managing editor when the meltdown happened. He was just trying to keep the paper alive and lasted only a few weeks in that position until McCaw apponted Steepleton to take over and if you want to pick up the story from there, come join me in the gallery at the NLRB hearing.

Bucher transitioned back to the copy desk where he's been doing a huge amount of work including teaching the new folks, laying out almost every section, and editing the paper almost every day.

Reportedly, his last day at the paper will be Wednesday.

* * *

Have something good to say about the News-Press or Wendy McCaw? Documentary filmmaker Sam Tyler will be rolling his camera at the Santa Barbara Farmer's Market on Cota Street this Saturday, September 15th, from 9:00 am to 10:30 am. His film crew wants to talk with people who support McCaw and the News-Press.

Guess I know where Dr. Laura will be on Saturday morning.

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