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From AJR,   August/September 2012  issue

Into the Spotlight   

California’s Carmel Pine Cone attracts attention and new subscribers after its exclusive interview with Clint Eastwood. Tues., September 18, 2012.

By Hannah Porter
AJR editorial assistant Hannah Porter (hporter@ajr.umd.edu) is a student at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.      

Paul Miller, publisher of the Carmel Pine Cone, likes to call his publication "the anti-Internet newspaper." But the Pine Cone was all over the Web when it landed an exclusive interview with Clint Eastwood after the iconic actor and director's unforgettable performance at the Republican National Convention last month.

Suddenly, the 97-year-old, small-town California weekly was in the spotlight. After the Eastwood interview was picked up by numerous news outlets and Miller appeared on MSNBC and CNN, he received nearly 1,000 phone calls and e-mails. And the Pine Cone has gained an additional 700 subscribers, who will receive the paper via e-mail.

"Ninety percent of the e-mails were people saying wonderful things about Clint or complimenting the story for including so much information," Miller says.

Eastwood is a former mayor of Carmel and lives in nearby Pebble Beach. When he broke his silence the week after his riveting, not to say head-scratching, interview with an empty chair supposedly containing President Barack Obama, he did so in his hometown paper.

"Clint is a local newsmaker. We cover him all of the time, mostly on local business, so when I asked him to speak, he agreed," Miller says. "As journalists, we develop these relationships to get stories that no one else can."

In the interview, Eastwood said the idea of speaking to the empty chair came to him only minutes before his appearance. He described Obama as "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people."

Eastwood is a part owner of Pebble Beach Resorts between Monterey and Carmel and has a golf apparel line, Tehama. The conservative actor and director is a conservationist, supporter of charitable causes and actively involved in civic matters, Miller says.

Miller, a former broadcast journalist who worked for CBS News and NBC News, discovered the Pine Cone after he moved to nearby Pacific Grove in 1989. After reading the paper for nearly a decade, Miller found himself "bored to tears" by columns written by a local vet and a local accountant. He finally took matters into his own hands; he purchased the paper in 1997 and adopted a hard news approach. He now serves as both publisher and editor of the Pine Cone.

While many newspaper owners are singing the blues these days, Miller is in an upbeat frame of mind about his weekly. He says the Pine Cone's staff of 13 is larger than it was 10 years ago and revenue is going up. Subscriptions to the paper, both print and online, are free. According to Miller, the paper now has a print circulation of 20,000 and 10,500 online subscribers. The population of Carmel is less than 4,000.

Carmel, whose official name is Carmel-by-the-Sea, is a scenic spot on the Pacific Ocean about 120 miles south of San Francisco. Sue McCloud, a former mayor, says a good portion of Carmel real estate consists of second homes. "The Pine Cone keeps the community knitted together," she says. "The second-home population that receives the electronic edition reads it religiously."

McCloud, who grew up in Carmel, recalls selling the paper for five cents on a corner in downtown when she was a young girl.

"Some people in the area only read us. We are the best provider of news even when competing with a major daily paper, the Monterey Herald," says Pine Cone reporter Mary Schley. "We are a quality organization with a quality product."

Reporters have diverse beats, encompassing everything from police and education to food, wine and motor sports. Content is hyperlocal, focusing on Carmel-relevant issues such as the water supply deficit and development, Miller says. The staff aims to publish news that no one else has and the paper uses no syndicated or free content.

One popular section is the "Police and Sheriff's Log," which includes an array of calls received by the Carmel Police Department and the Monterey County Sheriff's Office during the previous the week. Logs include traffic accidents, lost pets, stolen phones, harassment, un-neighborly behavior and vandalized property.

The Pine Cone previously gained national attention in 1998, appearing as the lead story on "60 Minutes" for a voter fraud investigation piece the paper conducted titled "Voter Fraud: Simple as 123."

Oh, and about that "anti-Internet newspaper" thing. Around the time Miller bought the paper in 1997, major newspaper companies were setting up elaborate Web sites and giving out their content for free, often without advertising. Miller didn't have much love for that business model, so he set up a Web site with PDF files of the full paper, including all ads. Online subscribers are emailed PDF files Thursday evenings before the print edition of the paper comes out on Friday.

As for the big interview, it was hardly the last contact between Hollywood legend and publisher. Eastwood recently called Miller to ask him about his appearance on MSNBC.