Eight fired Santa Barbara News-Press reporters simultaneously returned to their jobs yesterday- at another news source, that is.
The ex-employees officially launched SantaBarbaraNewsroom.com – which features news coverage of local politics, sports and education in addition to an opinion section – yesterday as a “pledge to bring [readers] fair and honest online reporting that is enterprising, intelligent and up-to-date,” according to a commentary by staff members on the website. The site opened with five local news stories, and the reporters have vowed to update it with at least one or two stories per day, in addition to publishing occasional news briefs, photos and videos.
The Newsroom is staffed by eight former News-Press employees who were fired from the newspaper last month for what they call illegal reasons. The Graphic Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the union representing News-Press newsroom employees, is funding the online publication. Donations from numerous community members are supplementing this monetary source, however, none of the writers will see this in their pockets; they have decided to provide the service pro bono.
Dawn Hobbs, one of the staff writers for the Newsroom, said the community response has already been tremendous.
“We have received so many positive e-mails and phone calls,” Hobbs said. “By 10 this morning, we had 2,000 hits on the site. People are asking to subscribe, and it’s not a subscription website.”
Hobbs said that while the site’s staff intends for the Newsroom to be a new, reliable source for all Santa Barbara news, the writers’ ultimate goal is to be reinstated at the News-Press. Until then, they will keep writing, she said.
“We’re going to keep doing this and see where it takes us, but it’s an interim project right now until we’re reinstated [at the News-Press],” she said.
Since last July, a total of 40 News-Press employees have either been fired or have left their jobs in protest of what they consider owner and co-publisher Wendy McCaw’s interference in the newsroom. Of the eight Newsroom reporters – including sports writer John Zant, county writer Barney McManigal and crime reporter Hobbs, among others – six were fired for “disloyalty” after they publicly protested the paper’s management.
Currently, the reporters are being represented by the Teamsters Union in a lawsuit against McCaw. According to Hobbs, the ideal resolution for the case would not only be the reinstatement of all fired employees, but also receiving back pay for their time unemployed, and a fair contract with all staff writers.
While the new, pro-bono project has been time consuming – all the writers work out of their own homes, filing their stories into the computer system and then uploading it to the website – Hobbs noted that the Newsroom serves as a way for the fired reporters to continue writing for the community.
“We really love journalism, so it’s been really hard for us,” Hobbs said. “Now we get to do what we love and provide the community with the quality journalism it deserves.”
Meanwhile, Hobbs expressed her satisfaction about the immediate success of the site and the response from a loyal community.
“We’ve already gotten tons of e-mails from people who have canceled their [News-Press] subscription and were absolutely thrilled that we’re writing again,” she said. “I love it, we’re very excited about this.”