Santa Barbara Politics, Media & Culture

Friday, May 02, 2008

News-Press Lays Off Workers; Blame Teamsters? Wha?

The Santa Barbara Independent reports that The Santa Barbara News-Press ironically chose May Day to lay off ten of their workers, including sports writer Barry Punzal. No severance....just a form for COBRA and documentation for unemployment with a final check after 25 years at the paper. See Craig Smith's Blog for a copy of the memo to employees. Here's what Punzal told The Indie:

“I didn’t even see it coming,” said Punzal. “They just ripped out my heart is what they did, because I gave my heart and soul to that place. . . . They should have just put a gun to my head.”

News-Press uber-attorney Barry Cappello says declining circulation and the union caused the layoffs. Cappello, who has clearly benefitted greatly from months of court appearances, failed to mention that the paper could have saved a great deal of money by simply keeping the illegally fired employees many, many months ago in July of 2006. McCaw and Company have had plenty of opportunity to settle with the Teamsters but have chosen not to -- now they are going to cry wolf?

The truth is that while the News-Press laments the loss of pet parrots on the front page, neighboring newspapers aren't seeing the same kind of losses in circulation and have actually risen or at least held steady during the same time period. The lack of logic defies understanding. After 25 years, you would think the News-Press would at least give Punzal and other long timers a few months severance. Ouch.

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Anonymous Cruel and unusual said...

Terrible management caused these layoffs. The buck stops with McCaw. The loss of these employees further weakens the News-Press. If McCaw had any business experience, she would understand that over the past two years she has pushed the newspaper into a classic death spiral.

5/02/2008 6:24 AM  
Anonymous Rotten people said...

This is what happens when one seizes power via the courts rather than earning it through hard work and skill. If McCaw would just stick to divorcing rich men, she'd grace the cover of Forbes at the end of every year.

Nice work, McCaw. Great job, Nipper. You guys are a real class act.

5/02/2008 6:56 AM  
Blogger Vigilante said...

Getting closer to the day we can buy stock in the Daily Sound?

5/02/2008 7:04 AM  
Anonymous Mr. Moreno said...

I've known Barry Punzal for nearly 20 years, and I can tell you no one worked harder or cared more about good journalism than he did. An absolutely top-notch guy who gave everything he had. How he was treated by McCaw is absolutely disgraceful. Her money has yet to buy her any decency.

It was a pleasure working with you, Barry. Good luck.

5/02/2008 8:22 AM  
Anonymous allegro805 said...

Is there any doubt that Mrs. McCaw and the Nip have zero business acumen? Obviously it's their prerogative to destroy a business, but really, why would someone keep at that game just to stand on principle? Dumb.

I feel bad for Mr. Punzal and other longtime employees, but I would have hoped they had seen the writing on the wall the past two-plus years and made steps to brace themselves emotionally for something -- a layoff without notice -- that anyone should have know had at least a good chance of occurring somewhere down the line. It would be naive not to have anticipated this shoe dropping after seeing what had happened to numerous colleagues.

I'm slightly acquainted with one of the laid off and I believe that this layoff was in some ways a long-hoped-for blessing in disguise that will allow said person to get on with his/her life.

Those remaining on that sinking ship would do well to fire up their job searches in earnest.

(Final question: Would 25- and 28-year employees have a good chance for legal recourse if their positions end up being replaced with younger workers who undoubtedly will be paid lower salaries? What would it take for someone to prove that age discrimination took place even in an atmosphere of wider layoffs? Is there precedent for litigation of this type where higher-paid senior workers are let go for budgetary reasons, given that a senior employee is always likely to earn more than a rookie?)

5/02/2008 10:02 AM  
Blogger theaverageman said...

Not to defend Wendy and/or Nipper's actions in any way, but anyone who chose to continue working at the news-press after the wall came down should know that their head will roll at some point.

5/02/2008 10:26 AM  
Blogger Greg Knowles said...

I usually don't get sucked in to the News Press trash talk, but this is hard to figure out. Their actions (McCaws) have caused them untold legal fees, bad exposure to the point a film has been made about it, created their own competiton and the hits just keep on coming. When will someone put this paper out of it's misery? This slow death is agonizing!

