Tuesday, June 02, 2009

An Unlikely Witness for the Prosecution

It started out with a two-hour interview over lunch in owner Wendy McCaw's office. The next day associate editor Scott Steepleton was calling him asking how soon he could come up and start working.

It ended in January of this year, when Director of Newsroom Operations Don Katich came into his office, shut the door, sat down, and said "Richard we are eliminating your column forthwith because of cost cutting."

Laid off despite the fact that he had always "hit it off" with McCaw and her co-publisher/boyfriend Arthur von Weisenberger, former News-Press gossip columnist Richard Mineards testified about his time at the Santa Barbara News-Press on the fifth day of a hearing on whether the paper has violated the National Labor Relations Act by committing unfair labor practices.

In Mineard's case, the alleged violation centers on the fact that the paper laid him off, without first notifying and bargaining with the union.

Nevertheless, Mineard's seemed to be an unlikely witness to be called by attorneys for the NLRB who are prosecuting the case.

Although his position with the paper placed him in the union bargaining unit, he had never joined the union. In fact, he spent not a small part of his free time hob nobbing with McCaw and von Weisenberger.

From the stand, Mineards recalled how they would often have lunches or dinners together at tony restaurants such as Olio E Limone. "Their friends became my friends," was what Mineards told his questioner.

He also became von Wiesenberger's sidekick on the weekly radio show "Around the World." The inside joke that they had between themselves was that they were "The Nipper and the Quipper."

Indeed, he was making $75,000 per year for his work on the radio show and for producing one 1500 word column per week. Far more than the $57,000 veteran reporter Melinda Burns had testified earlier in the hearing that she was making for basically having to produce a news story per day.

If Mineards harbored any animosity against McCaw or von Wiesenberger for not sparing him from the chopping block he didn't show it. Indeed, he told Katich upon receiving the news that he was being laid off was that he understood the need to cut costs.

Based on what Mineards testified to at the hearing, his layoff was handled differently than other employees. When informed of the news by Katich, Mineards asked if that meant he would have to leave immediately. Katich told him to take whatever time he needed to clear his things out. In other words, he was spared the humiliating "perp walk" endured by other laid off employees who are typically escorted from the building by a guard and not given an opportunity to clean out their desks.

Shortly after he was let go, Katich contacted him about coming back to the paper on a freelance basis. Over a lunch at Le Petit Valentien restaurant, Mineards and Katich eventually agreed on a price of $600 per column for his work. But the deal eventually fell through when the paper tossed in the additional requirement that he would also have to write regular personality profiles, which Mineards called "living obits."

Mineards instead took up the offer of Montecito Journal owner Jim Buckley to write for them. Mineards has been there since February of this year, almost exactly two years since he first had that lunchtime interview.

Mineards certainly seems to be enjoying himself there. When a News-Press attorney asked him if it was true that Oprah has his column sent to her each week, he readily acknowledged that indeed was the case.

I wonder if she has the News-Press sent to her in Chicago?
© 2009 by Craig Smith and www.craigsmithsblog.com