Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Five Years and No Finality

July 6, 2006, five years ago today, was when the news broke that the top editors of the Santa Barbara News-Press resigned en masse because they believed the paper's owner, Wendy McCaw, was meddling in the newsroom.

More surprising than the fact that five years has gone by is the fact that this country's agency for refereeing labor disputes, the National Labor Relations Board, has failed to deliver a final decision regarding the matter.

As you know, the NLRB got involved when those who remained in the newsroom voted to join the Teamsters and McCaw subsequently fired eight newsroom employees who happened to be union members. Not to mention the fact that despite over four years at the bargaining table the newspaper and the union have failed to reach a labor agreement.

Yes, justice delayed is justice denied. Just ask the eight reporters whom an administrative law judge determined were wrongfully fired. Or ask the union, whom another ALJ determined that McCaw has failed to bargain with in good faith. Heck, even ask McCaw who has appealed both of those adverse decisions. I'm sure she would like to have this over with as well. Especially if the NLRB ends up siding with her. However, the NLRB has still not ruled on those appeals. After five years you would think there would have been some final decision out of the agency, no matter which side they ultimately will come down in favor of.

The whole "News-Press Mess" was remarkable for the way it galvanized this community. I doubt that there is anyone who lives here who hasn't take sides in the dispute.

So it's ironic that five years later the News-Press finds itself in the spotlight again over the reporting of an arrest and prosecution of an alleged drunk driver. Five years ago one of the incidents cited by those who accused McCaw of meddling was the fact that she killed a story about the guilty plea of Travis Armstrong, her editorial page editor at the time, to a charge of driving under the influence. This time around the News-Press has given a free lance reporter all the newsprint and ink he seemingly wants in order to raise questions about the officer who arrested him for DUI even as the case winds through the court system.

It's not because valid questions were't raised in this recent series. If half of what the reporter dug up turns out to true it's very troubling. But allowing the accused to serve as the "investigative reporter" on this case reinforces what many suspected five years ago. That McCaw is tone deaf when it comes to the issue of objectivity in reporting.

McCaw never passes up an opportunity to point out that the News-Press is her private property to do whatever she pleases with. Well, she is right about that. But newspapers are at their best when they operate more like a public trust in contrast to being one individual's private fiefdom. And the private property defense, as legitimate as it may be, will always be at odds with the concept of a newspaper as a community institution and not just another asset in the owner's investment portfolio.

A lot of things have changed since July 6, 2006. Then again, some things haven't changed much at all.

No rallies or gatherings today but fired newsroom employees and their supporters are going to mark the fifth anniversary with a Rally for Worker's Rights on July 28 from noon-1 p.m. in De la Guerra Plaza.
© 2011 by Craig Smith and