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CALIFORNIA / News and Insight on Business in the Golden
State

New Paper Hopes to Fill Void Left by Outlook's Demise

March 18, 1998|STEPHEN GREGORY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Looking to fill the vacuum left by the demise of Santa Monica's 123-year-old daily newspaper, a longtime community activist and a local publisher are hoping to repackage a struggling monthly tabloid into a weekly covering everything from Little League to politics.

Susan Wilson, who until Saturday penned a weekly column for the now-defunct Outlook, has teamed up with Jeff Hall, publisher of the Santa Monica News and two other monthly Westside publications. They will launch the Santa Monica Sun on Friday.

The pair said they not only hope to lure the Outlook's former readership of 23,000 but also its pool of display and classified advertisers, which were abruptly left without a venue when the paper folded at the end of last week. In a surprise announcement, the Outlook's parent company, La Jolla-based Copley Press Inc., abruptly shut down the Outlook and fired its employees after years of slumping revenue.

Wilson and Hall once worked together at Hall's Brentwood Media Group and had for a long time discussed turning the monthly Santa Monica News into a weekly. They pair decided to go forward with the idea almost immediately after the Outlook closed.

"We both knew this was the opportunity we'd been waiting for," Hall said.

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Said Wilson: "We're in a crisis situation, and something had to be done. The community was left with no way to communicate."

While the exact terms have yet to be worked out, the Sun will most likely be run as a joint venture between Wilson and Brentwood Media, which has averaged $800,000 in annual revenue in its six years publishing community newspapers, all of which are distributed free, according to Hall.

As editor in chief, Wilson will oversee news coverage and layout of the Sun, while Hall will concentrate on advertising, production and distribution.

Hall said he hopes the new publication will be a shot in the arm for Brentwood Media, which has witnessed a steady drop in advertisers and circulation over the last few years. "We're hoping this'll turn things around for us," he said.

Hall estimated the Sun will need to generate at least $15,000 in advertising revenue every week to break even. Friday's edition is expected to be 32 pages, but Hall said the size will vary in its first few weeks depending on ad sales. Currently, the Santa Monica News runs at about 40 pages.

While the failure rate for new publications is high, Tom Reilly, chairman of the journalism department at Cal State Northridge, said the Sun has a good chance for survival since it's taking advantage of infrastructure and market penetration already established by the News.

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"I think their chances are very clearly above average," he said. "But it'll depend almost exclusively on how well-defined their audience is. If they don't have a well-defined market they are going to be in trouble."

Wilson, who wrote the Outlook's weekly "On Santa Monica" column, said she already has a clear handle on the readers she's seeking.

"This will be a newspaper for people who care about Santa Monica," she said.

Initially, the Sun will be distributed free at about 300 locations throughout Santa Monica. Wilson and Hall eventually hope to switch to paid home delivery as the primary channel of distribution.

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