Dressed in black and their mouths taped shut, reporters and staff of the Santa Barbara News-Press staged a protest Friday over a recent wave of resignations at the newspaper.
More than 300 supporters roared with applause and shouts when about 25 News-Press employees emerged from the newspaper’s Spanish-style landmark building and walked to a microphone in an adjacent park.
Reporter Melinda Burns said newspaper staffers have been ordered not to speak about internal operations and were threatened with dismissal if they did.
“We are very sorry we can’t speak, but thank you for coming,” she said, stepping away from the microphone as members of the group put duct tape over their mouths. Many in the crowd hoisted signs, including ones that read: “Free the News” and “No More News Suppress.”
The protest was the latest public display of newsroom tension that began when staff accused the daily’s owner of meddling in news coverage. Six top editors and two writers have resigned, and a copy editor quit Friday.
One of those who resigned, reporter Scott Hadly, said a list of demands was presented to management Thursday. He said they want restoration of journalistic ethics, reinstatement of editors who were forced to resign, new contract negotiations and recognition of the Teamsters union as their exclusive bargaining unit.
Interim publisher Travis Armstrong said he blamed the protest partly on the paper’s enemies, among them developers and politicians.
Armstrong said employees who protested would not be disciplined, adding he was disappointed by how the newspaper’s order not to discuss internal operations had been portrayed.
Those who quit have said owner Wendy McCaw killed a story about Armstrong’s recent sentencing for drunken driving. The newspaper had previously reported on his arrest.
She has said the resignations were prompted by her unwillingness to let editors and reporters “flavor the news with their personal opinions.”
The News-Press, founded in 1855, is locally owned and published by McCaw’s Ampersand Publishing LLC, which bought the paper in 2000 from the New York Times Co. It has a 57-person editorial staff, publishes seven days a week and has a daily circulation of about 41,000.