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Calif. Pulitzer Prize-winning paper becomes L3C

Posted: May 27, 2010 | Tags: L3C, Point Reyes Light

The Point Reyes Light, a Pulitzer Prize-winning weekly newspaper in the California Bay Area, has been sold to a group of journalists, educators and community leaders, according to an article in today's San Francisco Chronicle.

And, even given the paper's recent controversy over ownership, for me the most interesting aspect of the sale is that the Light will operate as a low-profit limited liability company, or an L3C.

The paper was sold to the Marin Media Institute, a newly formed nonprofit. Heading the editorial effort is well-respected investigative journalist, Mark Dowie, former publisher of Mother Jones magazine. Dowie, who is chairman of the editorial advisory committee for the ownership group, explains in the Chronicle story that the Light will operate like a regular business, deriving most of its revenue from advertising, but that the profits will be reinvested in what he calls "village journalism."

To my knowledge, this is the first news organization that has made the leap to the fairly new business model. I've written about the L3C business structure and whether it could be one answer for journalism's struggling business model.

The Point Reyes Light, which covers a bucolic region of West Marin dominated by dairy ranches and mind-blowing ocean views, faced community opposition after former Monterey County prosecutor, Robert Plotkin, bought the paper five years ago.

News of the sale came as a relief to locals who didn't like that Plotkin had been trying to take their quiet community paper and turn it into "the New York Times of the West."

Board members are counting on the initial donations from 75 people, including San Francisco media financier Warren Hellman who gave $5 million to the newly launched Bay Citizen, to carry them through the first two years.

In an article in the Marin Independent Journal, members of the board overseeing the Light said the Marin Media Institute will pursue grants, train interns and commission long-term investigative stories for the Light and KWMR, West Marin's community radio station.

Dowie is considered one of the earliest investigative reporters for Mother Jones magazine. In the 1970s he exposed how Ford Motor Company's Pinto car exploded on impact when it was hit from behind. Dowie's investigative reporting led Ford to recall more than 1 million Pinto cars.

In 1979 wih a circulation of only 2,750, The Point Reyes Light received the Pulitzer gold medal for Meritorious Public Service for its series of investigations and editorials about the Synanon cult. It is one of the few weekly newspapers to win a Pulitzer Prize. The paper uncovered that the cult was abusing its tax-exempt status and had turned to violence to silence critics.


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