Goodbye Tony D. ... and the Pilot, too?

Sad news about a really good guy, Tony Dodero: the former editor-in-chief of the Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot is being let go as the director of news and online for L.A. Times Community News publications, which include the Pilot, Huntington Beach Independent and Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot.

Following are Tony's letter to his staff and Bill Lobdell's take on the Pilot's demise. Lobdell, who recently left the Times where he wrote about religion, was the editor of the Pilot in the early '90s, when Dodero went from newsroom intern to staff writer and all-around mensch.

Tony's letter:

My friends and colleagues:

Tough news today. I learned that effective this week, as part of another round of layoffs at our parent company, the Los Angeles Times, I will no longer be employed at the Daily Pilot and Times Community News. An official announcement/news story will be appear in the newspaper on Wednesday.

It's obviously a difficult time in the newspaper business and I'm no special exception to the rule, despite what my mom says.

Seriously though, for those of you I've known and worked with for years, I wish you all well and hope our paths will cross down the road soon.

I look forward to taking a new direction in my life and judging by the economy, it looks like my timing is impeccable as ever.

The Daily Pilot will be in good hands with the newsroom leadership of Brady Rhoades. He's a solid editor and newsman, whom I consider to be a friend as much as I do a colleague.

Before leaving his contact information and instructions to reach him with "a lucrative job offer," Tony bids adieu with "Buon Fortuna!!"

Lobdell's reaction:

The Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot and its predecessors have served the community since 1907. It’s 101 years old, and I’m not sure the paper is going to see its 102nd birthday.

And that would be a tragedy because it didn’t have to happen. The lovable Pilot—whose journalistic efforts ranged from award-winning to cringe-producing (I know, I was editor of the paper for 10 years)—is a local treasure, providing Newport-Mesa residents with the last community daily newspaper in Orange County.

Since the mid-1990s, the Pilot has enjoyed sizable profits, thanks largely to Publisher Tom Johnson who invested enough time and volunteer hours into the community to become one of the leading citizens. (He also could sell ads like no one else I’d ever seen).

The Tribune Co., which owns the Pilot, at first took a hands-off approach to the Pilot. It earned the company a nice chunk of change each year and generated goodwill in the community, so why mess with success?

Then Sam Zell’s Zidiots took over and decided the problems at the Los Angeles Times—declining revenues, circulation, morale and workforce—weren’t enough. They needed to “fix” the Pilot.

Their meddling led to the departure this summer of Johnson, and that may have been the fatal blow to the paper. Big media companies whose executives spew nothing but nonsense memorized at business school can’t imagine the impact a local publisher has on his/her community newspaper. I’m told by several sources that the Pilot’s revenue is way down without Johnson at the helm—with no turnaround in sight. (Disclosure alert: I’ve been fortunate to partner with Johnson on several pending projects; the Pilot’s loss has been my gain.)

So faced with all these challenges, what did the Zidiots do Monday? They laid off Tony Dodero, an 18-year veteran of the Pilot, its only remaining institution memory, its last link to the community and its soul. I’m guessing his relatively large salary and ability to tell the truth made him expendable. (The other person laid off Monday was Lana Johnson, who headed the paper’s promotions and was also beloved in the community.) If anyone out there wants to hire a quality person who’s a wonderful writer and thinker, hard worker and decent human being, please get in touch with Dodero.

OK, so the Zidiots—who claim to be devoted to the Pilot—have taken out in recent months the three Holy Trinity of the Pilot: Johnson, Dodero and Lana Johnson. Left are a gallant if demoralized group which, I’m sorry to say, don’t stand much of a chance—against the new media landscape and their owners.

The big losers, of course, are the employees of the Pilot and the residents of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa. What was once a beloved community asset is now on life-support. I know leaders in the community have been meeting to see what they can do to save the Pilot.

The sad thing is, I don’t know if there are only options left. (William Lobdell)


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