Published in the November 26, 2008 edition of the Ventura County Star
For 45 years, Port Hueneme has gone without a hometown newspaper.
Despite the fact that top publisher Gannett recently laid off 3,000 employees, the Los Angeles Times jettisoned its Washington bureau, and the 100 year-old print edition of the Christian Science Monitor has ceased to exist, Loran Lewis has made a most momentous decision---he’s bringing back the Hueneme Pilot.
The decline in traditional print media provides “even more reason that a community newspaper is needed,” Lewis wrote in a sample issue published on August 21 and mailed to 19,000 homes in Port Hueneme, Channel Islands Harbor, Silver Strand, Oxnard Shores, Hollywood Beach and Mandalay Beach.
Lewis has made this bank account-draining commitment at a time when “hold-in-your-hand, ink-on-your-fingertips” newspapers are facing a grim future. The much sought-after 18-to-34 demographic seems to be spurning the print product that older Americans know and love. Consequently advertisers are opting to fork over $20 for each 1,000 customers who click on a cyber-ad rather then scribbling out a four-figure check for a traditional by-the-inch block.
Since its official launch on September 18, the five fortnightly editions of the Hueneme Pilot have enjoyed a resoundingly positive reaction by readers who either found a copy at their front door or picked one up at 20 different locations throughout the circulation area.
So why would anybody in his right mind start a newspaper at this most inopportune time? Lewis, who holds a Ph.D. in journalism from Southern Illinois University and taught the subject for two decades, admits to being chased by a dream that simply won’t leave him alone.
Perhaps his vision of publishing a community newspaper was cemented by an early employment experience at the Tuscola (Illinois) Review now owned by News-Gazette Community Newspapers. Thirty-five years ago, the Tuscola Review was a little mom-and-pop weekly that served a town of a few thousand people in the heart of the Midwest.
Back in 1973, publisher and editor-in-chief Robert Hastings expected the 21-year old Lewis to paste up the paper, to cover sports and city council meetings, to “assist in distribution” (read: paperboy)---and, of course, to keep the Tuscola Review quarters dust-free and tidied-up---all skills he cheerfully employs at the Hueneme Pilot these days as well.
Why Port Hueneme? Lewis, who regularly visited friends in the area during the past decade, admits to having fallen in love with the un-crowded beaches, the shady, tree-lined streets, ocean breezes that keep the daytime thermometer hovering near 70 degrees, the picturesque promenade to the lighthouse, the duck-quacking choruses coming from Bubbling Springs Park, and Port Hueneme’s 22, 202 mostly-welcoming residents.
How welcoming are they? What other start-up in Ventura County can boast that its offices benefited from the painting talents of the local Kiwanis Club members? To a person, Hueneme Pilot readers seem to be tickled silly at the prospect of a community newspaper all their own.
After the original Hueneme Pilot shuttered its doors in 1963, “an entire generation has grown into middle-age with little identity of its community,” observed Lewis. “It is the goal of the Hueneme Pilot to change that. We believe a newspaper is more than just a business. It is a community service.”
So what’s the verdict on the Pilot so far? Readers manage to find at least one homegrown story in each issue to talk about---whether it be development at Channel Islands Harbor, the need for a half-cent sales tax boost, the delivery of more sand on the beach, the diamond wedding ring rescued by city sewer workers or various and sundry issues raised during the course of the November 4 election.
Most folks I interviewed remarked that the Hueneme Pilot went above and beyond with respect to coverage of local city council, school board and Harbor District candidates---not only as a presence at every public forum but also by conducting multiple interviews of individual candidates.
So how is the Hueneme Pilot going to avoid the fate of its predecessor? It’s a shoestring operation right now---solely supported by advertising dollars. Yet more and more local businesses seem to be discovering that promoting their enterprises in the Pilot can prove both affordable and effective despite the downturn.
Furthermore, neither does the Pilot compelled to realize huge profits for stockholders nor does Lewis harbor elaborate plans for expansion. The publisher is only concerned with eking out a modest living in a locale that speaks to his heart.
When radio, after losing audiences and advertisers to television, returned to its original roots, it prospered. The same may prove true for newspapers as well.
After 45 years, the Hueneme Pilot is back. Hopefully---for good.