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Absolutely Sincere


Time to get moving...blogdowntown's Eric Richardson


Eric Richardson takes blogdowntown to print, bigtime

It's hard to imagine getting in touch with a public relations firm to reach editors like Jerry Sullivan, Drex Heikes or Deborah Vankin. But the best way to get through to Eric Richardson these days is through his pr guy.

"I think what we're doing is really interesting," Richardson, editor and publisher of blogdowntown Weekly, says. "I'm doing a million things right now. The pr firm is not that big a deal."

Nor do you find Richardson in the kind of offices you usually encounter when a publicist sets things up. In a spartan dead-zone space up a too-steep staircase above a print shop's composing room in downtown's old Portsmouth Hotel--now a mixed-use apartment building with security cameras--Richardson sits contently with an industrial relic of a desk, a Powerbook, cabinets in a corner, and no frills at all.

"Yeah. This is it. It's temporary," he says.

For five-and-a-half years, Richardson's labor of love blogdowntown has fairly run his life. Richardson and his wife, a teacher at an LA Green Dot charter school, recently returned from a vacation in London with fresh ideas for his coming venture. Now she's asked to indulge a little more as Richardson, still only 27, prepares for the ride of his life, entering the cutthroat and high-stakes world of print journalism. His startup paper, called blogdowntown Weekly arrives downtown August 4.

blogdowntown as a website has achieved a sturdy critical mass of readers, but it isn't known for rocking too many boats downtown. In the print world, however, blogdowntown Weekly will compete with some weeklies such as Brand X, Downtown News, L.A. Weekly that often offer sharp critiques of city government, commercial enterprises, and even on occasion each other.

"We've thought a lot about this," Richardson says. "We're mostly calendar and lifestyle, but of course there's news and opinion. I've always tried to open a forum for discussion and then let people decide. In print, there are no follow-up discussion in blog comments. We're going to have to take harder editorial lines. We will be a bit more opinionated."

Planning's impact on housing and especially affordable housing is a leading issue downtown, and Richardson doesn't part company from downtown Councilmembers Jan Perry and Jose Huizar on these issues very much. "You know, it's so hard for developers to build anything, you really need some subsidies, otherwise you're just going to get a bunch of luxury buildings," he says. But he also thinks that local government has devoted too much time to rehabilitating Skid Row.

It's noted that the venture's initial press release featured a quote from Carol Schatz, whose Central City Association is a de facto chamber of commerce for the Central City, even above a quote from the editor himself. Do they have a special relationship?

"Uh, no. I mean, I've known her for four or five years," Richardson says. "We agree sometimes and we disagree too. She doesn't hesitate to tell me when she disagrees with something. Often I come down on their [the CCA's] side but certainly not always."

Richardson negotiated some "key advertising" deals in the runup to his launch, including with LA Live's residential side and the projects Regal Cinemas, but denies the new venture has any backers per se. He says he did not take on either backers or a loan out to launch the business at this level: three staffers on current payroll and one anticipated, and a launch of 25,000, guaranteeing a minimum of 16 pages a week.

25,000? It's noted that downtown's Garment & Citizen launched with 3,000 and never printed more than 10,000 in ten years.

"You have to come in big enough to give value to the advertising," he says.

Lately the single greatest issue that has occupied Richardson's mind, however, is how to distribute without either newsracks or a distributor on board. He began a conversation with CD4 candidate Stephen Box on Facebook (both are big on social media) exploring the possibility of distributing blogdowntown Weekly by bicycle. A week later, he's still doing the math and...

Wait. Are you sincere about this, Eric?

"Oh, we're absolutely sincere," he says enthusiastically. He offers a rundown on the bikes ('big Dutch-style bikes") and talks about five sub-distribution points. He is sincere. He has to be, because without newsstands he's obliged to drop issues at merchants during office and store hours.

It's obvious that Richardson is a blog-oriented guy, but he professes to enjoy the print-side efforts of Cara Di Massi and David Zahniser. On the blog side, he says he has a great online relationship with Zach Behrens and likes what he's done at LAist.

What about Tony Pierce?

"When Tony was at LAist, it would be all TV and bands," Richardson laughs. "I mean, he was good at getting traffic to the site, but it wasn't what I connected to."