Tuesday, December 22, 2009

For The Holidays, Some Local Media Are A Bleak House

Most of us are familiar with the plot of "A Christmas Carol," the Dickens book about a greedy and heartless boss who overworks and underpays his employees. Of course, in Santa Barbara we only have to look to the south end of De la Guerra Plaza to find an example of a miserly, unfeeling and curmudgeonly employer.

Yes, I'm talking about News-Press owner Wendy McCaw.

This "Christmas Carol," News-Press style, was written by none other than McCaw and her not so royal consort, Arthur von Wiesenberger. Here's the e-mail they sent to News-Press employees earlier this month:

Twas the holiday season, and all through biz,
Employees were working, each quite a whiz;
Cubicles were decorated with the utmost of care,
A little friendly competition, per se, to all who would dare;
The season proceeded with the usual jolliness and cheer,
But some started to wonder, would there be a holiday party this year....
Yes! One which will last a whole week!

This year, instead of a one night celebration of all you do all year long for the Santa Barbara News-Press, El Mexicano de Santa Barbara, KZSB-AM 1290 and Ampersand LLC, join us for:

A Week of Treats

Looks like it took Wendy and Arthur 100 words to tell their employees what they could have said in five: no holiday party this year.

Among local newspapers, the News-Press is the only one that didn't put on a holiday party. The Independent staged its usual big holiday bash earlier this month and the Daily Sound's party which was rained out, is yet to be rescheduled.

News-Press employees were told that in lieu of a party they would receive a different "treat" each day for the week that just ended.

So what did those "treats" end up being? According to my source inside the News-Press building, Monday was a couple of minutes in a massage chair (I wonder if the masseuse stopped by Wendy's office and got her to loosen up?); Tuesday each employee got two tacos (bought from a place where they were $1 each on "Taco Tuesday"); Wednesday was a couple of cookies for each employee from Hot Cookie; Thursday was "Happy Hour" from 5 to 6 pm at Dargan's with the first drink on the paper (my assumption is if you're toiling away at the News-Press, you're going to need more than one drink to get "happy."); Friday was a random drawing on the hour during the workday with a "winner" each hour, meaning that nine employees got gifts.

That buffet at El Paseo is suddenly looking a whole lot better.

With the pickings so slim inside the building, employees could have used care packages. In fact, somebody tried to send one.

Nick Caruso, labor negotiator for the paper's employees who belong to the Teamster's Union, sent a holiday gift basket to the newsroom. According to Caruso, the gift card accompanying the basket was addressed, "Season’s Greetings to ALL NEWSROOM EMPLOYEES from the Graphic Communications of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters." While Caruso has confirmation that the fruit basket was delivered to the News-Press building and accepted, no one knows what happened to it after that. The newsroom employees never received it.

Caruso's inquiries to the paper's management as to what happened to the basket have not been responded to.

If you witness an attempt to regift the fruit basket or any of its contents, feel free to report it to me.

Up on TV Hill, the holiday is only marginally more cheerful for the employees of KEYT. They did have a holiday party at Marmalade Cafe but the usual $100 bonus check from Anne Smith Towbes, who still holds a minority stake in the station, was missing this year.

Back on Thanksgiving Day, KEYT eliminated the customary spread of food from Lazy Acres that was provided to newsroom employees who had to work on the holiday.

Long-time senior reporter and Santa Barbara icon John Palminteri has been working without a contract for months. Also up for renewal, or about to be up, are the contracts of Mike Klan and Mike DeFina. And in February, it will be one year since KEYT hired reporter Coleen Sullivan meaning that her contract will be up for renewal.

In November, KEYT was hit with a lawsuit by former newsroom employees Carolyn Diacos and Darren Penquite, alleging, among other things, that the station failed to pay them overtime wages.

The station has denied the allegations. With a trial on the matter to be set sometime in 2010, we know that at least the lawyers will be eating well. And probably throwing a big holiday party to boot.
© 2009 by Craig Smith and www.craigsmithsblog.com