Over the last 15 years, Ken Doctor has made his living as a critic of the news industry. A onetime media executive who started out as a publisher and editor of an alt weekly, Mr. Doctor regularly warns against hedge-fund ownership of news outlets in a column he writes for Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab. Media companies hire him as a consultant, and he is often quoted in articles on the dismal state of local news coverage in America.
Now, at age 70, Mr. Doctor is leaving his life as an armchair expert and starting a local news company, Lookout Local, he said on Thursday. Its flagship site, Lookout Santa Cruz, will cover the California county where he lives, an area he likens to a “news desert” because it does not have enough journalists covering it.
“I came to the epiphany of putting both sides of my brain together,” Mr. Doctor said. “I’m an analyst. I understand the business. At the same time, I realized I lived in a worsening and worsening news desert.”
The new role will put Mr. Doctor in direct competition with Alden Global Capital, a New York hedge fund that he has often criticized in his column. Alden controls MediaNews Group, the parent company of The Santa Cruz Sentinel, which will be the main rival of Lookout Santa Cruz.
Mr. Doctor’s start-up is a for-profit, public-benefit company. It has funding from the Knight Foundation, the Google News Initiative Innovation Challenge, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and others. He said he plans to start Lookout Santa Cruz in the fall with a staff of eight to 10 journalists. The site has a deal with The Los Angeles Times to use its content management system, Graphene, and to run some of its content.
Some people advised Mr. Doctor to start smaller, with two or three journalists, but he decided to heed the advice he had laid out in a January column arguing that in-depth coverage will attract subscribers and ultimately pay for itself. If Lookout Santa Cruz is a success, he plans to start sibling sites.
“I set upon figuring out, first, as an intellectual exercise, and then in reality, what it would take to create a new news institution,” Mr. Doctor said.
Mr. Doctor said he drew inspiration from the 1975 Bend in the River conference led by the author Ken Kesey (and his Merry Pranksters), a gathering of activists in Bend, Ore., who sought to shape what life would be like in the 21st century. (“Baby Boomers are grandiose,” Mr. Doctor said).
After the conference, Mr. Doctor helped found The Willamette Valley Observer in Eugene, Ore., an alternative paper that lasted from 1975 to 1982. He later worked at The Boulder Daily Camera and The St. Paul Pioneer Press, both published by Knight Ridder, before working as an executive at the chain until 2005, a year before it was purchased by the McClatchy Company.
Mark Zusman, the publisher of Willamette Week, a Portland, Ore., alt-weekly who knew Mr. Doctor in the ’70s, said the Lookout Local venture was in keeping with the person he knew back then.
“He struck me then, despite however long his hair was, as having the heart of a genuine journalist,” Mr. Zusman said, “which is why I’m not surprised to see him jumping back in.”