Local Investor Buys The Indy

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Firebrand Media, a local media company most notably known for Laguna Beach Magazine, agreed in principle to acquire the Laguna Beach Independent at a time of financial difficulty for the weekly newspaper.

By consolidating the paper’s operations with that of other titles created by Firebrand Media LLC, the Indy will enjoy more financial stability, continue under local ownership and have its content enriched with more resources, according to Allan Simon, Firebrand’s board chairman.

“Although I am relatively new to Laguna Beach, my desire to invest myself and my resources here reflects a commitment to maintaining the unique character of the city, while at the same time, making it a welcoming place for small businesses like The Independent, which serve the community,” Simon said.

“Times are tough for local newspapers that depend on local advertising. My goal in acquiring the Independent is to help it flourish by creating opportunities for local businesses that want to advertise in the newspaper as well as in Firebrand’s other publications, such as Laguna Beach magazine. Hopefully, through multi-channel marketing, local businesses can attract more customers and continue to provide services to Laguna Beach residents and guests. In this way, I hope that the Firebrand family of publications can serve the community not only by being an independent voice for Laguna Beach, but also by directly supporting local entrepreneurs.”

Simon, a former defense industry executive, relocated three years ago from San Diego to Laguna Beach, following the lead of his son, local architectural designer Ben Simon. The senior Simon also recently acquired Firebrand, a media group initially established by partners Ben Warner and Steve Zepezauer, founders of Laguna Beach Magazine. Since its first publication 18 months ago, the magazine has grown steadily in popularity and stature both locally and regionally. The founders just recently increased the frequency from four to six times a year.

In addition to Laguna Beach Magazine, Firebrand publishes numerous other specialty and custom publications including its most recent publication, the official 2009-10 Visitors Guide for Laguna Beach (produced in partnership with the Laguna Beach Visitors & Conference Bureau). Upcoming new launches include an in-room magazine for the St. Regis Resort, Monarch Beach; and an additional regional lifestyle title, Newport Beach Magazine.

The Indy’s founding publisher, Stu Saffer, as well as the paper’s largest shareholder, Mallory McCamant, will no longer be involved once the deal concludes, expected sometime next month. Others, however, including the paper’s present city editor, Andrea Adelson, its arts editor, Suzie Harrison, and advertising director, Christopher Castro, will stay on, providing continuity in producing the advertising and local content that readers expect.

“I’m a survivor,” said Saffer. “I don’t have many career choices, but I’ll find something to do.” He offered no comment about the acquisition, saying he wasn’t consulted.

In early 2002, after arranging the sale to the Los Angeles Times of the weekly Coastline News, now the Coastline Pilot, Saffer quit rather than work under circumstances he said were revised after the deal concluded. Residents urged him to start a competing paper, ultimately donating several thousand dollars in seed money.

“It wasn’t enough to get going,” he conceded, but nonetheless the first 10-page edition with a singularly local focus arrived in December 2002. A sister magazine, the monthly Laguna Life & People, was added in March 2004, but folded three years later.

“I wanted to create the sort of paper I’d like to see in my driveway,” Saffer said. The paper’s popularity among locals reflected Saffer’s welcome mat for submissions from erudite political pundits to parents tabulating Little League scores. Even so, the paper struggled financially from the beginning, and more so in recent months, according to McCamant, who invested in the paper beginning in 2006.

Assuming the deal is completed, Firebrand Media will acquire selected assets of LB Indy, Inc., the corporation that owns the Independent. Firebrand plans no immediate changes, but intends to invest in building on the paper’s strengths. “Firebrand Media has a wealth of experience and resources that we can draw upon to enhance the freshness and professionalism of the Independent, while still maintaining its local perspective and reputation for accurate and honest coverage of local news and events,” Zepezauer, Firebrand Media’s chief executive, said.

“Under our watch, I expect the Independent to be a welcoming place for constructive debate and discussion of topics of importance to Laguna Beach residents, businesses and guests,” Warner, Firebrand’s executive vice president, said.

 

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