Wednesday, April 30, 2008

News-Press Circulation Numbers Are In

In his online column that was posted yesterday, the Indy's Barney Brantingham asks; "What’s Ventura Got that We Don’t?"

How about, a daily newspaper that doesn't have declining circulation numbers?

I have obtained the figures for local newspapers which were released Monday by the Audit Bureau of Circulation. For the six-month period ending March 31, 2008, the circulation of Wendy McCaw's News-Press for Monday through Friday was 35,061. The figure a year earlier was 37,730. That's a decrease of a little over 7%.

Circulation for the News-Press Sunday edition was 35,195, compared to 38,035 a year earlier. That's about a 7.5% decrease.

These figures, which the Audit Bureau of Circulation calls "FAS-FAX," compares year-to-year periods, is unaudited and is not a comparison to the previous six month reporting period. An industry insider who wishes to remain anonymous explained that there can be variations based on seasonal and other factors. So it's hard to know if the News-Press has seen improvement from the 33,755 for daily (Mon-Fri) circulation they reported in September of 2007.

Nevertheless, the News-Press appears to be suffering greater losses in circulation than its neighbors to the north and the south.

The Ventura County Star's circulation was 86,276 compared to 84,785 a year ago (an increase of 1.8%); Sunday circulation for that paper was 94,708 compared to 95,861 (a 1.2% decline).

To the north of us, The Santa Maria Times' number was 20,264, compared to 20,273 a year ago. That's a decline of a mere nine copies, so essentially there was no change. Sunday circulation was 19,964, compared to 20,026 a year ago, a decline of 62 copies or 0.3%

The San Luis Obispo Tribune's numbers were 35,885, compared to 37,407 a year ago (a 4% decline); Sunday was 41,794, compared to 42,619 (a 2% decline).

Read 'em and weep.

* * *

Law Week activities, sponsored by the Santa Barbara County Bar Foundation, continue Thursday night with a 7 pm panel discussion on the "1st Amendment in the Internet Age." Panel members include former News-Press editor Jerry Roberts, Matt Kettmann, senior editor of the Santa Barbara Independent, media lawyer Michael Cooney and Superior Court Judge George Eskin. The moderator of the panel is yours truly. Location is the Santa Barbara College of Law, 20 E. Victoria in downtown Santa Barbara. The program is free.

Up One Side of the Totem Pole and Down the Other

My post Monday about the Carpinteria School Board's decision to drop Native American symbols with respect to athletic teams and school spirit at Carpinteria High didn't result in anyone calling for my scalp. Well, almost no one.

Photo courtesy gallery

I received 15 responses via e-mail. Nine readers agreed with me, four disagreed and two fell into the category of being neutral.

Joe Cantrell, who taught at Carp High for over 30 years, made the observation that while Carpinteria is a small town it is also very complex.

Joe pointed out how problematic removing two specific murals containing Native American images from the school's physical plant will be:

One is the large mural that has survived for three decades on the outside wall of the gym. The center piece is a Carpinteria High School Warrior, but a number of athletes are also pictured and each one is recognizable, a real student who competed at the school at that time. Many old-timers can stand in front of the mural and name each of them. If they (and the Warrior) are painted over, a lot of locals will take this as an emotional loss and an insult to community history. (Remember that people in Carpinteria argued for 30 years about whether or not to move the football field to the "new" high school campus!)

Another high profile piece is the hand-painted tile picture of the Warrior outside the cafeteria. It was student art (ironically, created by a student who with a strong, outspoken commitment to individual civil rights) and was a senior class gift to the school.

Other readers who sided with me made the point that political correctness was being taken too far, and that the monetary cost of removing the symbols couldn't be justified.

As for those who disagreed several said basically that if Native Americans objected to the imagery then that should be that and the symbols should be removed, no questions asked.

I'm not ready to give a group "veto power" without an explanation of what is objectionable about the images.

A well articulated explanation of why the symbols are objectionable came from Sandy Starkey who pointed out that it trivializes a tragic situation, the exploitation of Chumash labor to construct the Catholic missions. She went on to say:

There's a history of offensive images of native Americans, going back to the Disney "Peter Pan" movie that portrayed the natives as savages singing "what makes the red man red," with their "chief" in full Native American costume. That symbol--a Native American caricature in full headdress--reminds many of that painful stereotyping.

Loretta Redd had an op-ed piece in yesterday's Daily Sound arguing that the Warrior Mascot ought to be changed.

Over at they have an on-line poll where the vote is 57% to 40% in favor of getting rid of the mascot and imagery.

A couple of people inquired as to whether the school district was legally required to get rid of the imagery. The answer is no.

Back in 2001, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued a statement calling for an end to the use of Native American images and team names by non-Native schools. But the Commission recognized that in light of the right to freedom of expression guaranteed under the First Amendment, they could not require schools or institutions to drop Native American nicknames or imagery.

Well, since this is my blog, I'll take the last word on this.

I'm not convinced that keeping the Native American symbols at the school is an outrage. Yes, Native Americans have been done a lot of dirt in the name of "settling" this country, yet a lot of us who went through Boy Scouts or Y Indian Guides as we grew up learned valuable lessons about outdoorsmanship, self-reliance, leadership and yes, respect for others, through the vehicle of "Indian" lore. Like anything else, Native American symbols and culture can be used respectfully or they can be desecrated. I don't think Carpinteria High's use of the mascot or symbols falls into the latter category.

By the way, aren't Westmont College's athletic teams called the "Warriors?"

* * *

The Daily Sound started delivering to homes yesterday.

It's guaranteed to land ever so lightly and quietly on your door step every morning.

* * *

Congratulations to the Santa Barbara Independent, which was nominated for an "EPpy Award," presented by Editor & Publisher magazine, as having one of the best websites affiliated with a weekly paper. Winners will be announced in Las Vegas on May 15.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

How Low Will They Go?

If News-Press owner Wendy McCaw appeared grumpier than usual when she was spotted yesterday shopping at a local "big box" store with water boy Arthur von Wiesenberger at her side, it was most likely because she had seen the latest newspaper circulation figures which were released Monday by the Audit Bureau of Circulation.

When the going gets tough, the tough go to Costco.

Although I spent a good portion of Monday evening scouring the web in search of the News-Press' latest numbers, I was unable to find them. But considering how poorly the large dailies of the newspaper industry fared, it cannot bode well for the News-Press.

With the exception of USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, average daily circulation at the top 20 newspapers has declined for the period ending March 31 of this year.

As of November 30, 2007, the News-Press' Monday through Friday circulation was 33,755. So the numbers for the audit period that ended last month figure to be lower than that.

