Tuesday, September 09, 2008

'Otis' says LA launch delayed until January

We're almost afraid to pass this information along because it might be a hoax. So don't make any life-changing decisions based on what you're about to read.

As we mentioned below, we e-mailed the person who posted a Craigslist ad seeking staffers for a new free daily in Los Angeles. Since then, we've been carrying on an e-mail conversation with a person using the name of the late LA Times publisher Otis Chandler (pictured).

Otis tells us that the new paper has signed a distribution deal, but that the launch has been delayed from November to January.

"The launch week editions are set to be 64 pages each split into three sections all on 34# hi-brite paper all in four color process," Otis writes.

According to the paper's Web site, the initial circulation will be between 200,000 and 350,000, Monday-Friday, with no Saturday edition. But there will be a Sunday edition which will be available nationally.

Otis says that the new paper is negotiating to buy a "Los Angeles-based publication that will become the cornerstone of the new paper ... so in effect our original plans of a start-up have morphed into a re-launch." Otis says the acquisition target isn't a daily.

He says they're buying the publication for its advertising base.

Q: Distributing throughout LA seems impossible or at least a huge headache. Are you focusing on some areas more than others? If so, which ones?

Otis: The actual city limits are our geographic focus. We've secured distribution at 0.03 per copy.

Q: Will this look like RedEye Chicago? tbt* Tampa Bay? amNewYork? Metro?

Otis: We won't look like anything you've seen before in a daily newspaper.

Q: Will you have a general news focus, or will you cover more closely the entertainment industry? The legal industry? Some other industry?

Otis: Hard news mainly in the form of columns, heavy entertainment coverage.

One more thing -- Otis says Phil Anschutz, the billionaire owner of the Examiner chain, isn't involved in this start-up.

Again, we have no idea whether this information is accurate. This may just be a scam. Choosing Otis Chandler's name is, of course, significant. Chandler, publisher from 1960 to 1980, built the LA Times into one of the nation's great newspapers. David Halberstam, in his 1979 book "The Powers That Be," wrote: "No publisher in America improved a paper so quickly on so grand a scale, took a paper that was marginal in qualities and brought it to excellence as Otis Chandler did."

In the 1980s, Chandler turned the paper and its parent company, Times Mirror, over to people outside his family, a decision he would regret. The New York Times wrote in Chandler's obituary: "In retirement, Mr. Chandler lashed out at the Times's managers during a 1999 scandal that erupted over revelations that they had secretly entered a deal to devote an edition of the newspaper's Sunday magazine to the Staples Center, a new indoor sports stadium in Los Angeles, in exchange for hefty ad revenues. In a public letter to Times employees, Mr. Chandler warned that management's 'unbelievably stupid and unprofessional' behavior risked destroying the newspaper's reputation as one of the giants of American journalism."

Whether this Otis Chandler exists is a mystery that probably won't be cleared up until January, at the earliest. As for the idea of starting a free daily in L.A., given the success of free dailies like amNewYork and Chicago's RedEye, why not?