Jerry Roberts, former Santa Barbara Ediitor, Seeking Donations For Journalists’ Legal Fund

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By: Joe Strupp

A lawyers group created last year to raise money for journalists’ legal protection in the wake of the ongoing labor battles at the Santa Barbara News-Press has launched a Web site seeking donations, according to former editor Jerry Roberts who sent an e-mail this weekend urging contributions.

The Lawyers Alliance for Free Speech Rights formed last September after the mass resignation of numerous News-Press staffers, including Roberts, who claimed owner Wendy McCaw was meddling in newsroom affairs. At the time, the group stated its purpose was to “help assure equal access to the civil justice system for journalists who assert that they are exercising their free speech rights under the First Amendment.”

A mission statement at the time also noted it would “raise private funds to provide financial assistance to those journalists who face unexpected legal expenses or economic hardships related to the exercise of their free speech rights. Having those funds available is important to achieve and maintain equal access to justice. The assistance will be available to help defray legal and other expenses.”

Since the initial resignations in July 2006, which included Roberts and five other editors and top staffers, some 38 newsroom employees have either been fired or quit, including six union leaders who lost their jobs earlier this month for hanging a banner over a nearby freeway that urged a boycott of the paper.

On Sunday, Roberts sent an e-mail letter out alerting recipients to a Web site that is raising money for the alliance and offering updates on related news. He urged others to go to www.jerryrobertsandfriends.org. where donations can be made.

“Amid the ongoing exodus of dozens of professional journalists from the News-Press, the paper’s owner has filed a flurry of legal threats, claims and lawsuits against people who dared to speak out or report about what was happening in the newsroom,” his note said, in part. “In response, a group of prominent local attorneys formed the Lawyers Alliance for Free Speech Rights, to help level the playing field for journalists who found themselves bludgeoned by legal attacks by Ampersand Publishing, owned by billionaire Wendy McCaw. I am one of those journalists, now facing a $25 million arbitration claim filed by the company.

“Please take a few minutes to review the events at the paper by reading the stories on this site,” he adds. “And then please make a donation to the Lawyers Alliance for Free Speech Rights, in defense of the values, standards and ethics of public interest journalism.”

The entire letter, received by E&P, is posted below.
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Dear colleagues, friends and supporters,

I was humbled and honored to be among nine journalists, all formerly on the staff of the Santa Barbara News-Press, given a National Ethics in Journalism Award several months ago by the Society of Professional Journalists.

The SPJ, after an independent investigation of the extraordinary events in Santa Barbara, awarded the honor to a group of us who felt forced to leave the paper last summer because of concerns over the ethics of management decisions involving news coverage. Our group, the SPJ citation said, “opted to risk their livelihoods rather than remain in a position where they felt their journalistic ethics and professional credibility were being violated.”

Amid the ongoing exodus of dozens of professional journalists from the News-Press, the paper’s owner has filed a flurry of legal threats, claims and lawsuits against people who dared to speak out or report about what was happening in the newsroom.

In response, a group of prominent local attorneys formed the Lawyers Alliance for Free Speech Rights, to help level the playing field for journalists who found themselves bludgeoned by legal attacks by Ampersand Publishing, owned by billionaire Wendy McCaw.

I am one of those journalists, now facing a $25 million arbitration claim filed by the company.

Colleagues and friends put together a web site – http://www.jerryrobertsandfriends.org – to help the Alliance help me and other journalists fight back.

Please take a few minutes to review the events at the paper by reading the stories on this site. And then please make a donation to the Lawyers Alliance for Free Speech Rights, in defense of the values, standards and ethics of public interest journalism.

Thanks for your consideration.



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