Friday, May 09, 2008

The Day The Grim Reaper Made A Surprise Attack

A week ago yesterday, Mindy Spar, the features editor for Wendy McCaw's News-Press, was at her desk in the paper's second floor newsroom. The work day wasn't very old when she happened to look across the room to where sports editor Barry Punzal sat.

Standing there was the paper's Human Resources Director Yolanda Apodaca. She was accompanied by a security guard. Punzal, who was seated, looked as if he was about to go into shock. Then he got up and the three of them walked through the newsroom and eventually disappeared thorough the exit door.

Being a dog lover wasn't enough to keep Mindy Spar from being laid off.

Spar knew what was going on. It was "dead man walking" Wendy McCaw style. Although Spar had been at the paper less than two years, it was a scene she had witnessed before. While others had come to call Apodaca "the Angel of death," Spar didn't like the nickname. She thought it gave Angels a bad rap. Spar thought the term "grim reaper" was a better description of what Apodaca embodied.

After Punzal was escorted out, Spar went over to business editor Dale Rim and asked what was going on. Rim said he had been tipped off by the paper's gossip columnist Richard Mineards, aka "London Britches," that a lot of people were going to be laid off. According to Rim, Mineards had said that after he and the paper's co-publisher Arthur von Wiesenberger had wrapped up doing their radio show that morning Arthur said; "There's going to be a blood bath today."

Spar made a quick trip downstairs to run an errand. On her way back to her desk she happened to pass by Apodaca. They exchanged greetings. Spar went and sat down. It wasn't very long before she looked up and found Apodaca standing over her.

Before Apodaca even opened her mouth to explain why she was there Spar cried out; "No! No! This isn't fair!" Apodaca told her "don't make this any harder than it already is." Spar thought to herself, "why should I make it easier for you?"

Now it was her turn to be escorted out of the newsroom and taken downstairs to a small conference room. Once inside the room it was just the two of them and the paper's finance guy, Norman Colavincenzo, who never said a word, while Apodaca informed Spar that she was being laid off.

Spar was in tears. She told Apodaca how hard she had worked and that the assistant editor for her section, Charlotte Boechler (who is married to the paper's associate editor Scott Steepleton) wasn't up to the task of taking charge of the section.

It was a futile effort to save her job. Apodaca, seeing how upset Spar was, said she would go back to her desk in the newsroom and get her purse for her. Spar told her no, that she would get it and that she wanted to say goodbye to her staff. Apodaca told her that she could not say good bye and that if she said anything to anybody while retrieving her purse, she would be removed from the premises immediately.

Spar returned to her desk and without speaking to anyone in the newsroom, picked up her purse.

A security guard then escorted her out of the building and walked her to her car in the parking lot.

Yesterday, at the Mission Rose Garden, Spar seemed upbeat and relieved. She was hired by the News-Press shortly after the July 2006 melt down. She had heard about what had gone on but she had also worked for a family owned paper before and thought to herself "how bad could it be?"

It turned out to be pretty bad. It was the quietest newsroom she had ever worked in. The intimidating atmosphere was so thick, Spar wouldn't even let a copy of the Santa Barbara Independent sit on her desk for fear that if her superiors found out that she was reading the competing paper it would would cause her to be branded as "disloyal." That intimidation factor also caused her to take a pass on seeing Citizen McCaw when it was shown here in town.

So naturally she thought she had stayed out of the fray. She had a great staff consisting of Bethany Hopkins, Karna Hughes and the veteran Marilyn McMahon that she loved working with. McCaw never meddled in the features section of the paper and to her knowledge, never objected to or complained about any articles that ran in the section.

Earlier this week Spar had an unexpected visitor to her home. A courier from the News-Press delivered a cardboard box containing her possessions that had been removed from her desk in the newsroom. There wasn't much in the box because Spar made it a point to keep very few personal belongings at the office. But inside was her "News-Press" coffee mug, and her News-Press business cards, bearing her name.

* * *

Local Realtor Matt Vaughan wrote in to say that Christina Bradfield, who voluntarily resigned from the News-Press last week, will be sorely missed as the paper's liaison to the real estate industry via the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors.

"I worked closely with Christina while President of the Association in 2006," Matt said, "and she was always very accommodating in developing content, promoting the Realtor image and improving Sunday's House and Home Section, plus she is a nice person."

* * *

The restaurant at the Canary Hotel was a more popular lunch spot on Wednesday than I thought. Local attorney Joe Sholder was there Wednesday as well and tells me that McCaw and von Wiesenberger were also having lunch there as five former News-Press journalists were being honored downstairs in the hotel's ballroom. The town's "best kept man" and the "queen of mean" were seated at a separate table from her attorney Barry Cappello and his group.

By the way, Joe reports that the bottled water boy was having a Pelligrino.