Start the Presses: Looking back after five years

One day in late March 2009 I sat with my wife, Donna, at Club Tee Gee in Atwater Village, having a quiet drink. It was a Tuesday afternoon, my birthday, and the waning days of a fortunately brief spat of unemployment for the two of us.

April 1 (truly!) marked my first day in the editor's chair of Times Community News. The little chain at the time claimed four newspapers: the Glendale News-Press, Burbank Leader, La Cañada Valley Sun and Crescenta Valley Sun. It also had an essentially unusable website, no social media, and a print design stuck in 1982.

As I come up to my five-year anniversary, I thought it interesting to pop down memory lane for some of the changes, some for the better and some less so, that happened during that time period.

The first big thing that happened, and one that did not exactly endear me to residents in the northern reaches of our coverage area, was the closure of the Crescenta Valley Sun in July 2009.

I don't know if I've been so explicit about this before, so let me do it now: That was a mistake. The Crescenta Valley is markedly different, and logically needed its own dedicated coverage. We launched a Crescenta Valley zone of the News-Press last month in part to correct this error, a move that has shown us dividends in short order.

I'm hopeful that we can zone more editions, ones that feature people and news from specific neighborhoods — your neighborhood — and in doing so make people feel more connected. Though we all live in a city, we are far more connected to the people and things happening within a few miles of our front door.

That knowledge, obvious in hindsight, was hard won, made via more failures than successes. However, as it has been said, the only failure is not learning from your mistakes, and I'm a pretty decent student.

Despite the early missteps, I am proud of pulling the papers into the present day. The redesign of the papers and websites — moves that won more than two dozen awards — in late 2009 and mid-2010, respectively, boosted circulation and put web traffic through the roof.

The News-Press and Leader websites now reach more than 225,000 and 100,000 readers, respectively, each month with nearly a million page views between them. You'll note this approximates the populations of those cities, so I really don't expect them to bump up too much more. (Web stats, by the way, are notoriously squishy, but these come via Omniture, considered the gold-standard in this arena.)

This means our papers are probably better read now than in any point in their 100-plus year histories. Has this turned into better informed discourse, or a more engaged citizenry? Well, I didn't say we didn't have work to do…

The next two things that happened, both in 2011, were alternatively sweet and bittersweet. In mid-2011, we launched Marquee, an updated feature section that I believe gets the vibrancy and flavor of the area better than anything that came before. In its two-and-a-half years of existence, it has become the go-to guide for arts and entertainment, and I believe has made our publications far more well-rounded and useful.

Also that year, we launched the Pasadena Sun, the first new publication by Times Community News in nearly two decades. Alas, though the paper won several state, local and even a national award for its coverage, the business side couldn't support us, and it closed some 18 months later.

That hurt. I won't lie. It also hurt to leave our offices in Glendale in late 2012. Though the offices in the Los Angeles Times are very nice — c'mon down and see us some time — it still feels strange to be so far away.

Which leads me to the present day. Through the generosity of the YWCA and Glendale Healthy Kids, I have a local office once again, this one on Lexington Drive. I will be posting my hours in the coming days, so I hope to see many of you soon.

My goal now is the same as it was five years ago: to tell the news, to listen to the whole community — not just the powerful ones — and to make the papers the best, fairest and most indispensable sources of information in the area. There's always more to do, but I like the work.

Dan Evans is the editor. When he isn't icing down his wrist from the strain of patting himself on the back, he can be reached at (818) 637-3234 or Follow him on Twitter: @EditorDanEvans.

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