Overall, U.S. newspaper circulation fell 3.6 percent compared with the same period a year earlier.

The New York Times and Los Angeles Times reported declines of 3.9% and 5.1%, respectively.

As soon as I have actual figures for the News-Press, I will post them.

* * *

That was an odd story that appeared on page A3 of Monday's edition of the News-Press. It was about Julianne Hough, two-time winner of ABC's "Dancing with the Stars," shooting a music video on a local pier. Only the local pier wasn't Stearns Wharf or even the Goleta Beach Pier. It was the Ventura Pier and the video shoot took place back in March.

Scott Steepleton (aka "Larry The Cable Guy") the paper's associate editor, not only wrote the short article but was credited with taking the accompanying photos. Steepleton is rumored to be a big fan of reality TV.

* * *

Law Week, sponsored by the Santa Barbara County Bar Association, got underway yesterday. The annual event is intended to educate the public and raise awareness about the legal system.

Today, you can head over to the Coffee Cat at Anacapa and Anapamu at noon to have "Java With the Judges." Thursday night at 7 p.m. at Santa Barbara College of Law, I'll be the moderator of a panel discussion on "The 1st Amendment in the Internet Age. The panelists are Jerry Roberts, attorney Michael Cooney, Matt Kettmann of the Santa Barbara Independent and Judge George Eskin of the Santa Barbara Superior Court.

A complete list of Law Week activities and programs can be found in the column on the right hand side of this page.

* * *

And finally, from the L.A. Times' Sunday Travel section review of the Canary Hotel.
The hotel is a good addition to downtown Santa Barbara, and its cozy restaurant will surely continue to draw visitors and residents alike. But this Canary's service has yet to sing.


Monday, April 28, 2008

Tempest In A Teepee?

Not only is Carpinteria the locale of the "world's safest beach," the seaside hamlet can now lay claim to another title; home of the "County's most controversial mascot."

Students, alumni and boosters are on the warpath ever since the local school board announced that Carpinteria High School, whose athletic teams are known as the "Warriors," would be ridding itself of all Native American imagery.

Now, before I go any further let me disclose my own checkered past in this area. I was once a Boy Scout and a member of "The Order of the Arrow." I participated in that group's Indian dance team. (I didn't say "Native American" dance team because the term "Native American" hadn't come into usage back then.)

I dressed up in full Indian regalia including a headdress, called a "roach," that I painstakingly made myself. The group traveled all over the greater Los Angeles area performing Indian dances. We even went to real Indian pow-wows where we learned authentic Indian dance steps. My rain dance probably wasn't very good because the only time I ever made less rain would be years later when I was a lawyer in private practice.

Just the same, I never thought for a moment that I was being offensive to anyone or disrespecting their culture.

So yes, you can count me among those who doesn't "get it" when it comes to understanding the nature of the objections of those who take exception to the use of Native American names, artifacts and symbols by athletic teams.

If the objection is that members of one culture are ripping off someone else's culture, then perhaps we ought to have a talk with the folks over at Old Spanish Days who put on Fiesta every year.

It's not that I don't feel that the use of Native American images can never be offensive because in some contexts, they undoubtedly are. But is Carpinteria High's Warrior Chief really the equivalent of the display of a black-faced lawn jockey?

I understand the objection to the portrayal of negative stereotypes, but is all Native American imagery ipso facto stereotypical?

I don't think so. I always felt the sculpture of the tribal chief with a full-feathered war bonnet that is in front of the school on Foothill Road was certainly noble and dignified. I can't say the same of the Cleveland Indians' "Chief Wahoo," which is still in use.

And you'll get no argument from me that a team named "Blackskins," "Whiteskins," or "Redskins" is insensitive.

But does the fact that some of these nicknames and images are in poor taste really mean that we need a Navajo blanket rule prohibiting all of them?

Plus, if the nickname "Warriors" can stay, why does the arrow and feather have to go?

I think the school board in Carpinteria is throwing out the papoose with the bath water.

If it is, maybe the school board shouldn't stop with images but should also turn its attention to eliminating Native American terms and expressions from the language. It will be interesting to see whether anyone on the Board is willing to "spearhead" such an effort the next time they "pow-wow" on this issue.

On the bright side, maybe the school's dress code will be amended to ban "Mohawk" hair cuts.

In fact, perhaps they ought to change the name of the school and the town as well in light of the fact that Carpinteria takes its name, which was bestowed by the Spaniards, from the location where members of the Chumash tribe crafted canoes in their "carpentry" shop.

If you think I'm "off the reservation" on this issue feel free to let me know. I welcome comments (no smoke signals please) from anyone who wishes to enlighten me on this topic.

* * *

In case you missed it, the Sunday edition of Wendy McCaw's News-Press had a front page story on how couples might want to spend those tax rebate checks that will soon be in the mail.

The suggestions; chartering a jet to Vegas, splurging on a stay at Fess Parker's Los Olivos Hotel, having a private (and pricey) dining experience at the Chumash Casino's gourmet restaurant, a trip to the spa at Barcara Resort or, finally, joining Dr. Laura on a four-night cruise from Vancouver to San Diego.

I'm sure it was just a coincidence that all of the places where it was suggested in the article that you might want to spend your rebate check are advertisers or have some type of business tie-in with the News-Press.

If you're keeping score, here's the recap of the news content of yesterday's News-Press: Three "local" stories, Two columnists, (Laura and Peter Howorth) and one publicity photo of lemurs from the Santa Barbara Zoo. There were no local news briefs. There were five wire service stories and six news briefs from the wires. Of course there were lots of big ads.

The "A" section of the Sunday edition of the paper is 16 pages now. It wasn't that long ago it weighed in at 24.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Next to No Progress In News-Press/Union Negotiations

Further collective bargaining negotiations between Wendy McCaw's News-Press and the Graphics Communications Conference of the Teamsters Union took place over two days at the beginning of this month, and one thing has become evident; McCaw still wants to run her business as if the union does not exist.

Photo by Missy Olson of News-Press Booth at current S.B. Fair.

I have seen the letters that Union Negotiator Nick Caruso has sent to union members at the News-Press updating them on the status of negotiations as well as a letter Caruso sent to McCaw herself that is responsive to a memo that she circulated to newsroom employees. I also understand that Caruso has sent a letter to Michael Zinser, the attorney who is the chief negotiator at the bargaining table on behalf of the News-Press however, I have not seen a copy of that letter.

Probably the most absurd of the positions being advanced by the News-Press at the bargaining table is it's rejection of the union's proposal that employee grievances be arbitrated by a neutral party and instead that any grievances against the paper are to be ultimately decided by McCaw.

