Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Trial dissects roles at newspaper

Trial dissects roles at newspaper

A fight between employees and Santa Barbara News-Press' owner-publisher raises journalistic questions.

By James Rainey, Los Angeles Times Staff WriterAugust 15, 2007

SANTA BARBARA -- After a year of name calling, serial litigation and dozens of newsroom defections, American journalism's nastiest in-house squabble debuted in a courtroom here Tuesday.

Attorneys for eight fired journalists accused Santa Barbara News-Press owner Wendy McCaw of trying to quash a union organizing drive, while the publisher's lead lawyer argued that the employees overstepped their authority and tried to seize control of the newspaper.

The case contrasts two approaches to journalism and raises questions about how much an owner or a publisher should be involved in determining what ends up in print.The case has become a cause celebre among journalists nationally and to the residents of Santa Barbara largely because of McCaw's combative stance toward her former employees. The 56-year-old publisher has three other legal cases pending against her former editor, a local alternative newspaper and a reporter for a national journalism review who was critical of the paper's management.

In recent op-ed pieces, McCaw has depicted herself as a lonely holdout for journalistic standards against an ethically bankrupt -- and biased -- mainstream media.

The National Labor Relations Board's complaint against the News Press cites nearly 20 instances in which supervisors and others at the paper allegedly took improper actions against employees who planned to join the Graphic Communications Conference of the Teamsters union. In addition to the terminations, the paper is accused of spying on and interrogating the union activists, issuing reprimands and poor performance appraisals, and canceling the weekly column of writer Starshine Roshell, who subsequently left the paper.

During opening arguments Tuesday, Ira Gottlieb, a lawyer for a division of the Teamsters Union, told an administrative law judge hearing the case for the NLRB that the fired journalists and other employees subjected to discipline only wanted a fair say in the future of a newspaper they cared about.

Our Attorney Ira (Buddy) Gottlieb is representing the 8 fired Santa Barbara employees in this case.
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