If newspapers are dying, as every media pundit likes to say these days, then the Santa Barbara News-Press is on the bullet train to the graveyard.

On Monday, the Audit Bureau of Circulations – the newspaper industry’s official counting agency – released its semi-annual report on readership trends and circulation tallies, which are used by newspapers to set advertising rates. The report, called the FAS-FAX, was based on data acquired up until March 31, 2007. It showed that nationwide over the past 12 months, daily newspapers’ circulation has dropped an average of 2.1 percent, with Sunday editions faltering a bit more to 3.1 percent. (Not such the predicted horrific slide, it seems, but a steady slip nonetheless.)

The News-Press, however, dropped a whopping 9.5 percent, to 38,000 newspapers. The L.A. Times‘s James Rainey called it “one of the biggest declines in the region” and the media-watching magazine Editor & Publisher said that the newspaper “plunged.”

A series of questions were sent to the News-Press via the paper’s spokesperson Agnes Huff, asking whether or not management could attribute this drop to the current situation at the newspaper. That situation includes federal prosecution by the National Labor Relations Board, a refusal to approve a 33-6 union vote from last September, the banishment of certain websites from existing employee computers, and last month’s front-page, non-bylined story linking former editor Jerry Roberts to child pornography, a move that reportedly also caused another employee, business writer Steve Bonser, to recently quit.

If the News-Press chooses to respond, they will be afforded to space to do so here. But a response is highly unlikely, because since January, almost every post on this Santa Barbara Media Blog has sought answers from News-Press management, and they have declined each time. There have been occasional responses from attorneys Barry Cappello, David Millstein, and Larry Stein when questions arise over legal matters, but otherwise, the News-Press management is mum on the whole situation.

Meanwhile, the paper’s former employees, including Roberts, have won two ethics awards in the past year. These latest circulation numbers just seem like the latest writing on the increasingly scribbled wall.


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