Will The Real Tom Johnson Please Stand Up?
Way, way back in the dark ages - shortly after the turn of the century - I wrote my very first "Letter to the Editor" to the Daily Pilot in response to something then-columnist Byron De Arakal had written about the Costa Mesa City Council. It struck a chord with me, so I fired off a little note and, much to my surprise, it was published. Tom Johnson was the publisher of the Daily Pilot at the time and he, along with his pal, Bill Lobdell, had managed to salvage our local newspaper of record from dire times.
CLUELESS IN COSTA MESA
I had lived in Costa Mesa for almost three decades at the time and, like most of us, paid very little attention to local political issues. I just trusted the elected officials to do the right thing, keep our city safe and clean and do so with a minimum of fuss. Like most of us, I had been busy making a living. But, with my then-recent retirement I began to pay attention and, knowing just a little bit about management, didn't much like what I saw evolving. Those were the days when Chris Steel finally got elected after being rejected by wiser electorates nine times before. This was the beginning of the politicizing of Costa Mesa politics.
HEY! THAT WAS EASY!
A month later something else provoked me, so I wrote another "letter" and it, too, was published. That relationship grew and, at one point, the Daily Pilot was publishing my submissions three times a week. That's how all this began, so Tom gets some of the credit/blame.
KIND OFFERS, GRATEFULLY DECLINED
Over the years Tom and/or his lieutenants and successors have offered me a chance to write a weekly column in that fine newspaper eleven times. While extremely grateful for those opportunities, each time I politely rejected the offer. I can't write on someone else's deadline, nor can I write "on assignment". I write what I write, when I write it because I'm moved to do so. And, as the years passed, I continued to submit commentaries - most of them much too long - and each successive editorial team has chosen to publish most of them. I was, and am, very grateful for that. I've always been grateful for the opportunity to present my views to my neighbors, both in Costa Mesa and Newport Beach.
A SHARED DISGUST
Tom and I shared a mutual disgust for the rantings of one local writer - a man of international infamy as a voice of intolerance. Tom coined the nickname "Mensa Marty" for this fellow - you know who I mean.
AN EXCITING NEW VENTURE
When Tom departed the Daily Pilot in a huff a few years ago after the leadership of the Los Angeles Times and the Tribune Companies - the owners of the Times Community Newspapers, of which the Daily Pilot is a large part - began to have major difficulties, he and Lobdell teamed up to create what they envisioned to be the probable future of local news - a homogenization of news delivery with online first and print in a secondary role. They asked me to be part of their advisory board - a role I happily accepted. I was excited and energized by this new concept and hoped it would succeed.
MODEST SUCCESS AND SEPARATION
That publication, The Daily Voice, had modest success. Lobdell departed to go work with the infamous Barry Minkow and Tom eventually folded the operation into what is now the Newport Beach Independent. He left that organization last year after disagreeing with the direction the owners were taking.
Quite frankly, Tom Johnson's departure from the Daily Pilot left a void that was never filled. Oh, yes, there have been some excellent newsmen who have become editors, including John Canalis - but Tom's presence as publisher was very special. He was involved in the community at a level not matched by anyone since his departure. Tom was everywhere, on boards of this and that and was the real face of the Daily Pilot. If someone needed to reach a mover and shaker locally, Tom could find a way to make that happen.
BACK IN THE SADDLE AGAIN
I was overjoyed that Tom recently surfaced again as the General Manager of the struggling local supplement to the Orange County Register, The Current. He immediately changed the "look" of the paper and seemed to have some great ideas for it downstream. And, it was great to see him involved in community events again. At the recent Feet To The Fire Forum, at which he was one of the interrogators on the panel, he seemed very engaged in the issues. And, following the program, I saw him doing his "newsman" thing, schmoozing with folks like Jim Righeimer and Steve Mensinger. That's just what you'd expect him to be doing as the head guy of a local news outlet.
ANOTHER OFFER, AGAIN GRATEFULLY DECLINEDAt a recent Costa Mesa City Council meeting which also Johnson attended we had a nice chat and he offered me a column in The Current. Again, I politely declined, citing the same reasons I had declined his previous offers with the Daily Pilot. We departed from that meeting completely satisfied with how it went - or so I thought.
