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A federal appeals court on Tuesday sided with the publisher of the Santa Barbara News-Press in a long-running labor dispute between the newspaper and reporters who were fired after they complained about its editorial practices.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that the newspaper's publisher was protected by the First Amendment when it dismissed eight reporters and disciplined others who claimed the owner was interfering with news coverage.

The reporters claimed they were illegally fired for union activity and legitimate complaints about their terms of employment. But the court found the dispute was all about editorial control.

"The First Amendment affords a publisher — not a reporter — absolute authority to shape a newspaper's content," Judge Stephen Williams wrote for a three-judge panel.

The ruling stems from a dispute between Ampersand Publishing LLC and employees that began in 2006. Nearly every top editor at the paper quit in protest over what they said was owner Wendy McCaw's meddling in news coverage.

Newsroom employees later voted to form a union, and they have been fighting with the newspaper since then over bargaining rights.



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