As Caruso put it in his letter to employees:

If Management believes that in the end it has the final say on disputes regarding interpretation of the parties' Agreement, there would be no motivation to resolve a dispute on any terms other than those preferred by the Publisher. Under the Employer's proposal, the contractual grievance procedure could end by the Publisher simply denying a violation has occurred.

At the bargaining table, the News-Press responded to the union's proposal for neutral third-party arbitration of grievances by stating:

Thousands and thousands of employers have written procedures for resolving workplace disputes without the concept of just cause and arbitration.

Actually I'm familiar with such a policy. That's the old "my way or the highway" rule.

In truth, it's apparent that McCaw wants to persist with having the ability to fire or discipline employees without having to bother to explain herself or to have to justify her actions. Wendy, you have a union now. Those days are over.

Another sticking point in negotiations has been the topic of "productivity standards" with the News-Press rejecting a proposal that "complexity of a story" be one of the considerations in determining whether a newsroom employee was producing a sufficient amount of work. That position caused one member of union's negotiating committee to observe. "I guess the world is lucky that Woodward and Bernstein didn't work for the current News-Press."

No, I don't think either Woodward or Bernstein would have thrived under the current atmosphere at Wendy McCaw's News-Press.

By the way, the News-Press' "team" at the bargaining table has been comprised of Zinser, Dugan Kelly, an attorney with Barry Cappello's firm, associate editor Scott Steepleton and at least on one occasion, editorial page editor Travis Armstrong, in place of Steepleton.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

But How Did She Do In Punxsutawney?

Credit for this first item goes to my friend George over at "I'm Not One To Blog But. . .," who spotted and blogged it first.

Not only is that headline not right, it's incorrect. (If you know what I'm getting at.) According to the Washington Post, in Philadelphia County Obama got 65% of the vote to Clinton's 35%.

* * *

Look for former Daily Sound columnist Leslie Westbrook, who was "put on hold" along with myself back at the end of January, to make a return to the Sound in the very near future.

Maybe she can double as the geography and political science instructor.

* * *

Having given the Sound a hard time over Wednesday's headline at least I can point out that beginning April 29 you can have the Daily Sound delivered to your home. The cost is $1.68 per week and you can sign up here.

* * *

We now know who the judge is who has been assigned to hear the Rob Lowe nanny case that was filed in Santa Barbara Superior Court and no, it's not Meredith Viera of the Today show. Judge Denise de Bellefeuille (pronounced de-Bell-fay) will be handling the Lowe's lawsuit against Jessica Gibson.

The separate lawsuit that Lowe and his wife filed against their former chef Pete Clements has been assigned to Judge Thomas Anderle. Unlike Gibson who has filed an answer and counterclaim against the Lowe's, Clements, as of Wednesday, had not filed a responsive pleading. Prior to working for the Lowes, Clements was the chef at Cottage Hospital and before that, at Emilio's.

The Lowe's third lawsuit against another former nanny was filed in Superior Court in Los Angeles County.

If you've been following this case you know that Gibson, the nanny, is represented by L.A. attorney Gloria Allred. While Gloria is getting all of the face-time in front of the cameras talking to the media about this case, quietly toiling behind the scenes is Santa Barbara attorney Jim Cordes who is serving as co-counsel.

I spoke with him on the phone Friday. He would only say that he is "looking forward to prosecuting the case on behalf of Jessica," and referred me to Allred for all other questions.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Lowe was giving the first of a two-part interview to Entertainment Tonight.

* * *

The review of Citizen McCaw that recently appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle has generated requests for screeners of the movie from national media including The Wall Street Journal, Business Week and NPR, according to Sam Tyler one of the documentary's co-producers.

* * *

Five former News-Press journalists; Jane Hulse, Melinda Burns, Dawn Hobbs, Melissa Evans, and Anna Davison, will be among those honored by the Association for Women in Communications at a May 7 luncheon at the Canary Hotel in downtown Santa Barbara.

For more info and to purchase tickets, go to, or call 962-5884, or email

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Mental Health Day?

This from Monday's L.A. Times:
More than 80% of employees admit to taking "mental health" days from work to recover or recharge, according to a poll conducted by ComPsych Corp., which provides corporate counseling services.

Now there's an idea!

See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Full Moon Fever?

The Earth Day celebration reviews are in.

From the Daily Sound:
With clear skies and a bright sun above, thousands of folks wound their way through the maze of booths at the South Coast Earth Day Festival yesterday, getting tips and ideas on how to tread more lightly on the planet.

From Noozhawk:
Beneath brilliant sunny skies, thousands of locals — and quite a few out-of-towners — converged on the Courthouse Sunken Garden on Sunday for the annual South Coast Earth Day Festival.

From Rachel Weight, writing in the Santa Barbara Independent:
Committed to my self-proclaimed role as the Holiday Enforcer, I skipped down to the Sunken Gardens . . . with thousands of others equally determined to dance, eat, and raise a toast to Mother Nature, while learning about the myriad ways one can Reduce your Eco-footprint.

And from Wendy McCaw's News-Press:
Hundreds came out to the Sunken Gardens at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse to celebrate Earth Day on Sunday.

Hundreds? What Earth Day celebration were they covering?

And that quote doesn't come from an article but rather from a photo caption. The News-Press did not run a story on the Earth Day celebration.

As I wrote yesterday, Travis Armstrong, who serves as both Wendy McCaw's lap dog and pit bull, was poo pooing the Earth Day festivities before they started so I suppose a half-hearted effort to cover the celebration was to be expected.

If it were circulation figures they were reporting I'm sure the News-Press would have found a way to make the numbers look larger.

* * *

Sunday's L.A. Times Hot Property column reported that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, have bought a 25-acre tract in the Rancho Monte Alegre project in Santa Barbara County.

In case you're wondering where Rancho Monte Alegre is you'll find it in Carpinteria just north of the intersection of Santa Monica and Foothill Roads.

* * *

Has the first domino fallen at the Wall Street Journal?

Less than five months after Rupert Murdoch took control of the paper, its top editor is resigning.

And why should we here in Santa Barbara be concerned with what's going on at the Journal? Assuming that the circulation numbers at the News-Press continue to decline, the WSJ may be one of the better read dailies in this town.

* * *

The San Francisco Chronicle calls Citizen McCaw "the scariest film involving journalists since Zodiac."

And unlike "Zodiac," we know the true identity of the villain in "Citizen McCaw."

Monday, April 21, 2008

No Country For Old Menus

Friday's edition of the News-Press carried a restaurant review of The Porch at Los Olivos Grocery.

Routine dining reviews usually don't get much attention from me but this article was prefaced with an editor's note stating that both the chef and menu had changed since the review was written.

