Inside Lookout: Celebrating Two Years

someone reading lookout on their phone

A report to our readers as we celebrate Lookout’s second birthday

What gets us going at Lookout?

Sometimes it’s a box of Ferrell’s donuts and sometimes it’s treats from The Farm, The Buttery, Gayle’s or Pacific Cookie Company cookies.

Sometimes, it is something unexpected, like a satisfied Lookout member offering: “Thank you for all you do. It’s amazing that with a staff of only 10 you can put out the local news so many of us want day after day!...I’m happy to become a member and support such great work in our community. Keep it up… Can I ask you a question? Do most of your staff come into the office [in the] mornings? I’d love to bring bagels or muffins or something yummy early some morning.”

Treats are great, but it is notes from our readers that energize our team of 10 journalists, the largest single newsroom in Santa Cruz County. And among them, they count more than 140 years of journalistic experience among them. You’ve seen their work in our newsletters and on social media: Lily Belli on Food. Wallace Baine on culture and arts. Mark Conley on coast culture. Hillary Ojeda on education. Christopher Neely on local politics.

It’s a great month at Lookout as our team – 15 full-timers, including our Community & Commerce team of 5, and six interns, all pictured below – celebrate Lookout’s second birthday.

It’s quite a time of reflection on those two years, and planning for a robust 2023 serving Santa Cruz County. As we do both, we thought it would be best to capture what we’ve achieved in the words of those notes we get from you, our readers. So we’ve done that here, as a good sum-up on two boisterous years of starting up a new news company in our hometown.

As we eagerly anticipate the year ahead, we want to thank all of you who have joined us as members, and we want to extend a new invitation to those who haven’t yet joined. All members get full access to all of our correspondents, newsletters, alerts and events, as 7,000 members now do. So we’ve created a special offer for this time. In this twelfth month of the year: Sign up for a monthly membership at just $12 a month, a significant discount off our regular $17 a month price, our best monthly offer of the year.

And if you join now, we invite you to join other members at our big celebration party on Monday, December 12 at the Seymour Center – all members, even you new ones signing up this week, are welcome to attend.

Now, our two-year reflection and report, spurred by our readers’ own comments, as they share what they appreciate about Lookout:

Here are two that we received just this week, both of which particularly touched us:

“I FINALLY last week cancelled my Sentinel subscription as between the NYT and Lookout daily I feel secure I have the basics (nationally and locally) covered.”

“Your coverage of politics and the recent elections, serious social and environmental issues, the economy, crime, COVID, sports and hikes and beaches, the local food, music, and entertainment scene - all stellar, all in depth, all in just a year. Every day. With updates. That’s impressive for a new paper. I must say that the series on the downtown redevelopment plan, with its high rise hotels and apartment complexes, has been the best, and only, coverage I’ve seen on the topic. I expect your fine newspaper will keep us knowledgeable and informed of ways our voices can be heard on these and other important local issues. I look forward to another year of great reporting.”

All we can say is, “Thank you for being such great readers.”

And then, all of these recent ones:

“Your Covid coverage has been a lifesaver,” we were reminded by a reader this fall. From the beginning of the pandemic through today, we continue to keep on top of Covid – and now the RSV and the flu – to let you know how best to navigate your family’s health. We tell readers the latest in public health – and where to get the help, including available vaccines, you want.

“I was at the Channel Islands and got your up-to-the-minute election coverage. That blew me away.” The fall elections concentrated all of what we’ve built into Lookout – that ability to deliver almost immediate fact-checked information (also seen in the Santa Cruz High hoax incident). We also brought you analytical reporting, the candidates’ and measure advocates’ own words in our Community Voices opinion section, our in-person (and via Zoom) election forums and coverage of the often overshadowed school and water board.

