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According to a story that ran yesterday in the Daily Pilot, Tom Johnson, who published the Newport Beach Independent and Laguna Beach Independent since last June, has quit the job. Allan Simon, a businessman who owns both papers, refused to comment for the Pilot story except to say, "It's all too complicated." But Johnson told the Pilot he resigned because he felt the paper's two-tiered advertising policy wasn't ethical.
"There was some questionable handling of ad rates, offering one company a low rate and another a high rate," he claimed. "I have a problem with that, ethically. If it blows up, it's my reputation."
Johnson had previously been publisher of the Daily Pilot for years. He arrived in the wake of the paper's 1993 purchase by the LA Times and was around two yeas later, when Matt Coker penned an obituary of Richard Nixon that contained the memorable line "Ding dong, Dick is dead." After readers began haranguing the paper with complaints and local businesses threatened to yank their ads, then-editor (and now former Times religion writer) William Lobdell killed Coker's column, a decision Johnson presumably supported, although higher-ups at the Times could have been responsible.
Johnson told the Pilot he will continue to work with Lobdell (who still writes a column for the Pilot) and Society Editor Lynn Selich on "their shared company, Category 5 Communications." He also mentioned that he has an "invention coming out next month," so it sounds like the timing of Johnson's departure isn't too bad.