If you wanted to make an informed decision before hopping into your car and driving up to the Santa Ynez Valley to try The Porch, I think you're out of luck. Columbus had more guidance when he set out to find the new world.

With the News-Press writing up superseded menus and departed chefs, can reviews of the Olive Mill Bistro, Kelly's Corner and The Talk of the Town be far behind? (Yes, you have to be a long-time Santa Barbarian if you remember any of those long-gone watering holes.)

* * *

In his column in yesterday's edition of Wendy McCaw's News-Press, editorial page editor Travis Armstrong opened with this question:

Not to be too curmudgeonly on this Earth Day weekend, but am I the only one who thinks the annual festival at the county Courthouse Sunken Garden has become a bit stale?

I'm tempted to say "yes," and leave it at that however, Armstrong uses the column to take a swipe at the Earth Day Festival's organizer, the Community Environmental Council, who has apparently become the latest inductee into "the cabal."

Armstrong cites the CEC's abandonment of creek and watershed programs as examples of its decline. Those programs have since been taken over by other organizations.

Armstrong concludes by saying "perhaps it's time to hand off Earth Day as well to a group that would make it a priority rather than an obligation" Like who? The News-Press?

Santa Barbara's "paper of rancor" certainly hasn't been saving any trees with the unsolicited junk-mail flyer "NP Direct" which periodically shows up in mail boxes all over the south coast.

And the News-Press was conspicuously absent as a sponsor of this year's local Earth Day celebration even though the Santa Barbara Independent and Daily Sound were lending their support to the annual celebration.

Of course there is one "Earth" Day activity in which the News-Press has no peer; getting down in the dirt and slinging the mud. Sunday was the one year anniversary of the paper's shameful smear of former editor Jerry Roberts.

* * *

What I believe is the first "review" of Citizen McCaw appeared over the weekend in the San Francisco Chronicle.

* * *

The Santa Barbara County Bar Association is sponsoring a week long observance of Law Week. One of the events is a panel discussion on "The First Amendment In The Internet Age." I will be the moderator of a discussion of how freedom of speech and the press have been impacted by the Internet. The panelists include Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge George Eskin, media attorney Mike Cooney, former News-Press editor Jerry Roberts and Matt Kettmann, senior editor at the Santa Barbara Independent. The date is Thursday, May 1 and the time is 7 p.m. The location is the Santa Barbara College of Law, 20 E. Victoria Street. Admission is free.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Citizen McCaw Plays Berkeley

Citizen McCaw had its Northern California debut last night being screened at the Graduate school of Journalism at UC Berkeley.

The audience of 100 or so consisted mostly of faculty, students and alumni of the school, as well as many of the staff of the San Francisco Chronicle, where former News-Press editor Jerry Roberts worked for many years immediately before heading south to Santa Barbara to join the News-Press.

The audience included a number of journalism heavyweights such as Tom Goldstein, former dean of the journalism schools at University of California, Berkeley, and at Columbia.

Reportedly the film was well-received with the audience laughing at many of the same points in the film as did the audiences in Santa Barbara. Nick Welsh's comments were favorites with the NorCal audience. The crowd of mostly journalists or aspiring journalists seemed stunned when the names of the staff who had departed the News-Pres began to fill the screen towards the end of the documentary. As one observer put it, to a newspaper person those names form a "Vietnam memorial of journalism."

The documentary's screening was followed by panel discussion that lasted about half an hour featuring the film's director Sam Tyler, Roberts, San Francisco Chronicle editorial page editor John Diaz, and UC Berkeley journalism professor Cynthia Gorney. There were questions directed towards Roberts about how he's holding up and the audience showed lots of interest in obtaining DVD's of the documentary.

Most often repeated comment heard from those attending: "I had no idea that was really going on."

Making the trip to Berkeley from Santa Barbara were co-producer Rod Lathim and the film's cinematographer Brent Sumner. Brent shot footage of the panel discussion to be included in an updated cut of the documentary. (More on that below.)

Also in attendance from Santa Barbara was former News-Press reporter Scott Hadly, who is a graduate of Berkeley's journalism school. Hadly reportedly drove up to Berkeley on Thursday, attended the reception and screening, then turned around and drove all the way back to Santa Barbara immediately afterward. He's working on a major story on the brewing police scandal in Oxnard for his current employer, the Ventura County Star.

* * *

Well, you've seen the movie. Now get ready for the "Making of Citizen McCaw." The producers of the documentary are working on a behind-the-scenes look at their film project on the News-Press controversy including out-takes from the finished film. They plan on a local screening in May or June with the proceeds being used to pay the debt racked up in making the film. They are about $30,000 in the red at this point.

The producers also plan to start shooting additional footage for the original film. This will include perspectives on the federal judge's consideration of the reinstatement order, interviews with some of Travis Armstrong's recent targets, and at least one more national voice, who can speak on the question of publisher's rights vs. journalistic ethics.

Armstrong, who was not covered in the original version as a major character has emerged as one recently and the filmmakers want to portray him in a bit sharper focus.

They are hoping to show the recut version with the additional footage (Citizen McCaw 2.0?) the weekend after Labor Day.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Olbermann Remembers Spens

Last week, the most viewed story on my blog was the one about the late Will Spens, the former big market TV reporter who spent the last few years of his life living here in Santa Barbara on the fringe of homelessness and being pursued by paranoia.

Keith Olbermann, who since Don Imus departed now has the most watched show on MSNBC, remembered Spens on Monday.

Olbermann once interned for Spens.

* * *

In case you were wondering, the News-Press is reporting the latest developments in the Rob Lowe story.

With News-Press owner Wendy McCaw testifying under oath during last summer's NLRB hearing that she considered Lowe to be a "friend," I for one was wondering whether the paper would cover the sordid allegations.

* * *

Around the middle of last week I wrote about the views of a select few political pundits on whether Hillary Clinton should drop out of the primary race.

Lou Cannon, the retired Washington Post reporter and Summarland resident, who might know a thing or two about politics, e-mailed with this comment:

I am no fan of Hillary, and I like Barack just fine BUT at this point in their campaigns Gary Hart was 600 delegates behind Mondale and Ted Kennedy was 1,000 delegates behind President Carter and no one was pressuring Hart or Kennedy to get out. It's unreasonable to expect that anyone who is 133 delegates behind and is favored in the next big primary would quit.

Lou's latest book, which he co-authored with his son is Reagan's Disciple: George W. Bush's Troubled Quest for a Presidential Legacy.

* * *

As I noted last week, the California primary used to be in June. In fact, there still is an election in June and the Santa Barbara County Elections Office is looking for pollworkers to staff it.

