From assembling office furniture to the most-read publication in Long Beach

I had a stark epiphany last fall during a staff meeting at the Post—the kind of rare but quiet realization that leaves one utterly changed. I was “leading” the meeting, which had, like staff meetings before, descended into a meandering cacophony of creative musing and rabid brainstorming on topics as varied as zoning law as a means of oppression, the use of gender pronouns in the media and can we get a newsroom dog and what should we name it?

Voices still competed for attention as ideas flared and faded, but in a moment of inner calm my beleaguered brain grabbed hold of a very simple, obvious fact, like a kid whose dad has just tossed her the car keys for the first time: We are free to try anything. Anything. It was up to us—as a group and as individuals—to seize this weird and unlikely shot we’d been given to tell the story of Long Beach.

I scribbled down an idea I’d heard earlier in the meeting, a five-minute discussion (an eternity!) about whether streets in West and Central Long Beach, where tons of kids walk to school, were as safe as streets in East and Southeast, where most kids are driven to school. We could do this, I decided: It would be a staff series, written in installments, with data, video, analysis and personal stories.

I clung to that idea like I would a rope on a ship in a swirling storm …

A few months earlier, myself and two others—columnist Tim Grobaty and crime reporter Jeremiah Dobruck—had left the Press-Telegram, which had been demoralized by layoffs and consolidation, to join with the Post, which would soon be purchased by our benefactors, Pacific6. The Post had been around for 11 years, and was a tiny but talented team.

The stories of both publications to that point were a microcosm of what has been happening in local journalism for the last decade.

Before the official announcement of our merger on June 18, 2018, the three of us, along with Publisher David Sommers, had some time on our hands. We worked to assemble office furniture—at least one of us (David) screwed himself to a set of drawers—and ordered office supplies, wrote up drafts of policies and procedures, researched stories (though we couldn’t yet say where we worked) and overdosed on peanut M&Ms.

We weren’t sure if the staff at the Post would like us—the three of us grew up in the newspaper industry; Grobaty alone had 42 years in the business—so we tiptoed around each other. That lasted maybe five minutes: Stephanie Rivera, Asia Morris, Jason Ruiz and Dennis Dean (along with the master of pet puns, Kate Karp) quickly became our family.

We were joined by Post alum Brian Addison, who had been slaving away at the one-man endeavor Longbeachize. We weren’t sure if anyone else at our former company would want to join us, but they did: Reporters Valerie Osier and Kelly Puente, photographer Thomas Cordova, business manager Andrea Estrada and Sharon McLucas in advertising came along. And a few months into this experiment, Steve Lowery—also with decades of experience (including a stint at the Press-Telegram)—and Atira West in advertising burst into the office with about 50 ideas each.

In the last year our readership has increased 685%. After 38 days of the Post revamp last summer, Dennis walked in with a homemade vegan confetti cake lathered in blue icing (these kids and their vegan cakes) to mark one million page views; we surpassed that mark in less than 10 days this month.

A vegan confetti cake to mark our first one million page views as a revamped news organization. Staff photo.

And, of course, that’s on you: A news organization is only as strong as its readership and your trust and generosity during the year has encouraged all of us to always continue to do a better job.

We’ve enjoyed our expanding role in the community. We’ve hosted parties and events in our gorgeous office on Ocean Boulevard; we published a Best of Long Beach guidebook; we hosted a live debate during the fall election; we’ve launched four podcasts and greatly expanded our arts and culture coverage (a big announcement to come this month); we’ve launched several new ongoing features and columns, including a weekly political analysis called The Backroom; we’ve developed new data tools for elections, climate change—and even where to find jacarandas.

We’ve amassed a pile of 30 journalism awards (a healthy slice of them to one person, Thomas Cordova) from the California Newspaper Publishers Association, Los Angeles Press Club and the National Press Photographers Association.

One of those awards went to a project called Safe Streets, a second place statewide award for public service journalism—the series that arose from that beautiful, chaotic, creative storm of a staff meeting many months ago.

This has been an incredible year. And this is where it gets a little awkward: I can’t extol the success we’ve had without gratitude for the people at Pacific6, especially John Molina, who made it possible. Awkward, because unlike any other business on the planet, we have to keep our editorial mission separate from ownership—because we still have to cover them like we do any other business.

Just this once, thank you.

Finally, thank you to the tens of thousands who read us every day, and who contribute to our cause financially. You’ve made us the most-read publication in the city—a success we intend to build upon for years to come.

From left, Jeremiah Dobruck, Dennis Dean, Melissa Evans, Tim Grobaty, Valerie Osier, David Sommers, Stephanie Rivera, Andrea Estrada and Kelly Puente at the California Journalism Awards.

Support our journalism.

Hyperlocal news is an essential force in our democracy, but it costs money to keep an organization like this one alive, and we can’t rely on advertiser support alone. That’s why we’re asking readers like you to support our independent, fact-based journalism. We know you like it—that’s why you’re here. Help us keep hyperlocal news alive in Long Beach.

Melissa has been a journalist for over two decades, starting her career as a reporter covering health and religion and moving into local news. She has worked as an editor for eight years, including seven years at the Press Telegram before joining the Long Beach Post in June 2018. She also serves as a part-time lecturer at Cal State Long Beach where she teaches multimedia journalism and writing.