If former Mayor Richard Riordan launches a newspaper in Los Angeles, as he says he will, he must ignore those ready to declare his idea a fool's errand.
It will be expensive, take a long time to establish and be difficult to do well, newspaper executives and analysts said.
"The only thing dumber than starting a new newspaper in a competitive market ... well, I can't think of anything dumber," said Peter Appert, a newspaper industry analyst with Deutsche Bank.
William Dean Singleton, chief executive of MediaNews Group Inc., publisher of the San Fernando Valley-based Daily News, predicted Riordan's plan would be costly.
"He'll lose a bundle of money in a hurry," Singleton said.
Riordan is undaunted.
"I'm more confident today than ever that we'll pull this off," he said.
Determined to redress what he called the "negativity" of the Los Angeles Times, which is owned by Tribune Co., Riordan said he's exploring various newspaper business models. He'd prefer to publish five days a week.
"I really can see answers to the key questions," said Sue Laris, editor and publisher of the Los Angeles Downtown News and an advisor to Riordan on this project. Profit is possible--she started her weekly 30 years ago and the publication is still going strong. And there is no rush for Riordan to start up a paper.
John P. Puerner, publisher of The Times, issued a statement on the possibility of Riordan starting a paper.
"The Los Angeles Times has operated in a very competitive market for a long period of time," Puerner said. "We think competition makes us better."
Jim Bellows, a former editor of three now-defunct newspapers--the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Washington Star and New York Herald Tribune--is another of Riordan's advisors. His book, "The Last Editor," details the travails of running a big city's No. 2 newspaper.
"You've got to do some very different things so you aren't just mimicking the Los Angeles Times," Bellows said. Riordan is going to have to "get people to demand the paper."
Even if a counter-programming strategy works, newspaper industry analyst John Morton said Riordan probably won't have a viable business.
"The history of new newspapers is the history of failure," Morton said.
Of the more than a dozen metro daily newspapers launched in the last several decades, he said, the only one to survive is the Washington Times, which is underwritten by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church.
"To challenge the Los Angeles Times directly, I won't say you can't, but it would cost billions of dollars," said Harold W. Fuson, vice president and chief legal officer of Copley Press Inc., which operates the Daily Breeze with 80,000 paid subscribers in the South Bay.
Fuson said the Daily Breeze, in most parts of the world, would be a good-size paper, but where it serves, it's a struggle to survive.
Copley has closed down several of its Los Angeles regional papers, including the Santa Monica Outlook, which ceased publication in 1998.
"You would think that Santa Monica would support a separate newspaper, but they didn't," he said.
A tightly focused Westside daily, he said, would cost a minimum of $30 million to operate for two years.
A staff of 40 people--Riordan expects to hire 25 journalists and a support and sales staff of 15 with freelancers writing the bulk of the stories--would cost a minimum of $3 million a year, Fuson said, and personnel typically is only 20% of the overall costs of running a newspaper.
Fuson said that if Riordan wants to put out a quality product, he'll have to spend much more on his writers.
In Riordan's favor, the audience he has said he wants to reach--the high-income Westside neighborhoods of Brentwood, Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades--could be an advertiser's dream.
Arnold York is publisher of the free weekly Malibu Times, which has a circulation of 12,000 in this elite demographic. Is his paper profitable? Yes, he said. Very profitable? No.
"If I didn't already own a Malibu home, I sure couldn't buy one on what I make here," York said.
Riordan should rethink his strategy, said Pluria Marshall, publisher of another local weekly, the Wave, and the three Independent weeklies owned by Equal Access Media Inc., a chain of primarily African American papers and radio stations. He never starts a newspaper from scratch.
"It's a whole lot easier to clean up a bad image than create a new one," he said.
A weekly paper has the greatest chance of survival, Bellows and several others in the media industry said.
"Dailies lose money every day. With weeklies, all of the risks are reduced," newspaper analyst Morton said. "Send it directly to 200,000 of the people in the highest economic demographic in your area. Then sell that audience to advertisers.... With enough hubris, determination and rich friends, he has a shot."
"Alternative papers work because of the escort and masseuse ads
Riordan said his paper will "show all of the wonderful things about Los Angeles, the treasures."
"The missing link in Los Angeles is no one is treating L.A. fairly. We're the cultural center of the whole world, the capital of the Pacific Rim," he said. "I'm not a booster the way Harry Chandler [one of the early publishers of the Los Angeles Times] was. I'm not trying to sell house lots. I want tough reporting."