"Pollworkers?" Now that's a quaint term. Maybe they ought to check out the Spearmint Rhino?

And, according to Peter Schrag in the Sacramento Bee: "If our presidential primary had not been moved to Feb. 5 in search of clout, the June 3 election would probably be pivotal to the Democrats and have a huge turnout. Now it will be one of the least important state elections in history."

The moral; don't mess with Mother Nature, or the California Primary.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Target of "Preemptive Strike" Strikes Back

Any hope that Rob Lowe's attorney Stanton Stein had that the former nanny Lowe has sued would just "go away" pretty much got up and went on Tuesday morning.

The nanny, Jessica Gibson, appeared on the Today show to tell her side of the story.

Of course the person doing most of the talking was her attorney, Gloria Allred. And once Allred gets rolling, its hard to get in a word edgewise.

Sitting in front of the cameras in L.A. with Allred holding her hand while Meredith Viera interviewed her from New York, Gibson denied trying to blackmail the Lowes. When asked if she had ever demanded money from the Lowes Allred jumped in to answer denying that her client had done anything improper.

When asked by Viera if her allegations are true why did she stick around, Gibson replied: "I loved the children, I needed the job, I always thought it would get better and I was scared."

When asked what Lowe did to abuse her, she wouldn't say. However, the counter-suit that Allred has filed in her behalf alleging sexual assault, battery and retaliation does go into quite a bit of detail. However, if you want to find out what the particulars are, you're on your own. The sordid details are too creepy for me to go into here and anyway, I'd prefer to stick to talking about how the media is covering this story.

Allred announced during the interview that she plans on taking the depositions of both Lowe and his wife on May 19th.

It's a good thing that Stein, who represents Wendy McCaw's News-Press in its copyright suit against the Indy and its libel suit against Susan Paterno, has settled the former case and is likely on the verge of getting a decision in the latter.

It looks like he's going to have his hands full battling Allred in the media.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Injunction Judge Is Skeptical, Wants More Briefs

Well, no one ever said that it was going to be easy for the eight fired reporters of the News-Press to be reinstated to their jobs.

While not making a final order, federal judge Steven Wilson before whom the request for a reinstatement order is pending, issued a written opinion last Friday expressing reservations about whether the reporters could be reinstated without infringing on Wendy McCaw's right of freedom of the press under the First Amendment.

In his written opinion Wilson noted that an injunction requiring McCaw to reinstate the eight cannot be issued if there is a "significant risk" of violating the publisher's First Amendment rights. Although it is not clear that the burden placed on McCaw's editorial discretion by an injunction would rise to the level of a First Amendment violation or that disciplining or discharging employees was necessary for McCaw to protect her editorial discretion as opposed to the use of some other available remedy, Wilson wrote that without more legal guidance he is inclined to determine that there is a significant risk.

Wilson noted that William Kocol, the administrative law judge who presided over last summer's NLRB hearing, considered these issues and dismissed them. However Judge Wilson doesn't find Kocol's reasoning persuasive.

Although Kocol determined that the employee's concerted effort to enforce separation between the editorial and opinion sides of the paper was protected labor organizing activity, according to Wilson, he completely failed to acknowledge that they sought to do so through affecting McCaw's First Amendment-protected editorial discretion. Although Wilson was "loath to question" Kocol's factual determinations, he rejected as clearly erroneous the administrative law judge's view that enforcing separation between the two sides of the News-Press is not a matter of editorial discretion.

Wilson's view is that Kocol failed to grapple with McCaw's argument, as articulated by her attorney Barry Cappello, that if the union is organized to affect McCaw's editorial discretion, any application of the National Labor Relations Act which prevents McCaw from combating the union is a violation of McCaw's First Amendment rights.

Judge Wilson has asked for additional written legal arguments from the parties on this issue with the final written brief being due April 22nd. Wilson should decide fairly soon after that.

I'll have more on this whenever it happens.

Monday, April 14, 2008

How "Lowe-Down" Will This Lawsuit Get?

If Montecito resident Rob Lowe was hoping that his preemptive strike strategy of suing three former members of his domestic staff would have the in terrorem effect of putting a muzzle on the defendants and forcing them to seek refuge under that manhole cover that the allegations of his complaint would have us believe they crawled out from, those hopes were pretty much dashed this weekend.

Friday afternoon it was reported that one of the defendants, former Lowe nanny Jessica Gibson, has hired civil rights attorney and world class media boor Gloria Allred to represent her.

That move pretty much guarantees that this case will be tried in the press before it ever sees the inside of a courtroom.

Allred has built a career not on what she says or does inside the courthouse but rather on her performance in front of the microphones and cameras outside. If the Lowe's have dirty laundry, I can guarantee you that Allred will be the first to air it out. And even if the Lowe's don't have dirty laundry, that might not necessarily stop Allred from insinuating that they do.

Lowe's own attorney, Stanton L. Stein, was on the Today show Friday morning being interviewed about the case. When asked about the tactic of filing a lawsuit in a situation like this, Stein agreed that it was "highly unusual." He said that Lowe "chose to fight back framing the issue in a way the public can understand."

When asked by interviewer Meredith Viera if Lowe and his wife were in fact the victims of an extortion attempt why did Lowe refuse law enforcement's offer of assistance? Stein responded that the sheriff was considering a criminal proceeding into blackmail and that it was he, and not Lowe, who instructed the sheriff not to proceed with an investigation. The reason he asked the sheriff to stay out of it was because if the sheriff did get involved it would hamper Stein's "investigation" as the defendants would take the Fifth Amendment.

Stein's suggestion that the defendants would not enjoy that same protection against self-incrimination in civil discovery proceedings that they would in a criminal investigation is simply not true and Stein ought to know better.

Any person has a right to refuse to answer questions that could tend to incriminate them regardless of who is doing the questioning.

And, according to Sgt. Alex Tipolt the public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff, the sheriff as of this time is not considering any investigation into extortion and blackmail. Tipolt said that deputies spoke to both "Mr. Lowe and his attorney" who said they preferred to handle the matter as a civil issue.

In the Lowes' instance, handling it "civilly" means seeking a large damage award from the defendants. No, they haven't asked for restraining orders or injunctions. The prayers of the complaints ask only for money.

So, what about that strategy? If you find out that the household help is stealing from you, which is the allegation the Lowe's have made against their former chef, I think most of us would just fire the individual and that would be that. If someone is threatening to embarrass us with false information unless they are paid off, most people would probably call the police in.

Sure, you might choose to handle it yourself by suing the thief or the extortionist and asking for a large amount of monetary damages, but even if you do prevail, do you really think you'll be able to collect on any judgment you might recover?