SHORT AND NOT-SO-SWEET
Last Monday, April 16th, out of the blue Tom sent me a short, cryptic note. Here's what he wrote:
PROVOKED TO ACTION
I wrote back to him that I was just one guy with a lot of territory to cover and that I'd seen Mickadeit's column and hadn't decided whether to write about it or not. However, his little prod forced me to set aside some other stuff I was working on and write about it. You read it HERE. I sent Tom the link to my blog entry the next morning and heard nothing from him since then.
SURPRISED AND DISMAYED
Today he penned (can we actually use that term any more?) this scathing piece about me in The Current, HERE. I was surprised and, quite frankly - after a day of jury duty and running on fumes from 3 hours sleep following the publication of my blog entry after Tuesday night's Council Meeting - left a little dismayed.
Tom is clearly very critical of what I wrote and how I wrote it, but he had just offered me a job to do that very thing for him two weeks earlier. This quantum shift made me more than a little curious and, since I hold him in such high esteem, got my juices flowing.
IT'S OK TO DISAGREE, BUT...
Certainly, it's possible for Tom to disagree with my views of the local situation. After all, I actually live in Costa Mesa and have a perspective one can only achieve by having a dog in the hunt. That being said, Tom Johnson has been so fully-immersed in Newport-Mesa affairs for decades that his voice is one that should be heard. Considering our decade-long relationship, I guess I expected to hear from him directly first.
CRITICIZING MY VIEW
As you read through Tom's column you'll find that he quotes extensively from my blog entry about Frank Mickadeit. He, apparently, is unhappy that I've chosen to criticize another Register writer for only presenting one side of the issue. Then, again, Mickadeit is a columnist, where his opinion is presented prevalently - that's the way it should be.
IT'S WHAT I DO...
Tom criticizes me for presenting MY opinion on MY blog where the objective is clearly stated in the masthead. I present the readers with my views, based on the facts as I understand them, along with my opinions. Those who might be offended by my characterizations or the images I choose to use to emphasize a point can simply not read them - it's pretty simple.
FANNING THE FLAMES
Near the end of his piece Tom says: "I don't look at journalism as a way to fan the fire. I'm proud of the fact that my newspapers in the past have been community watchdogs, forums for equal discussion, reservoirs of information and most importantly, community cheerleaders." OK, I agree with his characterization of his former publications and accept that, but "fanning the fire" is EXACTLY what he did during his participation in the Feet To The Fire Forum. Watch the tape, HERE. That's a pretty mixed message, don't you think?
WHO'S BULLYING WHOM?
Early in his piece Tom calls me a bully, and yet he uses his "bully pulpit" - yes, I know the definition of that phrase - to bully me! His distribution reaches tens of thousands of readers each week - a claim I only wish I could make. He refers to what I write as "editorializing at its best" - which I fully accept as an accurate description of what I do here. However, I think he meant it as a criticism, not a compliment.
A more cynical guy - yeah, I admit to being cynical - might find it curious that Tom's incendiary criticism of me occurs just about the time that Will Swaim got a real journalism job again and has, apparently, stopped lobbing literary grenades into my backyard from his cozy home in Irvine. I'm sure that's just a coincidence, but...
POWER AND RESPONSIBILITY
With great power comes great responsibility. As the General Manager of a significant local news source, Tom has great power at his fingertips. Back when he used to write the occasional column as the publisher of the Daily Pilot I would tease him when mistakes were made - asking him "who edits the editor?" We would chuckle about that at the time. Well, the question remains today. Does he plan to use the power of his position to pillory folks with opposing viewpoints or those who criticizes his friends? If so, is that REALLY an appropriate use of the power of his position?
NOT THE SAME...
Some readers may throw that back at me, but it's not the same thing at all. This blog is not part of a major regional newspaper organization, nor does it sell advertising and subscriptions. The facts I present represent the best information I have available to me and the views here are mine. Most visitors to this site understand that and also understand they are free to read and comment or simply not click on the link and move on.
I'm not sure where we go from here, but I suspect I've had my last job offer from Tom Johnson.