The Future of the “New” Montecito Journal

By Bob Hazard   |   December 26, 2019

The most frequent community question I am asked is, “What is the future of the Montecito Journal under its new ownership?” As an investor in the “new” Montecito Journal Media Group, along with 30 other locals and families, my answer requires an analysis of the value of a local newspaper as well as a deeper understanding of the Journal’s unique commitment to the Montecito community.

Does Print Journalism Have a Future?

There isn’t an owner, a publisher, an editor, or a reporter who hasn’t read reports that print newspaper journalism is dying. The argument goes that the printed newspaper will become obsolete as the younger generation goes digital. If interested in the news, or what’s going on around town, those under-40 youngsters will turn to affordable and accessible mobile devices with instant Google search capability.

We are told that while an estimated 70% of older Americans read a daily newspaper, fewer than 20% of younger Americans do the same. Every time a printed newspaper reader dies, he or she is not being replaced by a new reader. As succeeding generations grow up using the Web and lose the habit of reading print, pundits predict that newspapers will not survive with a cost structure that is at least 50% higher than their nimbler and cheaper Internet competitors.

Conventional wisdom is that printing is expensive; distribution costs keep rising. Whichever global indicators are looked at – sales/circulation, revenues, number of active journalists, number of active newspapers, or ad revenues – it is hard to ignore that newspapers are experiencing a life-threatening situation. Since 1990, the press reports that nearly 65% of all newspaper jobs have been eliminated – more jobs lost than the 49% eliminated in the fishing industry; or the 54% of jobs lost in iron and steel mills; or the 61% of jobs gone in coal mining. More than one in five papers has closed over the past decade and a half.

Are Hometown Newspapers Headed for Extinction?

There are currently 7,071 newspapers (daily or weekly) in the United States according to Editor & Publisher. The 6,851 small-market newspapers with circulations less than 50,000 account for 97% of daily and weekly printed newspapers in the United States. They’re a silent majority, too often absent from discussions about the information needs of communities and the future of journalism. It’s time to include them in the conversation.

Local newspapers are at the heart of the conversations taking place in our community. Smaller community papers like the Montecito Journal have a different media profile from the mammoth dailies that dominate the print industry narrative. Free weekly papers reach potential readers not by home delivery but by residents and visitors who pick up a copy, either on a regular basis or when the front page catches their eye at a community newsstand.

Importance of a Local Paper with Local Ownership

Weekly journals are attractive to consolidators who gobble them up to gain customer counts to strengthen the sale of larger publications by making them more attractive to prospective buyers. To their eternal credit, the Buckley family routinely turned down outside offers, even when the opportunity represented a more lucrative financial benefit to themselves.

The Buckley family firmly believed that by focusing the Journal solely on this community, they could demonstrate a clear and distinctive niche. Through boom times and recessions, they continued to believe that truly local publications will remain viable as the only source of substantive original reporting and retain the advantages of local display advertising, especially in the local residential real estate market.

Holding Government Accountable

In 1787 Thomas Jefferson was quoted as saying: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

What Jefferson meant was that first and foremost, newspapers – both large and small – perform an important watchdog function: Their primary responsibility is to act as the public’s eyes and ears against those in power. Their core responsibility is to hold local government accountable by equipping citizens with the relevant information to make informed choices. This watchdog role has been my personal passion for the last 17 years.

The usefulness of the press goes much wider than investigating abuses or even spreading general news; it lies in holding governments to account – trying them in the court of public opinion.

Investing in People, Not Physical Assets

Like most of my fellow investors, my faith in the Montecito Journal lies in the character, integrity, and skill sets of the two principal shareholders, Gwyn Lurie as Chief Executive Officer and Editor-in-Chief and Tim Buckley as Chief Operating Officer and Publisher.

Gwyn Lurie is a life-long writer who began her distinguished career as a journalist for ABC Network News in NYC. While still young, she has spent more than two decades as a screenwriter, having written for almost every major motion picture studio. She is currently completing her first novel and has been a frequent contributor to the Montecito Journal over the years.

She has been an active member of the Montecito community since moving here full-time with her husband, Les Firestein, and two daughters in 2009. She recently completed two terms as an elected member of the Montecito Union School Board, which she chaired for five years, and is a founding board member of The Partnership for Resilient Communities – a public-private partnership created after the 1/9 debris flow to help keep Montecito safe from future such disasters. She also co-chairs the Santa Barbara Human Rights Watch Committee.

Gwyn received her BA at UCLA where she served as Student Body President and was awarded a Truman Scholarship. She later attended graduate school at Oxford University where she studied international affairs as a Newton Tatum Scholar.

Timothy Lennon Buckley, co-owner, editor, and publisher, and founder of both the Montecito Journal Magazine glossy edition and the Santa Barbara Sentinel, is one of the smartest, most talented and business-savvy young executives I have ever met. For the past 12 years he has captained the Montecito Journal team on behalf of his father, Jim Buckley. Tim began his publishing career by delivering papers on his bicycle; today, he publishes two papers and one magazine. Under Tim’s remarkable 14 years of leadership, the Journal has seen year over year growth for nearly a decade.

I have watched Gwyn and Tim for a long time, studying their words, but more importantly, admiring their deeds. Their skill sets are complementary. Their combined enthusiasm is contagious; their individual accomplishments are awesome. I am only investing limited dollars; they are investing their lives and careers.

The depth of young talent at the Journal goes much deeper. Trent Watanabe, director of production, hasn’t missed a deadline in 14-years. Kelly Mahan-Herrick knows the Montecito community, its segments, its marketplaces and its centers of influence better than anyone on the planet. Accurately and efficiently, she turns her reservoir of community understanding into memorable commentary in her “Village Beat” column.

Richard Mineards mixes his understated British humor with celebrity sightings in his delightful, local “Montecito Miscellany.” Lynda Millner, Ashleigh Brilliant, and Hattie Beresford complement Richard’s wit and wisdom on the history and lifestyle scenes. A host of other talented writers complete the mosaic of the Montecito Journal on a weekly basis.

Planning for a Digital Future

The Montecito Journal has carefully chronicled the history of Montecito for the past 25 years. Once printed, that content is not available for search. Current reporters and authors are forced to go the folders of newspaper clippings, mainly from David Myrick, stored at the Montecito Historical Foundation Library, for the story of Montecito. Old clippings from the Montecito Journal comprise the bulk of David Myrick’s files. There is no digital record of our community history and no search engine capability.

My hope is that the new ownership of the Journal will make plans to digitize Montecito’s past and future as recorded in 25 years of Montecito Journal reporting so that future community scholars will have access to searchable digital record of the issues our community faced and the solutions we chose.

The Montecito Journal Media Group: Connectivity to the Global Community

The Montecito Journal Media Group has told our community that it believes in a new commitment to both print and digital media. Digital allows up-to-the-minute reports that a weekly newspaper cannot provide. Print coverage is limited by physical space, color and page counts. Digital space is unlimited, allowing for broader coverage and calendars of events that are important to the community and need to be updated on a daily basis.

The Internet offers another huge, unique advantage – free global distribution. To create a virtual community of people, far and wide, who love Montecito as a special place in their hearts, represents a new and difficult challenge.

The Montecito Journal includes both a free weekly newspaper and a lifestyle magazine built on the concept that “Montecito is more than a place; it is a way of being.” The task is to create a new media company that can deliver that message on three different platforms by a younger generation of media savvy experts through (1) traditional print, (2) new digital access, and (3) live events that further add to the Montecito lifestyle. The time is now to begin turning this innovative Lurie-Buckley business plan into a new community reality.


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