Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Operation Local News

As reported in an earlier post, two former Daily Pilot honchos have joined forces to create a brand new news source for the Newport-Mesa area. Former publisher Tom Johnson and former editor Bill Lobdell sent the following letter out yesterday announcing their venture:

Dear Friend and Neighbor,

For some 100 years, the Daily Pilot has acted as a watchdog and uniting force for our communities. Recently, however, newspapers have come under financial siege, including our local paper. The Tribune Company, owner of the Pilot, recently has filed for bankruptcy, and the Pilot’s staff has been cut to the bone.

As the days go by, we have become concerned about the Pilot’s future. We’ve asked if the Tribune Company would be willing to sell the Pilot, but received no response. So we’ve decided to explore what we believe is a very viable and exciting alternative.

Simply put, we want to create a daily community newspaper that would operate online and in-print as an independent nonprofit. Believe it or not, it’s being done in other markets (including a very effective operation called the Voice of San Diego that has returned quality local journalism to that community; you can read a New York Times story about the Voice of San Diego here).

We have put together a business plan. The idea is to generate revenue through two means: advertising sales and donations. It’s a financial model based on National Public Radio and PBS.

Our plan calls for a news operation that would effectively cover this community in more depth and creativity than ever before. You’d get everything you’d expect and more: your favorite columnists, community watchdog coverage, opinions and editorials, a complete community calendar, local sports, photos, videos and more.

Together, we took the Pilot from its dark stages in the early ’90s--when the paper was losing $250,000 a month--to its being a financially viable operation, a focal point of the community, and honored as the best community daily in California. We believe we can do it again and better with this new product.

We need your help in two concrete ways. First, help us spread the word locally by forwarding this e-mail to your friends and neighbors. It’s important we get the word out.

Second, let us know if you’d support us as a non-profit in this venture. We’re looking for corporations, foundations, and individuals to make an annual pledge. In addition to $200,000 in start-up costs, we’ll need to raise about $200,000 a year outside of advertising to provide Newport-Mesa with a first-rate news gathering team. (Our ultimate goal is to create a local media nonprofit that can live on through an endowment long after we are gone.)

To review, please forward this e-mail to everyone you know and hit the reply button on this e-mail (here’s the address,, if you’re reading a forwarded copy) and make a pledge--or an appointment for us to show you our business plan.

In the spirit of this new enterprise, we’ve started a website called Operation Local News to allow the community to watch our progress and to contribute the ideas on everything from coverage to the paper’s name. We’ll also keep an ongoing tally of the dollar amount of our pledges. Everything will be transparent.

It’s our guess that the Newport-Mesa community would support a quality news operation, and this is our chance to prove it. If the money isn’t raised, Newport-Mesa will likely end up with, at best, an anemic non-daily paper. That would be a sad day, and it doesn’t have to happen.

Yes, we know. It’s new, it’s different, but it’s also very exciting and the future.

Thanks. Tom Johnson (former publisher of the Daily Pilot/17 years)

Bill Lobdell (former editor of the Daily Pilot/10 years)

As I've said before, my personal preference would be for them to find a way to acquire the Daily Pilot, including its archives, and then morph it into this new model. One would hope that is not a dead issue.

However, Johnson and Lobdell are moving forward. I hope you will forward this link to others who may be interested in this new, exciting venture.

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