Thursday, September 14, 2023


Last night I had the pleasure of attending a forum hosted by the activist group, Speak Up Newport, at the community room at Newport Beach City Hall.  The program consisted of a panel of experts on journalism, and local journalism in particular.  It included former Daily Pilot publisher and current publisher of StuNews Newport, TOM JOHNSON; former Los Angeles Times reporter, Daily Pilot Editor, podcast host and award-winning author, BILL LOBDELL and former Daily Pilot Editor, public relations expert,  college journalism instructor and current Public Information Officer for the City of Costa Mesa, TONY DODERO.


Among the 80 or so people in attendance were current and former Newport Beach council members and commissioners, Daily Pilot columnists and a wide array of community activists.  Among them were folks who had, in the past, been named by the editors of the Daily Pilot as among those 103 most influential in the community - like yours truly, who was named on that fun array of movers and shakers 8 times (but who’s counting?).


President of Speak Out Newport and former Newport Beach Mayor ED SELICH kicked off the evening, then turned the discussion over to Johnson, who moderated the conversation among his friends at the table with him.  He introduced his staff - his former wife, LANA JOHNSON, who is the editor of Stu News Newport and the person who actually gets things done, and SHAENA STABLER, his partner in the publication.


The panel recalled their early days at the Daily Pilot.  When Johnson and Lobdell took over the newspaper in the early 1990s it was a struggling, poorly-run operation, described as probably the worst community newspaper in the state.  They built it into a profitable operation, recognized as the best in the state.  When they ran the operations, and later with Dodero at the helm of the news operations, the publication did outstanding work.  According to the discussion, when the Los Angeles Times acquired the Daily Pilot and several other local community newspapers the wheels began to come off.  The Daily Pilot is the last one standing and it’s teetering on the brink.


Johnson shared some of the strategies that helped them become successful.  He said they “had to keep thinking of new things” to keep the Daily Pilot on the cutting edge of community engagement.  He cited the creation of the Daily Pilot Cup - a youth soccer tournament that exists  to this day, although no longer under the auspices of the Daily Pilot.  He also mentioned the Jones Cup, a women’s golf tournament.  And, of course, he spoke of the almost capricious creation of the “DP 103” - for which Lobdell, chuckling, took full credit.


According to the panelists, large newspapers, like the Los Angeles Times and the Orange County Register, were very slow to react to the digital realities on the news business.  The only large publications that have figured it out are the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.  Social media, with all it’s faux urgency and rampant inaccuracy, have become the go-to source of “news” by many in our society.  The iPhone has replaced the daily newspaper. According to Lobdell, there are 60% fewer journalists today than there were just a few short years ago.  They also cited mismanagement of many smaller newspapers.  The management of those operations were slow to react to the financial realities of the competition for advertising dollars in the digital world.  The failure of the Santa Barbara News Press was cited as an example.


Johnson gave us a brief tour of what it’s like at Stu News Newport, which produces a new product every Tuesday and Friday for both the Newport Beach operation and their sister publication in Laguna Beach… that’s four digital newspaper editions a week with a shoestring staff.  As I mentioned earlier, he gives LANA JOHNSON full credit for pulling off those four small miracles each week. One acknowledged shortfall is the production of true investigative reporting.  They are successful selling advertising for the “good news” they produce twice a week, but ramping up to produce a more hard-hitting product is expensive.  A discussion was held about the possibility of using interns - but that really doesn’t provide the skill set necessary for the tough reporting.  In our area there really is only one source of investigative reporting - the non-profit Voice of OC, published by former Orange County Register reporter NORBERTO SANTANA, JR.   They do an excellent job of digging up the dirt on issues, although sometimes they anger folks - a byproduct of tough reporting.


There was a brief discussion of the possibility of “re-branding” Stu News - to give it a change of look.  Specifics were briefly discussed, and a January 2024 date was mentioned for a possible “new look”.


At the end of the evening Johnson entertained questions from the audience.  Fewer than a dozen people stepped to the microphone.  One person mentioned the curiously fortuitous timing of a column published that very day in the Daily Pilot by columnist PATRICE APODACA on the subject of the decline of local newspapers.  Another speaker  complimented them for their work on the Daily Pilot, and described how family members always visited those pages for family members names in box scores and social events.  Others spoke of the need for strong investigative reporting and the fun that was had when one’s name appeared in the DP 103 list.

So there you have my summary of the highlights of the evening.  I did not provide you with a word-for-word account, but it was a very worthwhile event.  The three

panelists are my friends.  Each one nurtured me as a 50-year-old fledgling writer who offered commentaries to the Daily Pilot pages before launching my blog in 2005 - and later, too.  I admire each of them for their positive contributions to my community over the past few decades. I suspect that they may put their collective experiences to work to continue finding workable solutions to the evolution of credible digital media.  I hope so.

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home