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NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · CALIFORNIA · Libel · Dec. 22, 2006
Newspaper owner sues reporter for defamation
Dec. 22, 2006 · In an unusual defamation case involving news media versus news media, the corporate owner of the Santa Barbara News-Press has filed a lawsuit against a university professor who authored an article critiquing the newspaper's management and operations.
In October, reporter and Chapman University professor Susan Paterno wrote an article for the American Journalism Review titled "Santa Barbara Smackdown." The article was billed as "a behind-the-scenes look at the turmoil that engulfed the Santa Barbara News-Press after owner Wendy McCaw and her top lieutenants flattened the wall separating the executive suite from the newsroom."
In the article, Paterno cited staffers who alleged mismanagement on the part of McCaw and wrote that the staff complained of "working in a climate of fear and paranoia ripped from the pages of Kafka's 'The Trial.'"
The article chronicled the firing of several News-Press employees and said that "McCaw began whacking away, her lieutenants firing one editor after another, presiding over the dismissal or resignation of five publishers in five years, destroying friendships, families and livelihoods."
Paterno also wrote that McCaw wanted to "silence everyone from former and current employees and competitors to community members, the Teamsters, the Santa Barbara Independent, even Vanity Fair and AJR, by threatening or filing lawsuits against them."
The lawsuit against Paterno was filed by the News-Press' parent company, Ampersand Publishing, on Dec. 12. Ampersand's complaint alleges that Paterno's article is "nothing but a biased, false and misleading diatribe against" the News-Press and requests actual and punitive damages.
The lawsuit also charges that in the article, "attacks on the News-Press by 'sources' are taken as Gospel while all responses, to the extent that they are reported at all, are treated dismissively."
Ampersand alleges that Paterno published things in the article that she knew – or reasonably could have discovered – were false. Ampersand has to prove that Paterno wrote her article with "actual malice," which means that she knew that what she was writing was not true or acted with reckless disregard for the truth.
According to a report in Editor & Publisher, American Journalism Review Editor Rem Rieder said that the magazine would offer legal support to Paterno, who is a freelance reporter, even though McCaw did not name the magazine in the suit.
(Ampersand Publishing v. Paterno) -- ES