5/02/2008 11:27 AM  
Blogger Rosealba said...

I second your sentiments Mr. Moreno. I also know and have worked with a couple of the employees that were let go, and they were extremely competent and dedicated. It is truly heartbreaking. McCaw has no clue about running a business and has no idea what loyalty really means. Something tells me that she hasn't had to cut back on flying in her jet or cruising the Med on her yacht.

5/02/2008 11:34 AM  
Anonymous John McBush said...

Wendy, just because you're evil doesn't mean you have to prove it every day. We get it. But we're not gonna take it.

5/02/2008 2:51 PM  
Anonymous Bob Guiliano said...

Barry Punzal was one of the nicest guys I had the honor of working with at the News-Press. He impressed me as being a master of the trade, covering sports for a newspaper with skill and dedication.

I, too, had been on friendly terms with HR director Yolanda Apodaca, who often praised me for my positive attitude in trying to improve the paper, while working in an intensely negative environment. She was friendly right up to the day she stood by mutely while I was fired for fabricated reasons. Yep, a friend to the end was Yolanda.

In 30 years, I worked for some of the best and some of the worst in the newspaper profession. The Santa Barbara News-Press takes first place among the worst, hands down. Its management continues to be in denial of how it has created its own problems, and continues to blame others for its sad state of affairs. I feel sorry for the latest bunch of employees who have had to suffer due to the incompetence of the paper's management.

As I told Travis Armstrong my third day on the job, trying to fix the News-Press would be a challenge even for "Dr. Phil." I suggested that Dr. Phil be allowed to bring his camera crew on site and try to foster better communication between management and its employees.

Is Oprah paying attention to any of this drama unfolding in her back yard? Hey, this situation is so serious, it might need both Oprah and Dr. Phil to intercede!

5/02/2008 6:27 PM  
Anonymous A Coyote said...

She needs to treat people as she would animals.

5/02/2008 8:18 PM  
Anonymous First District Streetfighter said...

How is that "tighter and brighter" reporting coming along?

5/02/2008 8:52 PM  
Blogger Vigilante said...

Good one, Coyote!

5/03/2008 6:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5/03/2008 10:35 AM  
Anonymous Wendyland: The Tragic Kingdom said...

Wendy McCaw’s layoff letter this week indicates she still doesn’t get it. Her customers don’t contest her right to control the content of her paper, like no one contested Katherine Graham’s right. But customers favor products that have integrity and quality.

Under Mrs. Graham’s control the integrity of the Washington Post was storied. Instances of McCaw ordering the News-Press to abandon its integrity have been well-publicized. All McCaw had to do was publish “without fear or favor of friend or foe” to maintain the trust of her customers.

The quality of the News-Press plummeted when McCaw stopped covering big chunks of Santa Barbara County. Her customers had to search other sources for their local news. With new alternatives in hand, at less cost, why buy McCaw’s product?

Few customers really care about McCaw’s obsession with her "industry" or her union. McCaw’s excuse about the “industry” doesn’t wash. While papers in big cities have troubles, smaller local papers seem to be doing fine for now. The daily newspapers closest to the News-Press -- Ventura, Santa Maria and the Santa Barbara Daily Sound – did not appear to lose readers last year.

Why the astounding difference in business results? Guess. Compare the character, judgment and business experience of McCaw, and her executives, against the caliber of management at these neighboring daily newspapers.

McCaw also points her finger at her new union. Blaming a union isn’t credible either. McCaw’s incompetence may have brought the Teamsters to Santa Barbara, but her lost news customers cared about the integrity and quality of the product they consumed, not about the labor affiliation of some of her reporters.

McCaw took her eye off the ball. She chose to spend a fortune on lawyers fighting the union, rather than investing her time and money on the culture and qualified professionals critical to improving her product. She let experienced people she needs depart. She doesn’t seem to know what hit her and her business advisors don’t seem to be telling her.

At bottom, McCaw is portrayed as notoriously bad with people. Who really knows, but any business is about people, particularly a high profile local consumer business like a newspaper.

