TAMPA — Meeting Tampa Tribune staffers for the first time Monday, the new California owners of the daily newspaper were asked, "Do you have any experience in the media business?"
Collectively, the entourage on stage turned to their associate TJ Montemer, who said of himself: "I own media companies in Southern California."
Montemer said he wants to focus on local content and "monetize" online video. "It's a new world. We will make this into a full-blown, multimedia newspaper," he said. "Newspaper will be half of what we do."
Thomas James Montemer — a laid-back, 28-year-old, one-time aspiring actor who associates say has been more focused on Internet and video than print — may not fit the mold of a typical newspaper consultant/leader.
As publisher of the Santa Monica Mirror, an under-30,000 circulation weekly in southern California, Montemer is new to daily newspapers. In fact, he never intended to get into journalism. After graduating from the University of Nebraska with a broadcast journalism degree in 2007, Montemer moved back to his native California to pursue a career in acting and documentary film-making.
In a 2010 interview with a University of Nebraska alumni publication. Montemer said he needed to support himself between acting gigs, so he took a job selling advertising at the Santa Monica Mirror.
"One day the copy editor got hammered and never came back," Montemer told Nebraska magazine. Four months after becoming copy editor, he became editor. Montemer said he bought the paper as a way to slide into other aspects of media.
University professor Jerry Renaud told the alumni publication he was surprised to learn his former student moved into print journalism. Renaud noted that Montemer looked and talked like a surfer and wanted to be an actor.
Montemer maintained that easygoing demeanor as an executive. As Los Angeles-based Revolution Capital Group announced its acquisition of the Tribune in Tampa on Monday, he stood onstage, shirt untucked, and greeted the congregation with a "What's up?"
In May, he was one of the judges in the first annual Miss Santa Monica contest. "Besides working, TJ enjoys the finer things in life and couldn't be happier when having a cold beer, cool breezes, good tunes, and great views," his judge's profile read.
All laid-back, California surfer cliches aside, don't assume Montemer isn't up for the challenge in Tampa, says Chris Rosacker, his former college roommate who Montemer brought in as editor of the Mirror in 2009.
"We basically came to a weekly paper that was fledgling and not doing well. … It wasn't very long before this paper that might have been thought a joke … was giving the daily paper a run for its money," said Rosacker, who edited the Mirror until August 2011 and is now a reporter for The Union, a newspaper in Grass Valley, Calif.
Rosacker said he and Montemer felt free to "throw out a lot of rules." The duo focused on the online product daily and made the weekly print edition "more of an aggregate of the week." The weekly, which relies heavily on community contributors for content, hired a full-time videographer, and began a pair of once-a-week online shows.
Rosacker said he expects the same video/print meld in Tampa. "TJ doesn't look at journalism as a print or broadcast side; for him, they're kind of the same."
Montemer and the current editor of the Mirror, Brenton Garen, both declined comment.
However, in the alumni profile in 2010, Montemer gave insights into his vision. He said he wants to hire journalists who are "jacks of all trades" who can take video, appear on video, write, produce and photograph. He returned to his alma mater to recruit because he felt comfortable with the J school grads' skills.
"Gotta get kids that know what I know," he said. "I don't trust anyone else but me."
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contribute to this report.