The Santa Barbara newspaper closes after filing for bankruptcy

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The Pulitzer Prize-winning Santa Barbara News-Press, one of California’s oldest newspapers, has ceased publication after its owner declared the 150-year-old newspaper bankrupt.

The newspaper became printed online only in April. But its last digital copy was published on Friday when owner Wendy McCaw filed for bankruptcy.

Managing Editor Dave Mason broke the news to staff in an email Friday, according to NoozHawk, the digital publication whose executive editor, Tom Bolton, used to lead the News-Press.

They ran out of money paying us. They will release their final paychecks when the bankruptcy is approved in court,” Mason wrote to the staff.

On Monday, the News-Press was still online, with the latest news published on Friday. He did not refer to her stopping publishing or declaring bankruptcy.

The voicemail message the Associated Press left Monday at the newsroom phone number was not immediately returned.

The Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing of Ampersand Publishing, the parent company of Santa Barbara News-Press, said it has assets of less than $50,000 and debts and liabilities estimated at between $1 million and $10 million, according to federal court records. A meeting of creditors, numbering between 200 and 999, is scheduled for September 7.

Anthony Friedman, the attorney listed for Ampersand Publishing in the bankruptcy filing, did not immediately return a phone call or email seeking comment. McCaw can not be reached.

At its height, the paper, founded in 1855, had a daily circulation of 45,000 and was published seven days a week, serving Santa Barbara, an upscale city of 90,000. Editorial writer Thomas M. Stork won a Pulitzer Prize in 1962 for a series of editorials about the John Birch Society.

McCaw, then a billionaire local philanthropist active on environmental and animal rights issues, purchased the daily from the New York Times Company in October 2000 and a few months later appointed herself and her fiancé, Arthur von Weisenberger, as acting co-publishers.

After six years, Jerry Roberts, editor of the Santa Barbara News Press, resigned from the paper along with four other senior editors and a columnist to protest McCaw’s moves which they said had undermined the newspaper’s credibility. The editors who resigned cited the publishers’ interference with the stories, which they said hurt the newspaper’s ethics. In one example, the editors alleged that McCaw was against publishing a story about an editor being arrested while drunk driving, and later intervened to stop a second story.

The editors who quit were also upset because McCaw appointed the newspaper’s editorial page editor as acting publisher.

On the one hand, you have someone writing editorials and on the other hand editing news stories. “There is an inherent conflict,” Don Murphy, who resigned as the newspaper’s managing editor, told the Associated Press at the time.

Roberts said Monday that the paper’s closure is “not a huge surprise.” “The paper has been on slope for a while.”

“But the fact that society has lost its only newspaper is indescribably sad,” he added.

Santa Barbara, located along the coast about 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles, is known for its stunning geography and wineries, drawing tourists and celebrities alike for its mild climate and beautiful scenery. The nearby town of Montecito was the site of deadly mudslides in 2018 that killed 23 people.

About half of Santa Barbara County’s registered voters are Democrats while nearly a quarter are Republicans, statistics that mirror the rest of the state. Under McCaw’s leadership, the paper in 2016 was among the few to endorse the election of Republican Donald Trump to the presidency. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won nearly twice as many votes in the county. McCaw personally wrote an op-ed endorsing Trump again in 2020.

The community still has a weekly newspaper, The Independent, as well as the digital site Noozhawk. The nearest major daily newspaper is now in Ventura County. Also in San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles, more than 90 miles (145 kilometers) away, are daily papers.

Tim Franklin, an expert on local news at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, said the Press-News shutdown is the latest example of the news media struggling.

“We lose an average of two newspapers a week in the United States,” said Franklin. “We’re on track to lose about a third of all newspapers by 2025.”

He said media companies have yet to compete with Google, Facebook and Amazon, which capture a large portion of the advertising market, and have yet to figure out a profitable business model for local news.

He added that “the local news crisis is occurring in every corner of the country, including in affluent cities and suburbs.”

The Los Angeles Times recently announced layoffs and earlier this month sold the San Diego Union-Tribune to the MediaNews Group, which owns hundreds of newspapers across the country.

The Union-Tribune, which covers California’s second-largest city, is now owned by the same chain that owns a large number of Southern California newspapers. The parent company is Alden Global Capital, which has bought newspapers across the country and has faced criticism for cutting budgets and job cuts.

In January, the Mail Tribune, one of the oldest operating newspapers in Oregon, closed, saying that a decline in advertising spending and difficulty in hiring staff precipitated the closure.

The Medford, Oregon paper newspaper ceased production in print in September but continued to operate in digital format until its closure.

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