Hello, all my fellow 10 million residents of Los Angeles County. We can collectively own the most powerful local institution – the Los Angeles Times – by investing only $50 each. The simple math is $50 multiplied by 10 million equals $500 million, a conservative estimate of the newspaper’s value. It is within our reach. The competition to purchase the paper should be open to everyone, not just billionaires!
How can you turn down this deal? Imagine: Someone will deliver the enterprise’s core product on your doorstep every morning. You will be able to see your return on investment every day. And since you are a part owner, you will have a say, a voice, in determining how that daily product can be updated and refined to better serve you – the reader, customer and equity investor.
Individually, we each gain power, wealth and access. We will get to joyfully handle our broadsheet-size stock certificates each day and also become more enlightened by reading its high-quality content. As a community, we also gain, since 10 million owners – each with one ownership and voting share – ensures proportional representation. Under this proposal, all the factions in our diverse county have an equal say. Special interests cannot sway the coverage. What can be more democratic than that?
I don’t mean to say that the billionaires should be shut out of the action. These wealthy men proudly publicize their charitable donations and dual bottom-line investments, dubbing themselves “social entrepreneurs” and “venture philanthropists.” Time to take them up on their word because the county has millions of lower-income individuals who cannot afford the $50. Approximately 2 million people – 20 percent of all county residents – are below the poverty line. Therefore, a $100 million subsidy is required.
But no problem. Each of, say, four billionaires who might compete for the newspaper could afford $25 million each. Or if you think this is unfair to them, we can pull in a wider pool of wealthy people to contribute. In Los Angeles, there are at least 50 individuals worth at least $650 million, and 10 of them have a net worth of more than $3 billion, so any one of them could step forward. If any one of them did, he would be an instant hero and leave a legacy of unmatched philanthropy.
By making such a sincere social investment, without gaining additional ownership and voting rights, these megarich citizens can demonstrate beyond any doubt their selfless civic virtue. Their actions would also be consistent with statements of interested bidders, who have stressed the importance of local ownership and their concern for the overall community.
I wrote up a similar proposal more than six years ago and submitted it to the Times, but an editor transformed the op-ed into more of a parody. I choose to write again now to more fully articulate a serious proposal and offer it up as an option, as the Times ownership issue is topical and of supreme importance to the business community and all other communities in the county.
Working out details
I know there are many details that need to be worked out. Aside from subsidizing the very poor, many of those just above the poverty line might need some type of installment payment plan so that their one-time investment – $50 per person or $200 for a family of four – can be spread out over time. While my proposal gives every resident the option of owning a share in the newspaper, some might decline the opportunity, requiring us to adjust the financial incentives and subsidies, assumptions and calculations.
But think of the upside. The paper’s daily circulation will likely increase significantly from its current 600,000, since we can reasonably assume that many of the other 9 million owners would start subscribing and delight in handling their broadsheet stock certificate each day.
Proportional ownership might also allow non-English-speaking factions to pressure management to offer the newspaper in multiple-language editions, as a high proportion of county residents do not regularly access the paper because they are not conversant in English or are simply more comfortable reading non-English publications.
Such multiple-language editions with the same content are customer sensitive and prudent marketing, which can greatly boost the paper’s total paid circulation. That means more sales revenue, a real positive that we can have financial analysts quantify.
I am just an average resident drafting this ownership proposal on my kitchen table. We can call in the financial advisers from Goldman Sachs and other esteemed places to find creative ways to make this dual bottom-line deal pencil out, financially and socially.
So my fellow residents, let’s make it happen. The Times should be owned by all 10 million of us. This collective ownership is the best way to ensure that we create and maintain a quality information source with minimal bias. It will generate greater community engagement and empowerment. By investing jointly, we can genuinely make the Times the largest community-owned newspaper in the world.
Calvin Naito is a strategic communications professional in Los Angeles and a longtime reader of the Los Angeles Times.
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