Local Stories by Local People
updated: Mar 26, 2007, 12:00 AM
Clergy Association Hosts Forum on News-Press 'Situation'
by David Pritchett, EDHAT Correspondent
Although this time they sent a written excuse, no one from Santa Barbara News-Press would show up at a forum in at about as neutral a venue as possible, at First United Methodist Church (Anapamu St. at Garden St., downtown Santa Barbara).
Greater Santa Barbara Area Clergy Association sponsored a "Town Hall Forum" Sunday afternoon, 25 March 2007. The purpose was "to provide a moderated, respectful, fair, and balanced forum to hear all points of view". Moderated by Unitarian-Universalist Reverend Teena Grant and Jewish Rabbi Arthur Gross-Schaefer, the audience of 106 heard from a panel of Melissa Evans, Dawn Hobbs, and John Zant.
These three terminated Teamsters described the circumstances and turmoil since July 2006 at the News-Press newspaper. Their message was familiar to people following this saga, but --in the judgment of this writer-- about 3/4 of the audience were NOT the usual crowd seen at a series of rallies, demonstrations, and picketing at Plaza de la Guerra.
In addition to her usual strident remarks, Dawn Hobbs announced the launch of their new news outlet (www.SantaBarbaraNewsroom.com), where the 8 terminated Teamsters soon will be reporting on local news. "It will have the largest news staff in the County," Hobbs quipped, in reference that her former employer now has at most four people who write local news, down from about 12 last summer.
The event included questions from the audience written on cards. One asked: "Would Jesus support a boycott of the News-Press?" The answer was "Yes!". Another question, from someone claiming to have worked at that newspaper in the 1950s, wondered if those news writers were terminated because they had a "bad attitude". That accusation was refuted, citing that the greater issue still was journalistic integrity and the Wall of separation between news and opinion. Other questions were about the financial hardships the terminated news writers were enduring and how they cope.
Another question was about whether the News-Press printing press operators would unionize and possibly strike as a means to shut down the publication. The answer was a reminder that those workers were not unionized, although the Teamsters do represent press operators at Los Angeles Times. Mellisa Evans then reminded everyone that the strong preference of the Teamsters was to negotiate a contract, not conduct a strike. Also discussed was that earlier this year two veteran press operators at the News-Press printing facility in Goleta were terminated for violating policies they said did not exist, although they said the real reason was that they privately discussed forming a union for the printing operators
At the beginning of the forum, Rev. Teena Grant read the written response provided a few days earlier by the News-Press, in a letter signed by Arthur von Wiesenberger. That letter included this: "The Santa Barbara News-Press cannot accept the notion asserted by some that the employees 'own the business,' that they are somehow entitled to work when they want, write what they want, whenever and if ever they want." Copies of the letter then was distributed to people present and no doubt will be analyzed in detail at the usual local blogs and news outlets.
The event ended in a blessing for the prompt resolution of the differences between the News-Press company and its workers, with each of the 10 clergy representatives adding a sentence to the blessing. Rabbi Arthur remarked that the launch of www.santabarbaranewsroom.com on April 2 would be appropriate, as that
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