Santa Barbara News-Press declares bankruptcy, ceases publication after more than 150 years

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The Santa Barbara News-Press is no more. After more than 150 years of news gathering, the Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper on Friday posted its last online edition, a month after the News-Press ceased publication of its print newspaper and went all digital.

The apparent death knell for the venerable News-Press came in the form of a bankruptcy filing last week by Ampersand Publishing, a company controlled by Wendy McCaw, a wealthy environmentalist and animal rights activist who frequently feuded with her newsroom employees, media critics and local readers.

In an email one newsroom employee shared with The Times, Managing Editor Dave Mason wrote that McCaw had filed for bankruptcy Friday. “All of our jobs are eliminated, and the News-Press has stopped publishing,” the email read. “They ran out of money to pay us. They will issue final paychecks when the bankruptcy is approved in court.”

Mason did not respond to a request for comment.

The legal action, which says the outlet has virtually no assets to pay creditors, appears to bring an ignominious end to the local publishing career of McCaw, once heralded by Santa Barbarans as a savior for a local news operation founded not long after the California Gold Rush.

The shutdown leaves Santa Barbara with several online news sources and a solid alternative weekly, the Independent. But those outlets collectively do not appear to employ the number of journalists — nearly 50 — who once powered the News-Press. That means less scrutiny of public agencies, less coverage of breaking news and fewer enlightening features on local people and issues.

The slow decline of the paper after McCaw bought it in 2000 from New York Times Co., is a sad variation on a broader downward spiral for the newspaper industry. Revenue for legacy newspapers plummeted 52% nationally from 2002 to 2020, with much of the income once generated by advertising shifting to internet giants such as Google and Facebook.

In the dozen years after 2008, newsroom employment at print newspapers fell 57%. In one California example, the Salinas Californian has remained open as an online and print product — with almost no local stories — even after losing its last newsroom employee late in 2022.

Ampersand’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing was authorized during a meeting “on or about” May 1, nearly three months before it was filed Friday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for California’s Central District, according to federal court records. The move came about three months after the newspaper relocated its operations and staff from the landmark building on Santa Barbara’s De la Guerra Plaza — where it had been housed for 101 years — to its printing plant in Goleta, the Independent reported.

As of Monday afternoon, the News-Press’ website carried no mention of the bankruptcy or cessation of operation. Friday’s is the most recent online edition of the publication posted on the website, which features a red-lettered banner stating that “The News-Press is entirely digital” and directing readers to its online edition.

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