I did lots of events, but this was the only one where candidates could talk directly to each other,” one Santa Cruz City Council contender told us. We believe that real person-to-person engagement and reasonable dialogue are essential as we in Santa Cruz County confront our problems. Online and in-person, you’ll see more Lookout events in 2023 – and members get first notice of our events. And our Community Voices section, led by Jody K. Biehl, continues to push the edges of that needed dialogue.

“Well done, Lookout, for your powerful editorial, “We need to stop spraying pesticides around our children and schools,” and for Mark Conley’s update, “Pressure mounts on pesticides near schools.” It is such a relief to see the truth spoken, with concrete actions laid out for local government and the community to take immediately,” one reader wrote for us in Community Voices.

Accountability journalism drove the founding of Lookout, and now we’re able to do an increasing amount of it. This fall, we’ve focused on continuing pesticide use next to schools, overcrowded jails, a teen fentanyl surge, the difficulties of finding humane, holistic approaches to homelessness and holding the Governor accountable to charges of “retaliation, related to the county fair upheaval.” It’s core to our mission of “making Santa Cruz County a better place for all who live here.” Your membership support feeds it.

“I open Morning Lookout every day. That’s how I know what I need to know,” one reader told us recently. We deliver the news to you – just as the best dailies once robustly did – with five newsletters every week, plus text and email alerts. Make sure you are getting all that you want by updating your preferences in your account. You can always access your account by logging into our site and clicking the little person icon in the top right corner. If you haven’t set a password yet, just click forgot password upon logging in and follow the instructions.

“Lily’s columns surpass anyone else in being in touch with SC’s astounding food scene,” wrote one experienced foodie. Confronting problems and highlighting solutions should be a foundation of any trusted local news source. But life is more than problems. The work of Lily Bell on food and Wallace Baine on entertainment and culture is read widely, and our whole staff aims to capture the breadth of local life in their work. Our Guides are a useful addition to our regular coverage, helping you enjoy life in Santa Cruz to the fullest.

“We want to extend the deepest gratitude to Lookout Santa Cruz for helping us raise the funds needed to help support our Dance for Parkinson’s program,” from Motion Pacific, one of more than a dozen top non-profits that have benefited from our Civic Partners fundraising program. We provide 10% of new membership payments to these groups. We’ve given more than $15,000 to community groups in less than two years.

“I just read the story you wrote about the GB Kirby teacher’s view on teaching U.S. history. Your story illuminated not only how difficult it has become for some teachers to do their jobs, but also how studying history can be ‘a discussion.’ Thank you for your exceptional writing and coverage of these and other important issues,” wrote one appreciative reader of Hillary Ojeda’s wide-ranging education coverage. Lookout’s investment in education is the bedrock of our mission. That means not only our coverage of K-12, Cabrillo College and UCSC – but our unique student access and engagement program as well. We’re committed to getting students into the flow of reading – and contributing to – local news. Membership dollars, plus the wider generosity of local donors, have brought Lookout local news directly into local classrooms and curriculum.

“I saw what you were doing and told my husband, ‘I can’t believe they are doing this here in Santa Cruz,’” a reader who found us right after our launch told us.

Yes, we’re a bit of an anomaly. Gannett, the country’s largest newspaper company, which controls a quarter of all daily papers in the country, has recently forecast an annual loss of $60 million and cut hundreds of newsroom jobs, ushering in an era in which it actually operates daily papers without local journalists. Those actions mirror those of Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund that operates the Sentinel, its resources cut to the bone long ago. (Recently, NPR’s Scott Simon’s interviewed journalist Julie Reynolds on how Alden is now doing to mobile parks what it’s done to newspapers.)

Across the nation, most communities are getting less and less local reporting.

In Santa Cruz, with Lookout, we are all getting more. Make Santa Cruz the model we want it to be: join us. And if you want to understand more of how our work here is of national interest, please check out my column this week at Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab.

Is there anyone foolish enough among us to predict 2023? Please join us to see what’s ahead, and how we can all make sense of it.


Be the first to know all the big, breaking news in Santa Cruz. Sign up to get Lookout alerts sent straight to your phone here or below.