Monday, May 11, 2009

Getting Our Voice

Hey, folks. It's time for an update on the progress of Operation Local News, a project design to provide Newport-Mesa with a thriving news operation (24/7 online; weekly in print) that's locally owned and operated.

Tom Johnson and I have just finished the legal paperwork to present a private offering to investors. (We are hoping to raise at least $1 million, in $50,000 increments, for the Newport-Mesa Daily Voice). Over the next several weeks, we will be meeting with prospective investors, and hope to get the green light to begin publishing in the summer.

We've got an absolutely amazing product planned, and a business model that will allow our news operation to compete deep into the 21st century. It's all very exciting stuff.

Now we just need to see if we can raise $1 million in this challenging economy; we've already got a nice chunk of informal commitments. We're optimistic, especially after our first few appointments. We'll detail our progress here as soon as we have news worth sharing.

In the meantime, thanks to everyone out there who is cheering for us. We appreciate it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Good news and good news

We have a lot of good news we'd like to share with you.

1. We've settled on the name of our new news operation. We can reveal it in a few weeks when all the paperwork goes through. You'll LOVE it!

2. We've been meeting with investors in the community, and the response has been very, very positive (even in these times). We'll be continuing our presentations in the coming weeks.

3. Our board of advisors is really pitching in to help make this dream a reality. We have our second meeting March 2.

4. We were approached this week by a top-notch investment attorney who loves newspapers and has offered to help us with all the paperwork at a great discount.

5. We recently met with the Voice of San Diego people who let us into every corner of their business and answered perhaps a million questions (thanks, guys!).

6. We've assembled an amazingly talented leadership team that's ready to go.

7. We're forming some interesting partnerships in the community that we'll reveal soon.

8. We're making ourselves available to speak at community organizations. This week, Tom Johnson talked to the representatives of the various Corona del Mar homeowners associations.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The momentum continues

Just a quick update on Operation Local News, which is sailing along quite nicely. Tom and Bill have asked 30 leaders from across the community to serve on their Board of Advisors, and 29 people have said yes. The first meeting will be in about two weeks.

Tom and Bill also have had several interesting meetings with members of the community who are willing to help in concrete and innovative ways (we'll detail the specifics when we can release them).

Operation Local News has set a tentative deadline of March 1 to decide whether giving Newport-Mesa a quality daily local news operation--similar to the Daily Pilot in its heyday--is something residents and businesses would support with readership, advertising and voluntary donations. So far, it looks more promising than Tom or Bill had imagined, but the goal line is still a ways down the field.

We'll continue to keep you informed.

Friday, December 19, 2008

We've made the news

It seems most of the OC media, except the Daily Pilot, thinks our experiment that's underway to see if the Newport-Mesa community will fund a nonprofit to produce local daily news is newsworthy. We've been written up in the local blogs (thanks, folks!), Orange County Business Journal, the OC Weekly, and today in the Orange County Register. Here are some excerpts from the Register's piece by Jeff Overly.

Troubled by the bad fortunes of the local newspaper they once led, two old hands of community journalism are trying to launch a nonprofit publication covering Newport Beach and Costa Mesa.

Tom Johnson and William Lobdell – a former publisher and a former editor of the Daily Pilot, respectively – this week sent an e-mail blast seeking publicity and financial pledges for an online news operation and weekly paper dedicated to their old journalistic stomping grounds.

In the note, the duo said their vision of a "first-rate news-gathering team" would require $200,000 in startup costs, $200,000 in annual fundraising and an unspecified amount of cash raised by selling ads.


Once an award-winning daily that served as a farm team for major metropolitan papers, the Pilot now operates with a skeleton crew that scrambles to fill the pages and earlier this year stopped publishing on Mondays, traditionally a light advertising day.

"When I was there, it was one of the best community newspapers in the state," said Lobdell, the paper's editor in the 1990s and until recently a Los Angeles Times reporter. "The people that are working there are great people. It's just that there are not enough of them."

The pair said they inquired about purchasing the paper with the Pilot's owner, Tribune Co., but received no response. Establishing a competitor to the Pilot isn't done lightly, Lobdell said.

"It's painful," Lobdell said. "It's something we're both doing, I think, with a bit of a heavy heart."

"I probably love the Pilot more than anybody else," added Johnson, who was at the paper 17 years before resigning this summer after protesting layoffs. "It pained me to walk away from it. I wish I could get the Daily Pilot and do what's right with it for the community."


A "tremendous response" greeted the e-mail blast, Johnson said, and the coming weeks and months will see the proposed publication's business plan being presented to various local groups and leaders. It's too early to tell when, if ever, the news operation will debut, he added.

Everything now depends on whether community residents "vote with their pocketbooks," Lobdell said.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The letter heard 'round Newport-Mesa

We sent out this letter to about 100 Newport-Mesa community leaders, and the response in less than 12 hours has been nothing short of amazing. We'll quote from some in an upcoming post. In the meantime, please make sure everyone you know in the community sees this letter. Thanks!

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.


Tom Johnson (former publisher of the Daily Pilot/17 years)
Bill Lobdell (former editor of the Daily Pilot/10 years)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Welcome to a grand experiment!

Hello. We are getting underway an interesting experiment in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa. We want to tell you about it, but first, a little background.

Tom Johnson was publisher of the Daily Pilot for 17 years, before leaving in the summer of 2008. Bill Lobdell was editor of the Pilot for a decade, before going on to work for the Los Angeles Times. He left The Times in July to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities.

Together at the Pilot, we took a newspaper at death's door, with staggering losses of $250,000 a month, and turned it into a nicely profitable media company with a tight relationship with the Newport-Mesa community.

In recent times, the Pilot's corporate owner has severely damaged Newport-Mesa's beloved daily, and we fear for its future. Many of our friends still work at the paper under increasingly trying conditions, and we admire their efforts.

But the fact is, the Pilot is a shell of what it once was and could be. Worse, in our opinion, is that the Pilot's business model just won't work in the 21st century, as advertising revenue and readership migrates quickly to the Web.

But Newport Beach and Costa Mesa -- which has had the Pilot for more than 100 years -- deserves a quality paper, a publication that keeps watch over local government, reports in-depth on local schools, provides independent leadership and, perhaps most of all, unites the community like nothing else can.

So we've decided to conduct this experiment that we're calling, "Operation Local News." Our hypothesis is this: The Newport Beach and Costa Mesa community will support financially a robust, engaging, thought-provoking and comprehensive news operation that is on the cutting-edge of technology but has old-fashioned newspaper values.

Our financial model mirrors that of National Public Radio or PBS, with the majority of the funding coming from readers, corporations and foundations--not advertising. This approach has shown great promise for news websites such as Voice of San Diego and Pro Publica. We think it can work in Newport-Mesa, an affluent community that in the past has been passionate about its local paper.

Operating as a nonprofit, our ultimate goal is to create an endowment that would allow the news organization to operate without financial pressure long after we're gone from the scene. It's impossible to calculate the incredible value that a high-quality local online paper would add to the Newport-Mesa community. We think that would be a nice legacy to leave.

We'll update this site each time we have news about the experiment. Unlike old media, it's part of our culture to be as transparent as possible, allowing you to watch as the experiment unfolds. We may find out that there's not enough support to keep a daily local news presence in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa. But we suspect otherwise.

Whatever happens, it will be interesting.