After all, if the hired help had that kind of money, they probably wouldn't be working as nannies and cooks to begin with. I'd be surprised if Lowe's household helpers turn out to be that well-heeled.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

News-Press Copyright Suit Against Indy Settled

The lawsuit brought by Wendy McCaw's News-Press against the Santa Barbara Independent alleging copyright infringement has been settled.

This is according to a joint stipulation filed yesterday in federal court in Los Angeles by the parties to the lawsuit.

According to the stipulation, the parties are in the process of finalizing a written settlement agreement which will be filed with the court. Upon the filing of the agreement the News-Press' lawsuit against the Independent will be dismissed.

Friday Morning Update. Very late Thursday afternoon I reached Nick Welsh, the Indy's news editor, by telephone. Although he was aware a settlement had been reached he could not comment on it. He referred me to Randy Campbell, the Indy's publisher, however Campbell had already left for the day.

So the exact details of the settlement remain unknown, although it is significant that one of the elements of the settlement will be a dismissal of the News-Press' complaint against the Indy "with prejudice," meaning the claims that arose out of the facts and circumstances that were included in the complaint can never be refiled again.

My guess, and it's only a guess, is that the settlement either involves no money being paid by the Indy to the News-Press or only a relatively small amount of money.

Undoubtedly there will be a jointly issued and carefully worded statement forthcoming regarding the settlement that figures to be judiciously obtuse as to exactly how the matter was resolved.

Whenever that happens I plan to be here to read between the lines.

* * *

It's official! The Santa Barbara Film Fest is now on the News-Press' enemies list.

In his op-ed column yesterday, Travis Armstrong took a few swipes at the film fest and its director, Roger Durling, including characterizing the organization as having "a rather down year." A "down year?" Says who?

He also describes securing the attendance of current Oscar nominees at the fest as a "ploy."

With the Film Fest now part of the "cabal" can Fiesta be far behind?

* * *

Also, in that same op-ed column Armstrong complains, without identifying her by name, that the editor of a local "freebie" newspaper "was involved in a messy lawsuit after her BMW apparently rear-ended another car stopped at a red light on Chapala Street."

I believe that's a reference to Marianne Partridge, editor of the Independent. (And didn't anyone ever tell Armstrong that names make the news?)

Anyway, Armstrong seems to think that routine fender-benders are newsworthy because he asks: "Where was the complete coverage of the years-long legal fight, and how it was ultimately resolved earlier this year?"

Well, we know one place it wasn't covered. In the News-Press!

The Occasional Politics Fix

Last Sunday afternoon I attended a small gathering at a private home down in Santa Monica to listen to a panel of political pundits discuss the Presidential Election and the Hillary/Obama showdown.

On the panel was former Montecito resident, Arianna Huffington, homespun Democratic strategist Bill Carrick and political consultant Mike Murphy, a ubiquitous presence on cable news and public affairs programs like "Meet The Press."

One of the first questions moderator Mickey Kaus, who blogs over at Slate, posed to the group was whether or not Hillary Clinton should drop out of the primary race.

Now, before I tell you what the panel had to say, let me put in my own two cents.

It wasn't that long ago that we held our California presidential primary in June, and there are major primaries still ahead. So in a close race if the second place candidate wants to hang in there, I say let her.

However, even if she does hang in there, Murphy and Carrick think that it's inevitable that Obama will be the nominee.

Murphy, the lone Republican on the panel, said that Hillary might do well to "show that one kind of history can support another." If she stays in until the end she might do damage to her future chances should she decide to run for president again. He pointed out that Rudy Giuliani stayed in the Republican race 10 days longer than he should have. Apparently he wanted to stick around and "prove he could lose." No he'll have a hard time ever running again.

Huffington was less sanguine about the inevitability of an Obama nomination than her fellow panelists. "It will be hard to drag Hillary off the stage," she told the gathering.

I agree. In fact, about the only person I can think of who is harder to drag off a stage is Huffington.

Despite the fact that she doesn't think Obama has the nomination wrapped up Huffington said that Hillary was starting to sound "hysterical," an observation that many in the audience took exception to.

When it was opened up for questions from those attending, KNBC political analyst and part-time Carpinteria resident, Sherry Bebich Jaffe, wondered how much harm the sometimes contentious primary campaign has done to the Democratic party. She mentioned that she covered Clinton's fundraiser at the Wilshire Theater in L.A. a few days earlier. She noted that every time Hillary uttered Obama's name the place erupted in boos.

All three panelists agreed that with a long way to go until the convention in August and Obama being a relatively inexperienced candidate, never really having had any formidable opponents in any of his previous runs for office, one slip-up on his part could quickly change the momentum of the race. So from that standpoint, why shouldn't Hillary stay in? After all, that's probably her best hope as of now.

When asked whether McCain's age would be a factor Murphy, apparently mindful that McCain can come off at times as being a grumpy old man, said that the presumptive Republican nominee will have to find a way to avoid having his theme perceived as being "get off my lawn!"

Huffington said that it would be a mistake for the Democrats to make an issue of age.

Carrick, who thinks it will be Obama vs. McCain in the fall, observed that it will be "a generational election as well as a change election." He wondered out loud whether the Republicans will use Rev. Wright (the controversial former pastor of Obama's church) as a Willie Horton hit?

Huffington admitted that while she liked McCain in 2000, "I drank the Kool Aid" were her words, (funny, I had her pegged as a white wine connoisseur) she's now disappointed to see the compromises he's made on torture. She said if Obama is going to be effective he "needs to go after McCain everyday about Iraq."

Murphy acknowledged that the war in Iraq is McCain's biggest liability. As for his biggest asset? "He's really nice to the press."

When the panel was asked who they thought Obama might pick for his running mate if he's the nominee, Murphy jumped in to answer, "I don't think Barack will pick Hillary, except maybe to be food tester."

* * *

Congrats to fellow local blogger Billy Goodnick whose Garden Wise Guy blog got mentioned in the Wall Street Journal.

* * *

On Thursday April 17 Citizen McCaw will be shown in Berkeley at the University of California Graduate School of Journalism.

The screening will be preceded by a reception and followed by a panel discussion, with all proceeds going to the Lawyers Alliance for Free Speech Rights, the legal defense fund for journalists ousted at the News-Press. Tickets are $50 each.

The screening is at 6:30 p.m at Sibley Auditorium at the, UC Berkeley campus. Tickets must be reserved by emailing and paying at the reception by check made out to "Lawyers Alliance."

The 5 p.m. reception precedes the screening. A panel discussion on the state of journalism follows it.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Maybe They Should Call It "Upstairs, Downstairs?"

