Newspaper junkie buys his own

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Posted: Monday, February 4, 2013 12:00 am

LOS ANGELES — At 6:45 a.m., Alan Smolinisky pads out to his driveway in a hillside cul-de-sac near Pacific Palisades.

In one arm, he carries 15-month-old Char-lie, named for billionaire investor Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Omaha-based Berkshire Hathaway. Bending carefully toward the driveway, Smolinisky lets Charlie scoop up three newspapers.

As Charlie sucks on a bottle in the kitchen, Smolinisky unwraps the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. He will spend five hours reading them cover to cover.

Smolinisky, 33, is a newspaper junkie. He abides by Munger's philosophy that high achievers in the financial world tend to be voracious readers.

“I love knowing everything going on everywhere in the world,” said Smolinisky, a real estate entrepreneur who keeps a peacock blue Bentley and a red Ferrari in his garage. Tips gleaned from the dozen daily, weekly and bimonthly publications he reads have led to lucrative investments, he said.

Late last year, he satisfied a decade-long dream, paying seven figures for the Palisadian-Post. The weekly has chronicled life in Pacific Palisades since 1928 and has been losing money. Smolinisky aims to turn it around.

“Pacific Palisades is my favorite place on Earth, and the Palisadian-Post is my favorite newspaper,” he said. “I have a moral obligation to make sure this newspaper arrives every Thursday for as long as I live.”

His goal is to be a billionaire, like his idols Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett and Munger. Smolinisky dislikes the idea of dynastic wealth and agrees with Buffett that rich folks should give away at least half of their money.

Framed in Smolinisky's home office is a hand-scribed note from Buffett: “You are living a life that I admire.” It was his response to Smolinisky's news that he and wife Caroline had set up a living trust earmarking 90 percent of their wealth for charities upon their deaths.

At a time when his peers have mostly traded paper for pixels, Smolinisky doesn't own an iPad or a Kindle. He's not much for social media. So it seemed fitting that he chose to buy this old-school paper.

The broadsheet has endeared itself to residents by recording quotidian happenings — births, marriages and deaths, with a panoply of soccer games, high school graduations and Fourth of July parades in between. The paper covers each year's first Palisadian baby, the Mr. and Miss Palisades contest, students' accomplishments and 50th wedding anniversaries.

When Smolinisky and his friends were tykes, the Pali-Post ran photos of their T-ball and soccer games. When he was a teen, it carried stories about a company he co-founded that put on dances in the Palisades.

“All the other papers are so serious and scary,” he said. “The Palisadian-Post was never like that. It always had this hyper-local, fun attitude of 'we are the luckiest people on Earth to live in such an amazing, crime-free community.' ”

Page 2 each week features “Your Two Cents Worth,” a column of unsigned questions and opinions from readers. After hearing from readers and editors how popular the sound-off column was, Smolinisky allotted more space.

Donna Vaccarino, an architect, heard Smolinisky speak at a community meeting and was impressed by his pride in owning the paper. “We all want to help him make it a success,” she said.

Smolinisky bought the publication and its office building. The deal included the Post's money-losing commercial printing business, which he shuttered. He has told the staff he wants to make the paper profitable so that he can restore full-time status to 16 employees, including seven in the newsroom, who have endured years of shortened hours and pay.

Smolinisky has learned some quick lessons in newspaper economics. An equipment broker inspected the 37-foot-long Goss printing press in the concrete-lined back shop. It was valued 30 years ago at nearly $400,000. The broker named a price: $15,000.

The fledgling newspaper man was elated at first, having feared that the bulky machine had no value. Then the realization dawned. That was the price he'd have to pay somebody to haul the press away. For now, it remains in place.

Smolinisky finds he doesn't get much done when he's in the newsroom. “I sort of worship the writers and just like to watch them and listen to what they are up to,” he said.

He recently high-fived the staff for posting updates of a rush-hour street closure in Santa Monica Canyon. “We have reporters on the scene!” he said in an email. “I am having way too much fun!!! How cool is this???”

Smolinisky knows the Palisadian-Post won't help him reach his financial goals. Still, he is determined to get the newspaper before the eyes of more readers; 4,000 households in the Palisades subscribe, about 40 percent penetration, for $49 a year.

He's talking up his newspaper all over town. At one gathering, a man asked if he could subscribe and pulled out a $50 bill. Smolinisky said yes — and gave him $1 change.

The Omaha World-Herald Co. is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

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