The Society for Professional Journalists bestowed its highest ethics awards on nine editors and writers from the Santa Barbara News-Press, including former Executive Editor Jerry Roberts and longtime columnist Barney Brantingham, who all resigned “rather than accept and enforce a series of top-management decisions…they they believed violated provisions of the SPJ code of ethics.”
From the SPJ’s news release:
When they left the News-Press in July, all nine journalists, including five top editors and a veteran columnist, cited improper ownership and management meddling in the editorial content of the privately owned newspaper. They pointed specifically to sections of the SPJ Code of Ethics that call upon journalists to “distinguish between advocacy and news reporting” and to be “accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.”
SPJ traditionally steers clear of management-employee disputes, and understands the prerogatives that come with newspaper ownership. It does not take a position either way on formal workplace grievances or union activity resulting from internal disputes.
Nevertheless, the Society has concluded that the tumultuous events that led to collective resignations at the Santa Barbara News-Press were precipitated by breaches in the newspaper’s foremost ethical obligation – to its readers – and is proud to support those who have put ethical convictions above professional security.
According to SPJ President David Carlson, News-Press owner Wendy McCaw was interviewed by the organization’s investigating team before the awards were decided.
Roberts will accept the awards at a SPJ president’s installation dinner August 26 in Chicago. In addition to Roberts and Brantingham, the ethics awards went to:
• George Foulsham, former managing editor.
• Don Murphy, former deputy managing editor.
• Gerry Spratt, former sports editor.
• Michael Todd, former business editor.
• Jane Hulse, former city editor.
• Colin Powers, former presentation editor.
• Scott Hadly, former reporter.
A little more than two weeks ago, McCaw issued a statement that “Violations of our paper’s policies and standards are what brought on this conflict.” She’s talking about the same policies and standards that the editors and writers — and now, the Society for Professional Journalists — have deemed to be “breaches in the newspaper’s foremost ethical obligation.”
Stay tuned. I assume McCaw will have something to say about this.
UPDATE: It looks to me like McCaw pre-reacted to the awards. On August 10th, the day before the awards were announced, McCaw issued a press release concerning employees’ filing a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to initiate a unionization vote. McCaw painted this as a victory, because it meant the union was giving up on a “corporate campaign” to pressure management into conceding to a union. (All unionization battles go through this stage. Unions don’t like the NLRB process because they think it gives management an edge.)
In the release, McCaw takes another swipe at her former employees:
The employees who resigned have been replaced and won’t be a part of this process. Some of those who resigned were under investigation for employee misconduct.
We reject the charges about a breach of journalistic integrity and meddling on the part of management. This is merely a smokescreen and cover-up to hide personal agendas and vendettas.
“The real cover-up is how these people have been hiding behind these issues,” said Mrs. McCaw. “Our paper’s journalistic standards have been in place for more than 100 years and will continue to be as long as I own this newspaper,” she added.
The Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics award renders the “smokescreen and cover-up” rhetoric inoperative, don’t you think?