The Future of Local News: UCSB Professor Points to Tech Giants in Rise of Community News Deserts

By Jerry Roberts of Newsmakers

Since 2005, more than 2,000 local papers have closed down in the U.S. — most recently, Santa Barbara’s – as over half of newspaper journalists have lost their jobs.

By contrast, Google and Facebook/Meta have been doing just fine: two-thirds of advertising expenditures, crucial to the news industry’s survival, is now digital, and the two tech behemoths control half of the ad revenue in the nation.

These aligned trends, says UCSB professor Jennifer Holt, have “left the news industry in free fall.”

“This funneling of revenue that was once the lifeblood of the newspaper industry to the coffers of two big tech platforms has led to catastrophic layoffs, consolidation and the creation of ‘news deserts’ across the U.S.,” Dr. Holt writes in her forthcoming book, “Cloud Policy.”

“The current threat from digital platforms has…devastated local journalism and left most communities in the dark about the information that most directly impacts their lives, and without a check on accountability for civic leaders and elected officials,” she concludes.

A pioneering researcher and one of the nation’s leading experts on new, digital media, Dr. Holt will be the lead off speaker next week, on a panel examining “The Future of Local News,” that will follow Newsmakers’ free presentation of “Citizen McCaw,” the 2008 documentary chronicling the meltdown of the Santa Barbara News-Press, the city and county’s historic daily paper, which recently filed for bankruptcy.

The screening will take place at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 27, at the Marjorie Luke Theatre. RSVP here for free tickets.

Associate Professor and Chair of UCSB’s Department of Film and Media Studies, Dr. Holt is the author or editor of five books about digital media, and has lectured across the country and around the world on the subject.

In a one-on-one interview on Tuesday, she not only offered a glimpse of Big Tech’s destructive impact on local news, but also offered insight about a series of other critical issues in the field, from the monopoly grip of digital “robber barons” and the badly lagging ability of government to regulate several decades of extraordinarily rapid, transformational technological change, to the ways in which social media and the algorithms behind tech’s mega-platforms encourage, enable and amplify dis- and misinformation, along with dangerous conspiracy theories.

“The growing spread of dis- and misinformation on dominant platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter is part of a perfect storm,” she says. “Along with the diminishing trust in news organizations and the concurrent collapse of the news industry’s business model, it is a trifecta that delivered yet another crisis for democracy borne of cloud policy.”

An all-star lineup, Four professionals who work in our community news industry, each with a unique perspective on the future, will also join “The Future of Local News” panel discussion, following the showing of “Citizen McCaw.”

  • Sarah Sinclair is the Advertising Director of the Santa Barbara Independent and the former Advertising Director of the News-Press, who has straddled, and successfully navigated, the epic transition from the Before Times print business model to the economics of the Digital Age.

  • Gwyn Lurie is CEO and Editor in Chief of the Montecito Journal Media Group, LLC., who led a group of investors that purchased the weekly paper in 2019, and since has launched a series of other publications that provide alternative revenue streams to support community journalism.

  • Lily Dallow is the Digital Content Director at KEYT, a multimedia journalist whose training and skills in telling stories with multiple means of communication, including print, images, audio and video, position her as a prototypical journalist adaptive to an era of constant technological change.

  • Ryan P. Cruz, is a staff reporter for the Independent who not only covers traditional news beats but also focuses much of his work on Latino communities and culture, which historically have been overlooked in local news coverage even as they constitute a growing and increasingly influential portion of the population.

Tickets are free for the film and the panel discussion, but please RSVP so we can get an accurate crowd count.

You can watch our conversation with Jennifer Holt via YouTube below or by clicking through this link. The podcast version is here. TVSB, Cox Cable Channel 17, airs the program at 8 p.m. every weeknight, and at 9 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. KCSB, 91.9 FM, broadcasts the show at 5:30 p.m. on Monday.

RSVP below to free showing of “Citizen McCaw” and discussion on September 27, at 7 p.m. at the Marjorie Luke Theater. Click here to learn more.


Written by Jerry Roberts

“Newsmakers” is a multimedia journalism platform that focuses on politics, media and public affairs in Santa Barbara. Learn more at

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Save the Date: Newspaper Doc “Citizen McCaw” Returns on Sept. 27 for Free, One-Time Only Screening