Following a bankruptcy filing by its parent company Friday, a key executive of the Santa Barbara News-Press has informed staff that the daily newspaper has “stopped publishing,” Noozhawk has learned.
According to an email sent by managing editor Dave Mason: “I have some bad news. Wendy (owner Wendy McCaw) filed for bankruptcy on Friday. All of our jobs are eliminated, and the News-Press has stopped publishing. They ran out of money to pay us. They will issue final paychecks to us when the bankruptcy is approved in court.”
In my research, I explore the de-localization of the news industry, wherein the essence of “local” is stripped away from local news organizations. Through ownership transfers, corporate mergers and -fund takeovers, these organizations too often face consolidation, dismantling and closures. In short, when local ownership is replaced by larger absentee corporations solely driven by financial gains, the vital connection between the news organization and the community is severed. Readers feel detached, amplifying the pervasive nature of the deteriorating local news segment, which continues to experience its worst year every passing year.
Many scholars, including myself, advocate for the merits of local ownership, which prevailed for generations until about the 1980s. A local owner brings invaluable benefits to a community. These owners are attuned to the social and informational needs of the community, understanding the pulse of the community firsthand. They perceive their organizations as vital local institutions, not just commercial enterprises. For the best of local owners, their primary mission is to serve and support their communities, with financial profits taking a backseat to a more noble cause.
Today, the local news landscape has dramatically shifted, with less than one-third of the nation’s 5,000 weekly newspapers and a mere 10 of the 100 largest circulation daily newspapers maintaining their independence, according to a team of researchers at Northwestern University. The top six largest newspaper corporations in the United States have partial or full ownership by financial firms. This transition away from local ownership not only deprives communities of their stake in newspapers but also places the destiny of surviving publications in the clutches of a limited number of chains. These funds now wield disproportionate power over the local news landscape, shaping its trajectory, essence and even its very existence.
While local newspaper owners in the past prioritized their readers as customers, funds primarily cater to pension funds, mutual funds and commercial banks. funds exhibit no concern for a newspaper’s history, its employees or its ties to the community. Their focus is purely on cold, calculated financial gains. To funds, a newspaper organization is treated like any other asset. If it fails to generate sufficient returns, it becomes subject to downsizing, sale or closure. Cost-cutting tactics are evident from the moment of acquisition, as the firms swiftly slash expenses, reduce newsroom staff and strive to boost their bottom lines.