The Santa Barbara News-Press launched an even more aggressive counter-assault against its detractors this week, lambasting former employees and local politicians alike.
On Tuesday, the News-Press published an opinion piece that lashed out at ex-staffers and the politicians supporting them, and later in the day, two of the newspaper’s attorneys “crashed” a newsroom employee union meeting with advertisers. Later that night, an internal memo explaining the management’s actions in the past seven months – and criticizing former employees in the process – was leaked to the press, and published by the Independent.
And yesterday, the paper ran a full-page advertisement signed by “non-newsroom” News-Press employees condemning protests against the paper.
“We have witnessed protests, public displays of disparagement, advertising campaigns that only provided a biased interpretation and we are fed up,” the full-page advertisement read.
Later on Wednesday, the Graphics Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters filed an unfair labor practice charge against the News-Press in response the newspaper attorneys’ intrusion of a private meeting. Union representative Ira Gottlieb said News-Press attorney David Millstein entered the private meeting uninvited and refused to leave. Teamsters and former employees were in conversation at the meeting.
“The meeting was an invitation-only gathering in a room in Santa Barbara rented by the union to discuss possible ways to engage News-Press owner and co-publisher Wendy McCaw in a productive dialogue,” Gottlieb said.
Former employees said several advertisers left during the intrusion, where Millstein allegedly shouted and tried to disrupt the meeting.
“The law does not permit management agents to engage in surveillance of or interference with protected union activity,” Gottlieb said. “Because it has a tendency to intimidate and improperly deter employees.”
In an effort to give its side of the story, the News-Press management also spoke directly to its employees this week in the internal memo that was later leaked to press. The memo asserts that Teamsters have organized all the protests, and even had a hand in the original six resignations in early July 2006- months before the newsroom voted to unionize.
“Former newsroom employees had planned this campaign with the Teamsters since before the July 6 walkout and irrespective of what is said, the campaign is being masterminded by the Teamsters,” the leaked memo said.
The memo goes on to say that the paper was biased under previous management, and that recently fired employees were also guilty of this bias. The memo said the News-Press management “is committed to remove bias from the news reporting.”
According to the memo, the News-Press is portrayed negatively in the media because of “lies, misinformation and spin.” The memo also said other local publications and former employees have run “false, biased and untrue stories” about the News-Press.
“Unfortunately, competitors of the News-Press will print anything and everything they believe will help them take advertising dollars or readership away from the News-Press,” the memo said.
As of press time last night, the leaked memo already had over 70 comments on the Independent’s website left by readers.
The News-Press also engaged in a more public attack against protesters on Tuesday, running a column by editorial page editor Travis Armstrong in which he said former employees marching in front of the News-Press building “appear to want to shut down the paper’s free speech.” He also said that personal attacks and uncivil tactics are common of the Teamsters that former employees are working with.
“Those who have brought such an outfit to our community deserve to be scorned,” Armstrong said in his opinion piece on February 13.
Armstrong also criticized local politicians in the piece, accusing Santa Barbara mayor Marty Blum and councilman Brian Barnwell of “trashing the First Amendment.” Armstrong said Barnwell attacked the paper because the News-Press has caught the councilman doing a number of misdeeds.
“I can see why Mr. Barnwell, who’s up for re-election this year, would like to quiet the free press,” Armstrong said in the piece.
Barnwell said he could not believe Armstrong would make such claims, and pointed out the irony in the statements.
“They don’t do free speech,” Barnwell said. “They need a lesson in free speech.”
Barnwell said he spoke out against the paper because of the decline in local news coverage. Since the paper has lost so many staff writers, Barnwell said, it has not done an adequate job covering the city council or acting as a watchdog for the community.
“And they have the gall in their editorials to take a shot at a supervisor or a councilman saying we’re not doing our job right,” Barnwell said.