Santa Barbara Politics, Media & Culture

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Buck Stops with Me in the Newsroom!

Like so many samurai ready to commit hari kari, that's what Scott Steepleton said today in defense of Wendy McCaw, Arthur Von Weisenburger and Travis Armstrong. Kudos to Craig Smith for sitting through the hearing today and even becoming a target of Barry Cappello who may call him as a witness along with the many others that may be called upon as well.

Surprising points made by Smith:

Steepleton Didn't Know?
In listening to Steepleton, there were two things in his testimony that tested the bounds of credulity for me. First he claimed he had no idea of whether his wife, Charlotte Boechler, the paper's assistant features editor, had any allegiances to the union. (I wonder what they talk about on those long daily commutes between Santa Barbara and Ventura where they live?)

Where's Wendy? She might be in court later....I won't hold my breath
Armstrong was sitting in the front row of the courtroom and, according to Cappello, he will be the paper's representative at the proceedings. There were four attorneys sitting on the News-Press side of the counsel table. A few feet away, volumes of enormous loose-leaf binders were stacked up shoulder high.

Cappello's Long Opening, from The Santa Barbara Independent:
As an excuse for why he was about to give a longer opening than his opponents combined, Cappello explained that this hearing’s “potpourri of items” amounted to “15 separate trials.” Judge William Kocol assured, “If it gets long, be sure I’ll let you know.” And he did, multiple times.

Dictators?.....maybe according to the NP in The Santa Barbara Independent:
Unlike most NLRB hearing, this case was not about wages and benefits, said Cappello. Rather, he explained, “These are employees who have testified and will testify here that their sole goal is to take over the newspaper so that the owner of the newspaper has no involvement in how they write their stories or when they write their stories.” It was a statement that everyone in the room could agree with.

Then, Cappello made it seem like too much was reported about Travis Armstrong's DUI -- even though it was not reported fully in his own newspaper. Capello then said Robe Lowe's address should not be printed as a 'stalking guide'. After that, somehow Starshine's column -- primarily about Moms, Dads and Apple Pie -- was biased. Hunh? If it could even get worse, Cappello said that the freeway overpass incident wasn't clearly a union activity becasue the banner did not have the word 'Teamsters'. I'm not clear what world he is living in...

About staff reports according to The Santa Barbara Independent:
As a counterpoint, Wyllie produced the article about the first NLRB hearing that was bylined as a “staff report.” Originally assigned to Leana Orsua, she called in later that day to say she couldn’t write the story. When asked if he wrote the story, Steepleton said, “I don’t recall.” It would become a very common response all afternoon. Later, Wyllie asked if the story, which omitted large amounts of information but reported the news that was favorable to the newspaper, was biased, Steepleton said he thought the piece in question was fine.

What a comedy of errors. Unfortunately, Scott Steepleton is being paid handsomely as newsroom editor to take the fall....I'm not clear it is worth it considering his wife was a reporter for the News-Press and a part of this hearing. What does that say about the two of them? How could he or she not see this coming? Why would they want to be a part of this?

Labels: ,


Anonymous anon a rama said...

I check out the little bit I can read online of the NP randomly. Usually to see if anything in the teaser intro lines would make me want to buy the paper and read the full story. Sadly I haven’t felt the need in a very long time. I really miss reading a daily local paper, I would really like to know what is happening locally not just what Wendy thinks I am worthy of knowing. I miss a fluffy Sunday paper. I miss reading the public record. I miss the sale ads and coupons. Now the only reason I’d buy the NP would be for the coupons and that in good conscience I just can’t do.

I appreciate the work of the staff at the Santa Barbara Daily Sound and The Independent but they are only able to offer just a taste of what I want in a newspaper. For now a taste has to be enough.

Tonight I looked after midnight at the online NP and I found that there is a story about the NLRB hearing posted. I can't read it but to be informed I don't really need to...there are plenty of other sources available to me. I've already read the articles posted by the L.A. Times, The Independent, one of my favorite bloggers Craig Smith and here on Blogabarbara.

Since I won’t get to read the NP article I’ll just have to wonder if Wendy and her posse of yes people have finally figured out what unbiased actually means to those of us who live in the real world. It would be wildly refreshing to hear the NP wrote and published a balanced story about the events leading up to and including the NLRB hearing(s). For example one that didn’t leave out the factual info that might put the paper, Wendy or one of Wendy’s people in less then a flattering light. I’m not holding my breath.

8/15/2007 3:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's great to see these liars squirm on the stand again. I don't know how Steepleton can walk with his head up - I'd feel pity for him if so many hadn't lost their jobs because of his willingness to promote McCaw's crazy talk.

8/15/2007 6:40 AM  
Anonymous snarky said...

You must have some bias here, because the account has more detail that the one in the NP:

From the NP:
Mr. Wyllie asked Mr. Steepleton why the six reporters were fired in February.

"They were fired for disloyalty against the company," he said.

Mr. Wyllie asked the witness if he thought at the time that the highway banner demonstration was a union activity.

"I don't know that I thought this was part of the union campaign," Mr. Steepleton said.

