Two years ago this month, the journalistic eyes of California turned to the South Coast where the Santa Barbara News-Press melted like an ice cream cone in the summer sun.
Top editors quit or were fired. Reporters and columnists fled the News-Press as if the building was on fire. Some reporters wore tape over their mouths to show they had been ordered not to talk about their problems with management.
The labor dispute that prompted the turmoil between co-publisher Wendy McCaw and her newsroom staff still boils over as the newspaper’s management complains of yet more union attempts to convince residents to cancel their subscriptions. The paper has fallen far since the days when it was once owned by The New York Times Co.
News-Press circulation has sagged some 15 percent in the past two years, partly because of the cancellation campaign, but also because of a national trend of dropping subscription rates. Declining advertising revenues also have hurt the News-Press, which laid off about a dozen more employees this year, bringing the total of departed workers to around 100 since the 2006 meltdown.
As all this has occurred, Santa Barbara’s other well-established print media – the 22-year-old Independent free weekly – has grown in prominence.
This summer, Editor & Publisher, the newspaper industry’s trade magazine, named the South Coast weekly as one of the 10 U.S. publications that “do it right.”
News-Press circulation has sunk toward about 34,000 in a county of about 400,000 residents, while the Independent has a controlled circulation of 40,000.
As E&P asked, “which one now is the ‘alternative?’”
On top of circulation, the Independent has grown from a 24-page mostly black-and-white entertainment and political commentary weekly to a magazine-style publication more than three times its original size.
To be fair, the “other daily newspaper” in town – the Daily Sound, which began publishing five days a week several years ago – appears to be growing as well.
The Sound now publishes six days a week and has a home-delivery service.
How things have changed in just a few years.