Sue Laris puts Downtown News up for sale after 44 years

dtnews-gary-leonard.jpgPhoto by Gary Leonard.

Sue Laris started the Downtown News long before there was any kind of revival happening in the central core of Los Angeles — in 1972. On Friday, she will announce that the weekly paper where she is editor and publisher is being put up for sale.

"I co-founded this paper when I was 29, and now I’m 73. Sounds like forever, doesn’t it, although it feels like 15 minutes," Laris writes in a column posted on the Downtown News website. "It has been an extraordinary and fulfilling run, but I am no longer the right person to lead this business. I got old here. The town did not."

The Downtown News has chronicled every phase of the downtown renaissance, including the four or five false starts that didn't take for whatever reasons. During the boom of the past decade, the Downtown News has essentially been the bible of all that's happening, from the adaptive reuse of neglected buildings from LA's past to new developments, restaurants and neighborhoods.

No asking price was mentioned in the paper's story on itself. The
Downtown News is reportedly profitable, with this year looking better than last year. No staffing changes are expected during the search for a buyer.

It has not always been easy trying to exist as a free giveaway weekly in downtown. In 2012 Laris asked readers to make voluntary $5 monthly payments to help make up for lost ad dollars. That same year, the paper's 40th, she recalled what it was like starting a paper downtown with her then-husband, Jim Laris.

He was a bored budget analyst with the Army Corps of Engineers and I was a high school teacher of English and French, teaching part-time and staying home part-time to care for our 2-year-old. There was not enough money coming in, and we decided to create a newspaper for Downtown L.A., where there didn't seem to be one.

I had the most flexible schedule, so it fell mostly to me to figure out how to do it. I researched equipment, printers, format, distribution options, news sources, how to finance it -- anything that had to be done. He worked hard on it during the weekends.


There was no marketing budget. We had started the paper on $1,400 of borrowed money on a new credit card. The weekend before the launch my former husband and I rented a van and placed 40 news racks we had constructed ourselves out of plywood and angle iron. We painted the boxes bright yellow and put our first logo on the front. We just plopped the racks down wherever we thought there would be foot traffic. On that Monday night he and I distributed the papers into those racks. We had no idea if anyone would pick them up.

In the column that will appear in the next print issue, Laris says that back in 1972, "Downtown was mostly dead, except for the Civic Center. Slowly at first and now with powerful swiftness it has come alive in a big way. The momentum is clear."

Things to know about Downtown News: It prints 40,000 papers a week and distributes them in 795 stops in 16 micro neighborhoods. It has a vibrant website, a daily email newsletter, a weekend Don’t Miss newsletter, an engaged Facebook fan base, and a pair of high-end annual magazines (the Downtown Guide and the Restaurant Guide).


One of the reasons Downtown is special among community newspapers is because it is located in the heart of Los Angeles, a world city that leads the planet in many ways. And Downtown News has a voice here.

We have tried to bring that voice — and more than a touch of humanity — to this remarkable place. This publication has helped strengthen other entrepreneurs and supported civic ventures, and we’ve given an ear, a hand and plenty of ink to those who needed it. We’ve also been unflinching toward the people and institutions that have fallen short. All of that has contributed to what Downtown is today. I couldn’t have asked for a more soul-nurturing way to live.

I love Los Angeles, and I will take joy from what a new owner can bring to the paper and to Downtown. I am looking forward to seeing that next amazing step.

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