The attorneys representing the NLRB and the union presented Web versions of newspaper articles, internal memos, portions of the News-Press employee handbook, letters and other documents as evidence pertaining to the case.

Mr. Wyllie showed the court the termination letters given to Ms. Burns and Ms. Davison, and asked Mr. Steepleton to explain the reasons for terminating them.

Mr. Steepleton testified that they were fired for the reasons listed in the termination letters, which cite various articles written by both as examples of alleged biased reporting.

Mr. Wyllie asked Mr. Steepleton if he had issued either reporter reprimands or written warnings about the articles prior to being terminated. Mr. Steepleton said Ms. Burns was warned about bias in earlier annual performance evaluations.

As for Ms. Davison, Mr. Steepleton said he had not issued any warnings.

8/15/2007 7:59 AM  
Anonymous snarky said...

And this is a good closing line, that must not apply to Newspaper editorial staff:

Opinion: Travis Armstrong: A world of media conflicts

August 15, 2007 7:29 AM
News reporters have an obligation to give balanced accounts in all stories. But many of the reporters in the courtroom yesterday have so many personal, workplace or emotional conflicts of interest, I wonder how they will do justice to that duty.

Travis Armstrong is the editorial page editor of the News-Press.

8/15/2007 8:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You ask why Steepleton would be willing to be a fall guy for this. I suspect--and have for a long time--that he is just hanging on until retirement. I believe he'll voluntarily be out of there within two years, more likely one.

His wife is working there not only to help out an overworked Steepleton, but to add to their retirement coffers. I feel for him--he's in a nasty situation with no way out--but only sometimes. What he has done is front for the lies and revengeful hatred that defines the owners, and has helped ruin lives however distasteful it might be to him.

Scott, don't be fooled. Your career is so closely tied to how this turns out that you'd better be saving all you can. I think you are going to need it sooner than you hope.

As for the rest, well, this town will never have a daily that can call itself a newspaper again until McCaw and boyfriend are dead. Because even if no one reads it and no one advertises in it, she will keep it going for the rest of her life. She can afford it. And there is a passion there that will not fade with time.

Just call us the Town Without a Newspaper.

8/15/2007 8:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

SDLG wrote: "What does that say about the two of them (S. Steepleton and his wife C. Boechler)? How could he or she not see this coming? Why would they want to be a part of this?"

Money? and the fact they'd have a hard if not impossible job finding similar work within the tri-counties, at least. Living here for most does require a source of income and newspaper work is in short supply, as excellent reporters/writers Burns, Schultz, Zant et al can tell you. Would all those who were (wrongly) fired have quit? I doubt it.

8/15/2007 9:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, Snarky, you are right. That does not apply to "opinion" pieces. That's why it's called an opinion.

Prediction: Anna gets her job back. The rest have to punt.

8/15/2007 9:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope Wendy prevails. I hate seeing more erosion of private property rights in this town.

8/15/2007 9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The NP article on Wed. about the first day of the hearing is a prime example of the paper's definition of "unbiased" stories.

Hannah Guzik appears to be learning well from Scott Steepleton.....

It's constructed using the same reporting model as the nefarious Jerry Roberts and child porno story.

8/15/2007 12:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scott's a good guy in a bad situation.

Remember, he was on vacation last year when the meltdown happened. When he returned, he found such turmoil that he worried the newspaper wouldn't even be published, and he offered to step in for a while. Charles Bucher was supposed to keep things running, but he wasn't up to the task.

Scott didn't expect to end up in charge - his title of associate editor reflects that - but he realized he was the only thing keeping the paper together, without him it's doubtful it would even get published.

Over time, he has realized that his fortunes are tied to Wendy's. He's so yoked to her now that his career is over without her patronage, and his wife's career depends on Wendy too, so Scott is holding on for dear life. Even so, his own status has been pretty tenuous so he's having to suck up ever harder, even while straining the truth, imposing bias on the newspaper, and working 70-hour weeks. He doesn't like it, not one bit. But what choice does Scott have?

8/15/2007 2:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

News-Press reporter Hannah Guzik's version of the NLRB hearing deviates from the facts presented in the L.A. Times, Ventura County Star and other media coverage.

She makes errors, such as writing that both Melinda Burns and Anna Davison had been forewarned about bias in their stories.

And she fails to mention what the NLRB or Teamsters attorneys said in their opening statements, but instead highlighted News-Press attorney Barry Cappello, and focused on what her boss, Scott Steepleton, had to say on the stand in response to questions.

She also fails to report that Steepleton said he did not recall to about a dozen questions, including whether he wrote the story about the January NLRB hearing.

So, the story scored points with Steepleton and Wendy McCaw, and certainly will not result in any reprimand for Guzik for biased reporting.

McCaw thinks that biased reporting is anything that disagrees with her opinion, or presents people she hates in a positive light, such as the mayor, religious and community leaders, business people, advertisers who disagree with her, veterans and all readers who try to submit a letter to the editor or op-ed opinion piece that disagrees with her about anything. She also will not tolerate any reporting that presents anyone she perceives as a friend in a negative light.

Is this the kind of infantile, misinforming newspaper Santa Barbarans want? The "it's my ball and I can decide who can play" philosophy of McCaw? Especially when McCaw doesn't even understand the ethics of the game!