Is Montecito's Rob Lowe still acting in dramas or is he about to star in his own reality series?

And in case you're wondering, the answer is yes, Wendy McCaw's News-Press did carry an article on the lawsuits that Lowe and his wife filed yesterday against two of their former nannies and their personal chef.

The Lowe's attorney is Stanton Stein from Santa Monica. He is the same lawyer who represents the News-Press in its lawsuit against The Independent for copyright infringement.

I wonder if Wendy is getting the "refer-a-friend" discount?

* * *

The News-Press had yet more of its allegations of unfair labor practices against the Teamster's Union bounced by the NLRB on Monday.

Not only did the NLRB's investigative staff find the allegations to be without merit, they also determined that were filed after the deadline for doing so had expired.

Reacting to the decision, News-Press lawyer Barry Cappello told the Associated Press that the dismissal of the News-Press' complaint was "part and parcel of what's apparently a pro-union bias by the NLRB staff."

"Bias?" Now that's a word you don't hear very often around here.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Sad Story of Will Spens

"Somewhere along the way, the guy fell off the apple cart." That was how The Independent's news editor, Nick Welsh, once cogently capsulized the Will Spens that we knew here in Santa Barbara.

Spens died a week ago today, in a single car accident near the Santa Barbara/Ventura County Line.

I first met Will at one of the "Save the News-Press" rallies in De la Guerra Plaza in the fall of 2006. When he introduced himself I remember thinking, "is this the same Will Spens who was once a news reporter for KNBC TV?" He was.

It wasn't that he didn't still have those rugged TV news guy good looks. He did. But he also had a definite "down on his luck" look about him. And of course the oddest thing about his appearance was the "breathe right" bandage that he constantly wore across the bridge of his nose.

He lived in a transient hotel in downtown Santa Barbara and was working part-time at some type of telemarketing job. The job gave him access to a phone and a computer. Two things he didn't have where he was living. He used the computer to maintain his own blog, Daily Webloid, which can still be viewed, although it hasn't been updated since October 9, 2006.

Anyway, that first meeting was very brief. He later e-mailed me and wanted to get together to talk. His message sounded a little desperate with the subject line being: "Asking for a face to face meeting at earliest convenience," in all caps.

I was a little wary of getting together with him thinking I might be hit up for money, but I agreed to meet him at the Coffee Cat downtown. It was an afternoon in late October of 2006. I rode my bike and was a few minutes late. He was already there and I could tell he was a little agitated and anxious thinking that I had stood him up.

We sat outside and he immediately lit up a cigarette. We talked about the turmoil at the Santa Barbara News-Press and how the various local media outlets were covering it. The discussion then got around to his own storied career in broadcast journalism. He started out in in radio where he worked with Don Imus, when Imus was still a Top 40 DJ. Spens later went to work as a TV news field reporter in New York City for WABC and then WNBC. After that he came out to L.A. in the early 1990's where he worked at KNBC and KCBS TV.

My friend Hans Laetz, who worked in the L.A. market at the same time Spens did, described Will as having a stylized delivery on TV. On a live shot he would pace around and have the camera track him in a hand-held cinéma vérité style. During Spens' L.A. tenure, rival KABC TV hired Jeff Michael (now at FOX 11) to fill a similar role. The two hated each other, because they were using the same shtick, usually at the same stories.

When it came to investigative reporting, Will was a very competitive guy.

That afternoon over coffee, Will's stories were captivating. He spoke of his romantic involvement with long-time KNBC anchor Kelly Lange and of course had a lot of reporting "war stories." He was vague as to why his relationship with Lange ended and was equally vague as to why he moved from TV reporting to being a radio reporter at KNX in L.A.

There was also some jumbled talk about conspiracies and people who were after him. He wanted to know if I could recommend a good lawyer, someone who wasn't afraid to take on "the big boys." Rather than flat out tell him "no," I told him to give me some time to think about it.

In asking around about Will the rumors were that it was a drug problem that put his colorful career into decline. When he could no longer hold a job in L.A., he moved up here.

The last time I saw Will was in early February of this year. It was in the Santa Barbara City Council chambers just prior to the start of the weekly council meeting. He came over to where I was standing. He reeked of cigarette smoke. He glared at me and was saying something about not being able to find anyone "to take his case." The meeting was about to start, so I gave him my number and told him to call me later. I never heard from him again.

What Next For "Citizen McCaw?"

I was out of town for the weekend and unexpectedly found myself running for cover from sniper fire on the Las Vegas Strip.

Actually, there was no sniper fire and I have no idea where that came from, so disregard that introduction. Anyway, my point is, I wasn't here for either of the two encore showings of Citizen McCaw this past weekend. But I do have word on how they went.

Saturday night's showing was nearly sold out with about 750 people in attendance at the Marjorie Luke Theater which has a capacity of 808. The Sunday matinée played to an audience of 670. By my count that means a total of nearly 3700 people have attended the three screenings of the documentary about the News-Press melt down and its aftermath.

A sold out house at the Arlington last month views "Citizen McCaw."

In light of the level of interest in the film based on the three screenings, the producers are contemplating a standard movie theater exhibition for the documentary sometime before mid-June. One possibility is having the film shown at the Plaza de Oro for a one week run with a total of 15 to 20 showings. The producers would have to work out a deal with Metropolitan Theaters and there are still rights issues to be negotiated for some of the music that is heard in the film and some of the clips from other movies, such as "Citizen Kane" that appear within the documentary.

According to at least one person in attendance, the audience at both shows was completely engaged in the movie with laughs, jeers and lively questions at the Q&As that followed the screenings.

I would expect that as more and more people see "Citizen McCaw" word of mouth will continue to build. I think it's fair to say that the producers are planning on doing all they can to keep up with the demand.

* * *

It was a sad Saturday afternoon as I sat in a bar in Las Vegas drinking a beer and watching my beloved UCLA Bruins go down to defeat in their Final Four game against Memphis.

Although they lost for the third year in a row in the Final Four that also means they have advanced to the Final Four for the last three consecutive years, which is an accomplishment in itself. With the conventional wisdom being that while the NBA is a "player's league" it is the coach who is singularly most responsible for a team's success in college basketball, Bruin coach Ben Howland is currently one of the top coaches in the country.

Thursday's L.A. Times had an article pointing out that before Howland made a name for himself a number of Southern California college basketball programs had passed him over for head coaching vacancies in favor of other candidates.

Of course, that hits pretty close to home. Howland, who grew up in Goleta, was a UCSB assistant coach for 12 years under head coach Jerry Pimm during, what many consider, the heyday of Gaucho basketball.

