Quick Take:

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR: In some ways, our local news start-up is revolutionary. In others, it’s a throwback to the days when editors screamed “stop the presses” and crafty reporters found ways to disable pay phones so competing journalists couldn’t use them.

Good day Santa Cruzans! We’re thrilled to announce that Lookout Santa Cruz is live — and a mission to transform local news in our home county, the state of California and beyond is underway.

I’m Executive Editor Chris Fusco, the former Chicago Sun-Times editor who drove across the country about a month ago to join news industry leader Ken Doctor in launching our digital-only, mobile-first, community-driven news organization. It’s in some ways, revolutionary. In others, it’s a throwback to the days when editors screamed “stop the presses” and crafty reporters found ways to disable payphones so competing journalists couldn’t use them.

I’ll elaborate on that in a bit.

Whether you’re a longtime Santa Cruz resident or a newcomer to town like me, I’m inviting you to peruse LookoutSantaCruz.com and tell me what you think by writing to chris@lookoutlocal.com. I’m also hoping you’ll sign up for our managing editor Tulsi Kamath’s weekday “Morning Lookout” newsletter. To send us news tips and update us on community events, email news@lookoutlocal.com.

On LookoutSantaCruz.com right now, you’ll find an exclusive interview with the county’s health officer that sheds light on virtually every aspect of the pandemic, from how it’s spreading to vaccine hopes to when life might get back to normal. There’s a comprehensive look at the potential for debris flows — effectively mudslides on steroids — in the Santa Cruz mountains this winter, and the first installment of “21 for ’21,” our profiles of 21 people who will shape Santa Cruz’s economic recovery in 2021. We also want journalism that moves people; to that end, journalist Amber Turpin — one of our food contributors — shares the personal story of her family’s 75-day odyssey of being evacuated from their Ben Lomond home.

This is only the beginning. If you like what you see and want to see more, please consider becoming a member. It’s the best way to support us.

Our membership model and product design are among several novel components of Lookout. Consider:

  • We’re showcasing, through dedicated web pages, the work that 30 well-respected community groups throughout the county do — whether it’s job training, protecting the environment or leading COVID-19 recovery, on LookoutSantaCruz.com, with more groups to be added soon. These are dedicated informational pages about their work, provided at no cost to the groups.
  • We’ve worked with the brightest minds in the business, including the production team at the Los Angeles Times, to build a colorful, highly visual, news experience that tells you not only what you need to know, but also how you can act on that news and become even more informed and civically engaged. The mix of photos, graphics and “take action” boxes complements our journalism on a local level in a way I’ve never really seen before. Look for our orange-topped boxes throughout the Lookout site for ways to engage. Experience it yourself at LookoutSantaCruz.com. And you won’t find any annoying, blinky ads on Lookout either.
  • “Where to go” and “what to do” are central questions for every reader — especially amid a pandemic — and our Lookout Guides aim to elevate what you’ll find in listicles to a new level. Our debut Guides go deep into “what’s open and what’s closed” in Santa Cruz as COVID-19 rages, where to get tested for the virus and how the hungry can find help amid the pandemic. In all cases, we’re asking readers to make suggestions and tell us what we missed. And, of course, we’ll be guiding readers on the lighter side of things, too, from where to hike, bike and surf, to where to eat and drink. Our website debut includes a story about how new restaurateurs kept their launch dreams alive amid the pandemic.

Now, for the throwbacks:

  • With rises in hedge-fund ownership and subsequent reductions in numbers of newsrooms and journalists, journalism has lost a key tenet — connectivity with readers. Whether it’s “Lookout Listens!” forums with small groups, video chats between correspondents and Lookout members or having our most experienced journalist, City Life Correspondent Wallace Baine, host community events, we’re aiming to restore reader-journalist connection.
  • We could’ve designed our newsroom geographically, with reporters divvying up communities and writing breaking stories within set borders and covering government meetings. But we want to go back to the days when readers deemed journalism essential, with topical and beat reporting that connects, not divides.
  • A belief that serving the community also means holding power accountable and demanding answers. To that end, we’ve launched “Access Democracy,” a partnership with lawyers at the First Amendment Coalition to help us obtain government records and produce journalism that keeps an eye on government spending, rights wrongs and stands up for the voiceless.

This is a new adventure in journalism; we hope Lookout’s success here can be taken to other markets nationwide.

And it’s a new adventure for me personally. I’m grateful our Lookout office is above the MAH in downtown Santa Cruz, a great place to meet and greet. If you’re ever in Abbott Square post-pandemic, I’m the bald guy with the distinctive nose grabbing coffee or lunch. Stop by and introduce yourself to give your feedback — good or bad. In the meantime, don’t forget to share our content with others.

Jessica M. Pasko has been writing professionally for almost two decades.She cut her teeth in journalism as a reporter for the Associated Press in her native Albany, NY, where she covered everything from...