Tom Unterman, the venture capitalist and former chief financial officer of Times Mirror who engineered the company's 2000 sale to Tribune, has been having discussions around town about starting a non-profit journalism venture that would partner with the L.A. Times on investigative and other projects. Jim Newton, the Times columnist who had been editor of the editorial pages, has been joining Unterman in some of those talks. LAT media columnist James Rainey talks to them both:
Unterman has been quietly discussing the idea with a handful of community leaders around Los Angeles on and off for at least a year, with his deliberations picking up momentum of late. He still doesn't have a formal plan or the partners he would seek to launch the site, but told me he expects to decide this spring whether to go ahead....
While "very hopeful" about making the site a reality, the founder of the Santa Monica-based investment firm Rustic Canyon Partners said the key would be coming up with a plan to sustain such a venture beyond the startup phase — which he estimated would last three years and cost $10 million.
Besides The Times, other potential partner organizations could emerge. Initial feelers were extended to USC's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism about a year ago. (In San Francisco, the Bay Citizen nonprofit news site has teamed with the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley.)
The New York Times has instigated partnerships with the Bay Citizen and with the Texas Tribune, a nonprofit news site in Austin. The New York paper has been looking for nonprofit partners to help beef up its coverage of Los Angeles.
Rainey was too nice to mention this, I guess, but Unterman also engineered the creative tax avoidance tactic that got the Tribune in some trouble after the sale. He has been a close adviser to the Chandler family, including in talks over possible sale of the Times to Eli Broad or others. And Unterman was chair of the MOCA board of trustees during the museum's publicized financial struggles a couple of years ago.
Noted: Former Times executive Jeffrey Klein tweets: "I'm supportive and helping out. Tom Unterman mulls launching a nonprofit news website for L.A."