Ten or so people were unceremoniously dumped on the street this week. It’s tragic that they have to pay that price for McCaw’s failings as a business executive. In the short-term it will be very tough for them financially, but, in the long run, they will be better off elsewhere, since they are escaping a classic business death spiral: As the quality of the News-Press declines, readers leave. As readers leave, employees are laid off. As employees are laid off, quality falls.

Which windmills will McCaw tilt at next? Who else will get fired without warning?

5/03/2008 11:26 AM  
Anonymous Audacity of Hope said...

Wendyland, you summed it up nicely, though there may still be hope for a turnaround, if someone can convince McCaw either to sell or go back to letting the pros handle the newsroom and reporting. She now has almost two years' worth of comparison between her pre-takeover experience and what's happened since the spring of '06, when she became publisher. Prior to her takeover, her readership was up, there was relative content in the newsroom, she had high quality experienced staff, and she had what she contends was a problem with bias.

In the last two years since she became hands on and many of her pros left, staff has fled, readership (and probably advertising) is down, the paper's quality is down, there is rancor and unease evreywhere, her lawyers' bills have skyrocketed far beyond what a union would demand in terms of pay and benefits increases, and she is facing substantial liability before the NLRB and possibly in other venues as well. The union isn't going away, and the legal advice she seems to be getting is "Just be belligerent and bellicose and eventually your adversaries will melt away." Not going to happen.

Part of the problem is that she refuses to recognize that having control over what is published isn't the same as actually writing every word. That's impossible, and even if it weren't, no one would read or advertise in a Wendy-diary every day. People want some variety of voices in reporting, which isn't to say "bias". So that means reporters and editors are going to have some influence on what actually is published, purely as a practical matter. With that influence, always subject to managerial control, comes the right to protect one's individual integrity. That really shouldn't be so difficult for McCaw to respect and accept. Instead, she rails on in court and in the public, either ignoring reality or just simply getting caught up in her own exalted rhetoric.

She needs more than just a "reorganization", she needs a revelation, that won't come from her lawyers or her sycophants, both of whom have learned that if you want to stick around on the gravy train or the yacht (or both), tell her what she wants to hear. But now that she's taking these unhappy steps, perhaps she's more open to hearing from someone who can give her an intelligent, yet independent assessment?

Just a thought.

5/03/2008 5:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5/04/2008 8:07 AM  
Anonymous Don Jose de la Guerra y Noriega said...

Sara: What happened to the anonymous rule?

5/04/2008 8:47 AM  
Anonymous On the list? said...

Sara---what is up with the latest "list of 50" Travis has come up with.....bets on who is on that list just to be propped up for a major TKA-spanking, etc

5/04/2008 11:19 AM  
Blogger Sara De la Guerra said...

Missed those two....I haven't been expecting them of late and didn't see them. everyone has been so good about it...I took them out.

5/04/2008 2:45 PM  
Anonymous Time to walk out said...

I don't understand why the people who work there continue publishing the paper, with nothing in it to read. They should all walk out and become heroes .. the tower would fall.

5/04/2008 3:44 PM  
Blogger Vigilante said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5/04/2008 7:17 PM  
Anonymous Not for the faint of heart said...

wow.....I just read Travis' list and what strikes me most are the obscure people who have done nothing apart from giving him material---so I google'd some of them. much to my horror I googled Gary Earle--- wondering if he had ever accomplished anything in the public realm other than being a first-class nimby....what an eye-opener.

5/05/2008 7:56 AM  
Anonymous once babe in toyland said...

Craig Smith lists three reasons for the free fall in News-Press users:

A. Incompetent business management.

B. Incompetent news management.

C. Incompetent opinion page management.

The wrecked lives of those cast off the good ship News-Press aside, does Wendy McCaw know what the cost is to her -- or is she completely surrounded by lawyers and yes men? Isn't there anyone she trusts, not on the gravy train, who can let her know?

5/05/2008 9:07 AM  
Anonymous Stormtrooppers said...

Learned from a retired LA Times journalist whose son does business in this town, that he keeps getting threatening phone calls from "someone" complaining he still advertises his business in the Newspress. Can someone spell h-a-r-a-s-s-m-e-n-t?

5/13/2008 8:57 AM  

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