This comes just months after the newspaper ceased all physical publication, becoming an online-only news publication in April. But its last digital edition was posted on Friday, July 22, following the revelation that owner Wendy McCaw had filed for bankruptcy. (Related: Birds of the same feather: Vice Media files for bankruptcy and sells off assets to left-wing billionaire George Soros.)
News-Press Managing Editor Dave Mason alerted staff about the closure on July 21 via email and informed them that all of their jobs are being eliminated.
"All of our jobs are eliminated, and the News-Press has stopped publishing," Mason wrote to his staff in the email. "They ran out of money to pay us. They will issue final paychecks when the bankruptcy is approved in court."
The Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings were initiated by Ampersand Publishing, the parent company of the Santa Barbara News-Press. According to the filings, the News-Press has assets of less than $50,000 and debts and estimated liabilities of between $1 million and $10 million. A meeting of creditors, which number between 200 and 999, is scheduled for Sept. 7. But the filing notes that "no property appears to be available to pay creditors."
Former News-Press Editor Jerry Roberts, who quit the paper several years after its acquisition by McCaw over allegations of eroding journalist ethics under her ownership, said in an interview that the paper's closure "is not a big surprise."
"The paper's been on a downhill slide for a while," he noted. "But the fact that the community has lost its only paper is unspeakably sad."
Before its shuttering, the News-Press was the only major daily publication of Santa Barbara and its nearly 90,000 inhabitants. The paper was founded in 1855 and at its height, it had a daily circulation of over 45,000 and was published in print seven days a week. It even won a Pulitzer Prize in 1962 when editorial writer Thomas M. Storke won the award for a series of editorials about the John Birch Society.
The paper was subsequently acquired in 1985 by the New York Times and functioned with little to no controversy or any concern regarding its finances until it was famously sold in 2000 to McCaw, a resident of Santa Barbara and its current owner.
McCaw drew controversy in 2006 following the resignation of Roberts and five other notable employees over journalist ethics. In a documentary, Roberts claimed that McCaw's violation of journalist ethics has led to more than 70 News-Press employees resigning or being fired, along with thousands of people in the county voluntarily canceling their subscriptions.
The News-Press' bankruptcy filing leaves Santa Barbara with only one remaining physical publication, the Santa Barbara Independent, an alternative weekly, as well as several online news sites.
But these other outlets collectively do not employ as many journalists as the News-Press did before its bankruptcy – nearly 50. Connor Sheets and James Rainey, writing for the Los Angeles Times, noted that this could mean "less scrutiny of public agencies, less coverage of breaking news and fewer enlightening features on local people and issues."
Tim Franklin, an expert on local news publications at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism noted that the News-Press' closure is just the latest example of a struggling news media landscape in the United States.
"We are losing on average two newspapers a week in the U.S.," said Franklin. "We're on pace to have lost about a third of all newspapers by 2025."
Media companies are having to compete with Google, Facebook and Amazon in exposure thanks to them soaking up much of the advertising market. Media outlets have also yet to figure out a profitable business model for local news.
"The local news crisis is happening in every corner of the country, including in affluent cities and suburbs [like Santa Barbara]," said Franklin.
Watch this video discussing the bankruptcy of the online publication Vice and its subsequent acquisition by George Soros.