CITYWIDE — Damien Newton, editor of L.A. Streetsblog, and Gary Kavanagh, Santa Monica columnist for the nonprofit, plan to launch a new news website for the city by the sea this month.
The duo is collecting funds through a Kickstarter campaign for Santa Monica Next, a nonprofit website that aims to provide in-depth coverage on issues in Santa Monica, mainly those focusing on environmental sustainability and those impacting future quality of life.
They have already raised $825 of their $1,650 goal with 17 days to go as of publication. Prominent Santa Monica donors include Planning Commissioner Richard McKinnon, former Mayor Judy Abdo and local blogger Frank Gruber. The Santa Monica Bike Center, a sponsor of L.A. Streetsblog, has signed on to be the site’s first advertising sponsor, though they will not dictate content, said the center’s general manager Ron Durgin.
Santa Monica Next will still be related to L.A. Streetsblog in terms of management and using the same online publisher, but their affiliation will be as close as that between L.A. Streetsblog and Streetsblog Chicago — similar name, separate content.
While L.A. Streetsblog has already been covering cities outside of Los Angeles, such as Santa Monica, both Newton and Kavanagh wanted to create a separate entity where they could increase coverage without a cluttered mess on one overarching site.
Though L.A. Streetsblog mainly concerns itself with news on alternative forms of transportation, especially biking, Kavanagh hopes Santa Monica Next can expand coverage to decisions that will affect the future of Santa Monica — such as sustainability plans, open spaces and land use, etc. — as well as better highlight and give voice to the people actively playing a role in implementing projects.
“There’s a lot of momentum, especially in Santa Monica, on a number of these fronts,” Kavanagh said.
Garrett Wong, project support assistant at the Office of Sustainability and the Environment, corroborated Santa Monica’s long history of leadership in forward-focused environmental efforts, discussing the sustainability plan adopted in 1994 that has served as the guiding principle for various citywide projects.
Wong added that while city departments and various other news outlets already work to inform residents on such efforts, there may be some people who are still unable to access the news.
“It definitely doesn’t hurt to have another channel,” Wong said.
In addition to the Santa Monica Daily Press, others covering Santa Monica include surfsantamonica.com, patch.com, Santa Monica Mirror, the Santa Monica Dispatch, the Santa Monica Star, Santa Monica Observer and the Argonaut, as well as the Los Angeles Times.
Beyond a greater spreading of news, some argue that having yet another news outlet in Santa Monica can improve upon in-depth analytical coverage of the sustainability movement.
Gruber, a former long-time columnist with the Santa Monica Lookout, said that news coverage in Santa Monica tends to understandably focus on the play-by-play of meetings, rather than the analysis of underlying issues and their long-term impact. His familiarity with Newton and Kavanagh’s writing leads him to think Santa Monica Next may fill this gap.
“These guys bring a level of analysis that is good to have on the scene,” Gruber said.
Even though Santa Monica Next hopes to branch out further than bike coverage, Durgin added that Newton and Kavanagh bring a greater understanding of the bike community’s real concerns with their work on L.A. Streetsblog.
“Traditional press don’t get bikes as much,” Durgin said.
Improved coverage is one of the natural consumer benefits of increased news outlet competition, said Gabriel Kahn, professor of professional practice at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. On the flip side, more competition can create problems for these outlets financially with more sources vying for the same advertisers.
For Abdo and Gruber the benefits may outweigh the costs, arguing there is always room for more fresh dialogue on several Santa Monica issues.
“I could not imagine a situation where there were too many media outlets,” Gruber said.
Kahn explained that the Internet has made it easier than ever before to enter the news industry with independent online-only outlets like Santa Monica Next by-passing the costs of ink, print and delivery.
“Now you can sit in your underwear in your living room and run a blog,” Kahn said.
He did stipulate, however, that while anyone can start a news site, it’s another matter to consistently update it with information gathered by a team of reporters that conducted interviews to write their stories.
For now Kavanagh will be the main writer on Santa Monica Next with Newton as the editor. They both hope to attract guest contributors as well.
Kavanagh noted that Santa Monica houses a strong community of activists, each sounding off as individual voices. Given that L.A. Streetsblog has been an important springboard of Los Angeles’ activist community, he hopes Santa Monica Next will be able to centralize all local voices into one convenient digital location.
While the duo of Newton and Kavanagh already has funding set aside for the launching — in addition to the funds they are collecting through Kickstarter — they will also host a rooftop fundraiser event for both the new project and L.A. Streetsblog on Sept. 22. The exact location has not yet been determined.