Owner of Santa Barbara Paper Sets ‘The Record Straight’

By: The Associated Press and E&P Staff

The battle between the owner of the Santa Barbara News-Press and her newspaper’s staff took another public turn Tuesday when Wendy McCaw published a lengthy letter to readers explaining her perspective on a month of turmoil.

McCaw wrote that she wanted to ”set the record straight” after what she called a pattern of personal attacks and lies surrounding the resignation of nine editorial staffer members in recent weeks.

The former employees said they left in protest because McCaw quashed a story about the drunken driving sentencing of editorial page editor and acting publisher Travis Armstrong, and reprimanded the staff for publishing the address where actor Rob Lowe wants to build a mansion.

McCaw has said the former employees, among them many top editors, tainted news coverage with personal opinions.

Since the departures, newsroom employees have said they want to be represented by the Teamsters union. Advocates for the employees have complained that McCaw muzzled them by invoking newspaper policy not to speak about internal affairs.

McCaw said Tuesday that she respected free speech, but even former employees could not discuss ”proprietary and confidential information concerning the internal operations of the paper.”

She also said she doesn’t believe union representation is the best option, but respects the desire of employees to organize. ”Our staff members understand they are free to publicly discuss unionization issues and I expect there will be a full and open debate regarding the attempts by the Teamsters,” McCaw wrote.

McCaw also said the number of subscriptions canceled have been outnumbered — by more than 400 — by new subscriptions to the 41,000-circulation daily. She added that the paper is not for sale.

A Los Angeles Times article on Wednesday observed, “Some former staffers immediately expressed skepticism at the circulation contention and other statements by McCaw.”

Barney Brantingham, the veteran News-Press columnist who was among those who quit this month, dismissed the statement as a “public relations commentary….The issues that she’s talking about ? they should be writing news stories about them, instead of this PR commentary,” Brantingham told the Times.

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