What an ugly mess in Santa Barbara.
The newsroom has organized union representation. Another reporter has quit. More may follow. The latest slap in the face, as they see it, is Wendy McCaw’s front page note containing what they see as lies about the situation. The newsroom staff has presented a letter to the publisher demanding a return to journalistic ethics, separation of powers, and an invitation to the editors who quit to return.
For those staffers who haven’t resigned yet, I can’t blame them. Very few journalists have enough money in the bank or adequate family support to just quit their jobs, no matter how miserable those jobs might be.
I faced a similar situation when I was a 26-year-old reporter at the Daily Californian in San Diego. Our publisher threatened to fire a reporter, and a very good reporter, for pissing off the local mayor. The stories that upset her were all journalistically sound stories. She just didn’t like negative news about her or her town. But it was legitimate news.
We had a big newsroom pow-wow and thought we might just go ahead and contact the parent company (Landmark) and let them know what was going on. Before we could Paul Zindell (the publisher) called a meeting and threatened to fire us all.
We backed down. Mike Drummond lost his job (the day he returned from his honeymoon) and the Columbia Journalism Review gave the Californian a dart.
These are maybe poor excuses, but there was a recession. There were no journalism jobs to be had. The San Diego Union and Evening Tribune had just merged and we all knew local journalists who were out of work. None of us could afford to be unemployed. We also had a sense that Landmark didn’t really care about us or the newspaper. In fact, a short time later, Landmark would sell the rest of the paper to Zindell. From the day Zindell was appointed publisher, about six months after I started working there, he was pretty much the de facto single owner. His ultimate acquisition of the entire property didn’t change a thing, it just meant he was around more (He bought a home in La Jolla).
In hindsight, I wish I had quit in the midst of that incident. It would have been the right thing to do: Make a principled stand. I had enough connections, so I could have made it as a free-lance reporter (as I would a couple of years later). Things would have worked out, but I couldn’t see it at the time.