McCaw has about as much newspaper knowledge and people skills as a fluffy-haired midget with 'roid rage on the warpath against the world. And those little folks can get nasty.

8/15/2007 7:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The OPINION editor representing "management" in the trial. The "buck stops here" guy only an ASSOCIATE editor.

Who's inserting their opinions into the news, Alice?

8/15/2007 8:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't fee sorry for STeepleton and his wife at all. He has years until retierment. Keeping one's head down to survive is far different than taking on the role of hangman and lying about your coworkers and lying to the courts.

If he blows it for McCaw, he will be out and I seriously doubt if he will find that any respectable newspaper will hire him again.

8/16/2007 5:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Responding to 2:24 ...

I still work within the insane asylum at the News-Press and have had a front-row seat to the chaos. Here's what I think:

Bucher, editor in chief of the copy desk, is a real pro and did a fine job during his short tenure as interim managing editor. He was fair to the newsroom employees and didn't whip them with the lash when Wendy wanted him to. That's why either he stepped down or Wendy demoted him (I haven't asked which it is and haven't asked Charles, who clearly didn't ask for it, anyway).

I don't know about Steepleton being a "good guy" — there have been times when he's shown very little sensitivity to us flies who are having their wings ripped off by Wendy through his hand. Maybe he's just afraid ... Wendy has made it clear that it is a reprimandiable offense for a supervisor to show any sort of friendliness to her employees. I am not exaggerating this.

Even before the meltdown she more than once referred to us as "the enemy" or "the natives" to one of her supervisors -- and this was before the meltdown and before anyone even thought about contacting the Teamsters for some kind of protection. I did not relish the Teamsters representing me -- I can't afford the dues and I worried about their aggressiveness. But after witnessing Wendy's unexplained contempt for ALL of her employees, I voted for a union (for the first time in my life!) out of sheer desperation to save my job.

Her deep-seated hated scares me, and I have done nothing but shown loyalty to the company. I still do, although I'm sure it will do me no good.

8/16/2007 9:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Scott is a good guy in a bad situation"?!?!
Are you serious?! GIVE ME A BREAK! The guy sold his soul and took advantage of the terrible situation at the NP to further his position and paycheck by turning on his co-workers and becoming the "SS" of Wendy McCaw's Gestapo. The guy doesn't even live in Santa Barbara, so there's no reason he couldn't find a job down in Ventura County doing the exact same thing. To get up on the stand and to lie and defend Wendy McCaw and her regime is dispicable.

8/16/2007 11:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wendy would have been smarter to tell everyone that her reporters "weren't very good" and that she let them go in order to find better ones. Defining bias is an eye of the beholder sort of issue. Who knows how the judge will see it.
This trial sounds like a circus. It's extremely sad that people's personal, out of work issues are being dragged into it. So much for right to privacy.

8/16/2007 12:21 PM  
Anonymous passing-by said...

I sat in on an hour or so of this morning's hearing. The subject was bias and Steepleton demonstrated a ton of it.

SS testified that when employees walked around the newsroom from table to table he was certain that they were engaged in union activities even though they fell silent when he would approach and he never heard a word of union related conversation. However, when the same employees draped boycott signs over the freeway, SS had not the slightest idea it involved a union activity because there was nothing on the banner that specifically said "Teamsters"!

Hmmmm, yeah, that makes sense, huh?

8/16/2007 12:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But what choice does Scott have?"

Like all of us he has many choices. I don't know the guy from adam but each one of us makes our choices as we move through life & must pay the consequences for those choices.

8/16/2007 9:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steepleton will have no trouble finding another job. There are dozens of McCaw-esque newspaper owners in this country. All little Rupert Murdoch wannabes, who would be happy to have such a proven hatchet man.

He's probably being recruited right now. And newspaper-union-busting attorney Zinser will give Steepleton referrals to his other clients.

He will have to relocate away from the area, as it's unlikely the San Luis Obispo, or Ventura or Santa Maria, papers would employ him. But observers in Santa Barbara can be a bit Santa Barbara-centric, and may not realize similar situations are poisoning papers all over the country.

8/17/2007 1:46 AM  
Blogger jqb said...

"McCaw thinks that biased reporting is anything that disagrees with her opinion, or presents people she hates in a positive light, such as the mayor, religious and community leaders, business people, advertisers who disagree with her, veterans and all readers who try to submit a letter to the editor or op-ed opinion piece that disagrees with her about anything."

And yet there are people who hope she prevails, because they have no conscience, no ethics, and no concern for the effect on this community of such poison. "private property" uber alles. If Wendy decided to fill the paper with Nazi and KKK propaganda, would that be alright with them because it's private property? Of course she has the legal -- but not moral -- right to do such things, but this community also has the legal right to protest her actions, and her employees have the legal right to vote for a union, have that union recognized, and not be fired for legally protected union activity -- and Wendy does not have the legal right to block that as she did, nor to have her agents lie in court -- which is why she will not prevail in this legal proceeding; she broke the law, and people of conscience hope for the law to prevail.

8/17/2007 5:32 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home