When Pimm stepped down in 1998, Howland was one of the applicants vying to replace him. However, Bob Williams, then the head coach at UC Davis, got the nod. The article describes the failure of Howland to get the UCSB head coaching job as his "greatest disappointment."

After Saturday's loss to Memphis, not getting the UCSB job might have gotten bumped down a notch on that disappointment list.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

No Fries With This Order!

A new judge has been assigned to the copyright infringement suit that the News-Press brought against the Independent.

The colorful and controversial Manuel Real will be handling the matter from here on out.

Every lawyer who regularly appears in the federal district court in L.A. probably has a "Mean Manny" story to tell. He is the ultimate "no nonsense" judge.

The 84 year old jurist is known for telling lawyers who appear in his courtroom "This isn't Burger King. We don't do it your way here."


Of course after he reads the allegations of the News-Press' copyright infringement claim he's likely to be heard uttering another fast-food slogan; "where's the beef?"

The transfer of the matter to Real was necessitated by the passing of Judge Edward Rafeedie, to whom the case had originally been assigned.

And there is no news of any settlement in the case. The lawyers for each side were to have reported back to the court on Tuesday on the status of their efforts to resolve the matter without a trial.

* * *

The producers of NPR's On Point have canceled the segment on Citizen McCaw that they had planned to air on Friday.

In an e-mail to director Sam Tyler, they explained that they had come to the conclusion that the story was "too unique" to Santa Barbara and didn't have "enough resonance for our national audience."

Of course if you haven't already caught it, you can see Citizen McCaw this weekend and decide for yourself how well it might "resonate" outside of Santa Barbara.

It is being shown Saturday April 5 at 8 pm and Sunday April 6 at 3 pm at the Marjorie Luke Theater. Tickets are on sale at the Lobero Theater Box Office at 33 E. Canon Perdido Street or by calling 805.963.0761 or online at

* * *

I'll be out of town for a long weekend so I don't plan on having a new post Friday.

Enjoy the weekend.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Finding Their News In the Gutter?

How many News-Press reporters does it take to do a story on bowling? Apparently the answer is two.

Yes, the paper that couldn't send anyone to cover the mayor's State of the City Speech, sent a reporter, the associate editor and a photographer, down to the local bowling alley on Monday to get bowlers' reactions to Barack Obama's performance as a bowler and to see if they could find someone who was worse at the game than he was.

And they ran both stories on the front page Tuesday.

Each story carried two by-lines: Angel Pacheco and Larry The Cable Guy. At a paper where "Staff Report" is apparently the hardest working journalist on the payroll, there is no doubt about who is responsible for this pair of articles. Did they think they'd miss out on a Pulitzer Prize?

The paper has no one assigned to the beats of Goleta, city government, religion, education, county government, or cops and courts, according to what News-Press attorney Barry Cappello told a federal judge on Monday. (And the paper didn't send anyone down to Los Angeles to cover that hearing either.) But if a gutter ball goes down at the bowling alley, Wendy McCaw's News-Press will be all over it.

The best local news to be had?" Well they sure have the 7/10 split covered.

* * *

And did you hear about the million dollar pot bust out in Goleta? (Another story that wasn't covered in the News-Press.)

A large commercial building was being used to grow marijuana plants indoors.

Sounds like the suspect was just trying to make the "highest" and best use of the property.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Reinstatement Hearing Redux

When it was announced over four weeks ago that the NLRB had decided to go to federal court to seek immediate reinstatement of the eight fired News-Press reporters and that the judge assigned to the case wanted the parties to appear before him a mere three court days after the case was filed to argue the merits of the matter, a lot of people, including myself, were thinking that one way or another, we would have a quick answer on whether the reporters would be going back to work.


Yesterday afternoon the attorneys for each side were back in court in Los Angeles for the second time in as many weeks arguing the matter. This time the judge wanted to hear specifically about whether reinstatement was necessary to avoid "irreparable harm" and whether a reinstatement order would infringe on the First Amendment rights of the paper's owner Wendy McCaw.

From accounts I've heard of the proceedings, the judge's questions and comments didn't give the fired eight a lot to be encouraged about.

Perhaps because he wanted to get a sense of whether the reporters would actually return to work if McCaw was ordered to take them back, Judge Steven Wilson wanted to know what the eight reporters are currently doing job wise. With at least four of the eight working either full-time or part-time and former reporter Barney McManigal off in England studying at Oxford, the judge stated that the NLRB and the Union may need stronger irreparable harm arguments in order to prevail.

Then came the First Amendment issue with the judge wondering whether ordering a newspaper owner to take back reporters might be "an incursion on the managerial prerogative."

The judge summarized his view of the situation as one where "the reporters were saying 'we have the integrity to write the way we want.' I don't think reporters have the right to write the way they want."

Then there was News-Press attorney Barry Cappello's claim that the situation at the paper had changed since the reporters were discharged.

Cappello revealed that with the paper down to three reporters, newsroom personnel are no longer assigned to beats. Instead everyone is considered to be a "general assignment" reporter and gets their assignment for each particular day from associate editor Scott Steepleton.

Cappello also represented to the judge that due to the union's economic boycott against the News-Press the paper has lost more than 10,000 in circulation and that advertising revenue is down as well.

Of course the revelation that the News-Press is losing circulation and ad revenue is about as startling as Captain Renault's discovery that gambling was going on in Rick's Cafe.

Nevertheless, it was surprising that Cappello would admit those facts while on the record in a court of law. After all, the News-Press has always tried to dismiss or minimize the effect of the union's actions on the paper.

In fact, Cappello's statement would appear to contradict what co-publisher Arthur von Wiesenberger was recently quoted as telling the Santa Barbara Middle School Teen Press when they asked him about the drop in circulation:

Although The News-Press experienced a brief increased decline during a Teamsters campaign to get subscribers to cancel their subscriptions, our numbers are currently in line with national averages.

Assuming, as it was reported at the time, that as of July 2006 the News-Press had a circulation of 41,000 a drop of more than 10,000 would mean a 25 percent decline in circulation since the resignation of former editor Jerry Roberts. Don't know of any other newspapers that are shedding readers at that rapid a rate.

Former reporters Dawn Hobbs and Melinda Burns were in court yesterday to watch the hearing which lasted about an hour. Afterwards Dawn said, "We, of course, remain hopeful the judge will rule in our favor and that we will soon be able to reclaim our rightful jobs."

At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge took the case under submission, meaning that he will announce his ruling at a later time.

And no predictions from me as to when that will be.

* * *

Four days after the mayor's "State of the City" address, the News-Press finally ran a story on it.

I guess all those front page articles about homeless pets and wayward macaws made it hard to squeeze this story in.