A Promise of Nonprofit News in L.A.

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February 16, 2011; Source: Los Angeles Times | Venture capitalist and former newspaper executive Tom Unterman has been exploring the formation of a Los Angeles-based nonprofit web-only news organization that would focus on public policy issues, according to the Los Angeles Times.

"A good, smart, nonprofit journalism effort could be a very nice complementary piece to the media picture here in L.A.," said Unterman, former chief financial officer for Times Mirror Co., which published the Los Angeles Times before it was bought by the Tribune Co. in 2000. "Particularly if it focused on investigative work and filled a gap in the kind of stories that for-profit media can't persistently fill now because of changes in the economics of the news business."

Unterman, also the founder of the Santa Monica-based investment firm Rustic Canyon Partners, says first though, he’ll need to raise $10 million to get beyond the three-year startup phase. Los Angeles seems like a natural market to add to the growing legions of cities across the country that are currently experimenting with nonprofit news outlets like those that have popped up in San Diego, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Austin, and Chicago.

The enormous county bureaucracy in Los Angeles is larger than that of most states, says Los Angeles Times media columnist, James Rainey. “It oversees beaches, health clinics, welfare offices, children's foster homes and much more. Yet the whole megillah routinely gets covered by just two or three reporters.” Two or three reporters cannot routinely produce in-depth investigative work that holds public officials accountable.

I’m rooting for the venture capitalist to raise the $10 million. Journalists want information to flow freely. For that to happen more good, quality journalism needs to fill the void the current decimated newsrooms have left behind.—Aaron Lester