Thursday, April 22, 2010

Editors Resign Over Refusal to Hire the Help

The Santa Barbara News-Press no longer has the distinction of being the only publication in town to have its top editors resign en masse. There's something like a mutiny going on over at Santa Barbara Lawyer, the glossy monthly publication put out for its members by the Santa Barbara County Bar Association.

Winnie Cai, the magazine's Editor-In-Chief, along with assistant editors John Derrick, Saji Dias Gunawardane (the immediate past editor-in-chief), Pauline Maxwell and Lol Sorensen, all lawyers by the way, have resigned from their positions with the magazine in response to an imbroglio with the County Bar Association's Board of Directors over the compensation of the magazine's copy editor.

Santa Barbara Lawyer is typically a 30-plus page publication each month. With articles submitted by local attorneys on top of ones written by the editorial staff, there's a lot of proof reading and fact checking to be done. For some time the copy editing duties have been handled by Jill Jackman Sadler, a local paralegal, who reads every article and submission that is going to appear in the magazine. She undoubtedly checks spelling, punctuation and applies her knowledge of the local legal scene to catch errors others might miss.

Other than getting a free, slightly larger than business card size ad in the back of each edition of the magazine (an ad that would otherwise sell for around $75) she doesn't get paid for her work. In fact, other than the person who does the graphics layout of the magazine, no one who works on Santa Barbara Lawyer gets paid.

According to two lawyers I spoke with who are familiar with the situation, but who didn't want their names used, when someone on the Bar Association Board discovered that Sadler was getting a free ad, they objected. The Board took the position that giving Sadler the freebie ad violated the policy that everyone who works on the magazine must do so on a pro bono basis without compensation.

Despite pleas from Cai and others about the need for a copy editor and the small cost involved, the Board balked. The editors then walked, tendering their resignations via e-mail on April 12 and the executive committee of the Board accepting the resignations the next day.

Seems kind of stingy to me. Heck, I'll bet I couldn't bribe my teenage daughter to clean up her room for $75 month, so a free ad in exchange for copy checking a monthly magazine seems like a bargain.

And if the Board members of the County Bar have any doubt as to the importance of a proof reader, perhaps they haven't taken a look lately at the front page of the News-Press. But then again, maybe they are boycotting it.

When I spoke by phone to Bar Association President Lynn Goebel, she told me, "If that's why they resigned, that's unfortunate. There's so much more to it than that." Goebel went on to explain that, "Over the course of a couple of months there were some issues that were brought to our attention," including concerns about "delays in production" and the fact that the editors wanted full autonomy over the publication. "It's unfortunate they all resigned, it's unfortunate there's some ill will, and it's unfortunate that you're writing about it," Goebel told me.

Unfortunate that I'm writing about it? I guess she doesn't realize how tough it can be to come up with material for a blog on a daily basis.

On Wednesday morning I telephoned Cai to get her side of the story, but she hasn't called me back nor has she responded to my e-mail requesting that she contact me.

The May edition of the magazine, which was well-along in the production process when the resignations were tendered, should be out on time, but the fate of the June edition is up in the air as a new editor-in-chief for the magazine has not yet been named.

And if Sadler would like to copy edit my blog posts, I'd be more than willing to give her a free ad.

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