Brian Calle, the new publisher of The Laker/Lutz News, sat down with B.C. Manion, editor of the newspaper, to talk about the path that led him into newspaper ownership — and why he thinks print publications play an important role in today’s media landscape.
Editor’s note: The questions and the answers, presented here, have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Where did you grow up? Can you tell us a little bit about your childhood?
I was born in L.A. County, in Whittier, and shortly thereafter moved to the Inland Empire of California, to a city called Chino.
I was raised by a single mom — me and my sister, Breanna.
My sister and I are super close, 14-, 15-months apart — as opposite as they come, but super close.
My sister, my mom and I also had a really tight relationship with my grandmother and my grandfather.
My grandmother was a very strong, fiery, full-blooded Italian, matriarch of the family.
My mom was struggling to raise two kids. She was on welfare and food stamps at one point, and then later, working three jobs. She studied while she worked and became a gemologist, building a small jewelry business.
My grandmother’s parents emigrated from Italy and she was born in Rome, New York, and then made her way to California. She only flew once in her life and that was back to Rome for her father’s funeral.
My grandfather was a bakery superintendent.
In my family, no one went to college. You graduated high school and then went to work with your hands.
I remember telling my grandmother and grandfather that I was going to work with my brains.
My grandmother loved it. My grandfather was not too fond of that conversation.
How did you discover your interest in journalism?
You know, that started when I was really young. I remember watching the presidential debates. I was more fascinated with the moderators and the journalists asking the questions than I was with the candidates themselves.
When he was studying the presidency of Richard Nixon, he recalls being particularly interested in Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post investigative reporters who did much of the original reporting on the Watergate scandal that led to Nixon’s resignation.
I don’t think it clicked for me at the time, that I would ever be a journalist. I actually always thought that I would be an actor.
I did theater growing up, and it didn’t come until later that I realized that I really loved journalism and that I could get the same kind of feeling, or energy, that I got from performing. That was especially true when I had my radio show and television show.
You’re still performing, but you’re performing in a different way.
The thing I learned that I loved most is that I could take really complex, difficult topics and make them entertaining and interesting to people.
I read that you worked for Sally Ride, the first American female sent into space. Tell us about that.
My first job out of college was working for Sally Ride Science. My best friend in high school — Whit — is Sally Ride’s nephew.
Sally was doing one of her first science festivals for girls at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). Her sister, “Bear” — Karen is her real name, but everybody calls her Bear — called me and said, ‘Hey, we’re doing the science festival for girls at UCLA. We need help. Can you come volunteer?’
He was happy to help, enjoyed the experience and volunteered to pitch in at other festivals. His efforts attracted Sally Ride’s attention.
After one of the festivals, Sally took me for a walk and said, ‘Hey, I’ve heard what you’ve been doing, I’d like you to come and work for me, full-time.’
I was in college. No one in my family had graduated college.
I was like, ‘I would love to do that, but I have to graduate college.’
She was like, ‘OK, can you consult?’
I didn’t know what the word consult was. Zero idea.
‘I was like, I don’t know what that means. But if you explain it to me, maybe.’
She was like: ‘It means I pay you a stipend to do a certain amount of work every month.’
Then she’s like: ‘Do you have classes on Friday?’
I was like: ‘No.’
Then, she’s like: ‘Do you have classes on the weekends?’
I said: ‘No.’
Sally Ride then asked him to come into the office on Fridays and to help at science festivals on the weekends. By the time he graduated from college, she offered him a full-time job as director of sales and marketing for Sally Ride Science.
Sally was a mentor to me. I learned so much from her. She was one of the most gracious and smartest people.
Sally would say, ‘Hey, can you do this? Can you do that? Can you write a press release. Can you write an editorial?’
And, I didn’t know what those things were — or I did know what they were, tangentially — but I’d never done it. So, I would Google: ‘How to write a press release.’
Have you had any turning points that presented an unexpected opportunity, or sent you in a surprising direction?
The decision that changed my life was taking the job at The Orange County Register. As an elder millennial, I never thought I would go work at a newspaper. I just never thought it.
It was around 2008-2009 and I was being recruited by the Orange County Register, and I said ‘No.’
I didn’t think that was my path.
Plus, everything I was reading at the time was about this newspaper going under, or that newspaper going under.
When approached by a friend from The Orange County Register about six months after the initial overture, he joined the staff. That led to a series of promotions. He became vice president at Freedom Communications, which owned The Orange County Register and Riverside Press-Enterprise. Freedom was acquired by Southern California News Group and he was appointed to oversee opinion editorial content for its 11 newspapers and websites. He also was the co-host of Fox 11’s “You Decide SoCal” television news broadcast and the host of the Catch-Up daily radio show on KABC.
During his career, his employers have gone through ownership changes, bankruptcy and other difficulties — which, he said, helped him develop a thicker skin to prepare for future challenges.
Flash forward to now. His company, Street Media LLC, owns the LA Weekly, the Irvine Weekly, and the Marina Times, all in California; The Village Voice, in New York; and, The Laker/Lutz News, in Florida.
Obviously, you’re optimistic about print’s role in today’s media landscape. When print is declining in so many places, what gives you faith in print’s future?
From a journalism perspective, a lot of people like the disconnecting — of putting their phone down — and being able to open a print product and not have any kind of distraction in the presentation. There’s something special about that experience.
From an advertiser perspective, advertisers are starting to look at newspapers more like billboards, and they’re putting that into their action plan for their budgets.
Historically, we would use the newspaper and we put in a coupon and we would track the coupon. A lot of that has moved to digital.
But we need awareness because if we don’t have a billboard and tell people here’s the logo and here’s where we are, then they’re never going to convert to a final sale.
So, I think marketers are starting to realize that ‘Oh, print is our own billboard.’ And, in many cases, it gets read more than the billboard, because it gets passed around.
I think print is part of the broader toolkit. It would be foolhardy not to do digital. All forms of digital — from obviously the typical website, but engagement on social media, too.
That’s something that’s cool about The Laker. There’s a young crew who is obviously passionate about social media, taking the stories and sharing them on the different platforms.
You have to tell the stories, where the eyeballs are. Some eyeballs are on print, some are on social, some are on the Web, and who knows what’s next.
The Laker/Lutz News is your most recent acquisition. Why invest here?
In addition to having a solid position in a dynamic market, The Laker/Lutz News has some specific strengths.
The print is so well-done, so well-supported by the community, and the team here is so dedicated and committed to it. I think that’s why it’s in the position that it’s in.
It’s in a rare position, compared to a lot of community papers, sadly, throughout the country.
One of the things that I love about The Laker — which was kind of the sealing of the deal for me — is the neutrality of the content.
It truly is a journalism operation. It is by the book. You don’t infuse politics. You don’t have an agenda, and, you know, I hate to say it, but that’s becoming rare in our industry.
We can have our perspective and we can have our opinion pages, that’s fine. But we can’t have a society where 50% operates on one set of facts and 50% operates on another set of facts.
Revised Nov. 25, 2021