Tuesday, March 03, 2009

"Operation Local News" Looks Like A "GO!"

Last night I attended a meeting of the Board of Advisors for Operation Local News, the brain-child of Tom Johnson and Bill Lobdell. Roughly half of the roster of advisors made it to this meeting and many had excellent observations/comments.

You will recall that a few months ago Johnson, former publisher of the Daily Pilot, and Lobdell, former editor of the Daily Pilot and Los Angeles Times reporter, announced their plan to launch a new, prima
rily online newspaper recently. Over the past few months they've massaged and molded their business model, spoken with others who've started similar efforts in other locations and have worked with a legal team to dot every "i" and cross every "t".

The reason for this meeting was to tell us that they plan to move forward on this great adventure and, as soon as the proper prospectus can be created, begin to actively solicit investors. Based on informal conversations they've had with local business
leaders, they feel that funding will be available. The first four contacts they made affirmed that they are willing to come onboard and help with the initial funding.


Unlike other recent online-first publications in our region which have used a "not for profit" model - The Voice Of San Diego, for example - Lobdell and Johnson's effort will be a "for profit" model, so investors will be looking for a return on their investment.

The way it looks right now, their original estimate of the seed money necessary to launch this new effort was one zero short. Johnson and Lobdell are now looking for investors to help them to their new goal of $2 million to kick it off. Their objective is to attract top talent to launch what will be a
news product produced by seasoned, skilled journalism professionals.

When I first heard about this plan - and announced it to the world HERE - my initial reaction was something like, "Wow! Great! These are two smart, talented guys who can probably pull this off!" Then I stepped back a little and thought about it and realized that if Johnson and Lobdell are actually successful in launching a new news source for the Newport-Mesa area it may well sound the death knell for the Daily Pilot.


As a reader of the Daily Pilot for more than three decades and a contributor for most of this decade, I do not want to see the Daily Pilot die. For a century it has been our newspaper of record and p
rimary source of local news and events. It has been the glue that kept our communities together by presenting us with coverage of important events affecting our lives every day. Faded Daily Pilot clippings marking engagements, weddings, obituaries and athletic achievement fill scrapbooks in many households in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, mine included.


Today's realities in the newspaper business are such that, even though the Daily Pilot remains a profitable part of the Times Community Newspaper group of the Los Angeles Times, it apparently is viewed by the top brass of the Times and it's parent, The Tribune Company, as insignificant. This is what happens when the bean-counters take over and newsmen stop running newspapers. As a result, the Pilot has had it's staff chopped, chopped and chopped again over the past 15 months - eve
r since Sam Zell bought The Tribune Company. Tom Johnson resigned rather than officiate at the funeral of the newspaper he spent nearly two decades rebuilding.

It seems clear that the handwriting, er, graffiti, is on the wall and the Daily Pilots days are numbered. If that's the case, then our communities would be left without a credible, local news source. I don't want the Daily Pilot to fail, but it almost seems inevitable.

I hope Johnson and Lobdell are successful with this new venture, but it's unlikely that there will be enough advertising dollars to support both their new venture and the Daily Pilot. I've told them that my
preference would be for them to find a way to acquire the Daily Pilot and then morph it into the model they feel will be the most viable. Johnson told me he's tried several times to do just that, but was rebuffed by the brass at The Times.


So, they are left with no choice except to try to find investors who believe in their vision and launch their own, competing publication to serve the needs of the readers in the Newport-Mesa area. That's where they are headed, full steam ahead. Round up your wealthy pals and dir
ect them to Johnson and Lobdell. They can be in on the ground floor of an exciting, new venture and help provide fast, accurate news with a Newport-Mesa focus to our communities. They will be happy to sit down and chat about this opportunity.

You can read my previous entries on this venture HERE and HERE. Look for updates on the Operation Local News blog, too.

Labels: , , ,


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not knowing Tom's partner and having participated with Tom in some community matters: Tom Johnson is great in his field.The opening of a newspaper as discussed scares the hell out of me.I believe the timming couldn't be worse re: financial environment and newness of online press and it's success or failure.The Pilot, I believe should be the target and go towards that acquisition with all your energy. A good percentage of citizens have no idea who owns the Pilot', they just want the home town paper around.I also feel that the print industry hasn't hit bottom yet and their can be no value placed on the Pilot yet. Saying that, maybe a holding pattern could take place so these issues can be evaluated. I wish both gentlemen well in their future, in either scenario.

3/04/2009 06:07:00 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home