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Candid critic starts online publication

The site debuts this month. It will include news, opinion, media criticism and features related to the Nature Coast.

By JIM ROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 5, 2001


LECANTO -- Jim McIntosh loves to write about local politics and issues. Some people love to read what he writes. Others don't exactly see things the way that McIntosh does.

Regardless, people who appreciate McIntosh's unique take on the news won't find it on the newspaper opinion pages anymore.

McIntosh has started his own online publication, the Nature Coast Reader, which will debut March 15 on the Internet (http://www.naturecoastreader.com). It will publish monthly, although McIntosh would like to make it a weekly.

"Hopefully, this is going to be a profitable venture," McIntosh said.

If nothing else, it is certain to be rich with content -- and controversy.

McIntosh, 58, has established himself as a persistent and prolific government critic. He takes aim at the County Commission and the Economic Development Council, among other targets.

McIntosh's letters to newspaper editors, and the written responses they inspired, were standing features on the Citrus County Chronicle and Citrus Times opinion pages.

Not everyone agreed with McIntosh, but his opinions always seemed to strike a nerve. He once said that the County Commission would have been better to "hire an alchemist to turn lead into gold" rather than fund the economic council.

He also has railed against county plans to install central sewers, a move that he said would clear the way for hyperdeveloment. Better to consider septic systems as a safe and cost-efficient alternative, he said.

Now McIntosh is taking his energy and edgy prose to a forum in which he will have more room to write and a better opportunity to explain his views.

The Reader will feature news, opinion, media criticism, interviews, fiction and real-life stories from people who live and work on the Nature Coast, which stretches between Pasco and Taylor counties.

And, of course, McIntosh will accept letters to the editor. Only this time, McIntosh will be the recipient instead of the sender.

The publication will be "an alternative to what I feel are the status newspapers in this county and up and down the coast," McIntosh said. He has frequently said that the Chronicle and Times sometimes fall short in news coverage and depth.

The Reader will be "skeptical of government" and will be geared toward an adult audience. McIntosh is looking for freelance writers and contributors; for now, however, readers will see a lot from McIntosh about what he knows best: Citrus County.

"I prefer local topics. Very rarely are we going to comment on national issues," he said.

Lee Cloward knows something about local publishing. He put out the Highlander newspaper during the mid 1980s and '90s. The paper gave readers a different view of the news and important issues, such as water and growth management.

"It certainly is a good way for a person (publisher) to know the community and to know the area because you are forced to," Cloward said. "I learned much more about my neighborhood," which is the Highlands section of Inverness.

"I wish Jim McIntosh all the luck in the world. Let's see what he can do," Cloward said. "It's a good learning experience for him and possibly a good thing for the community."

The best part, Cloward said, is that McIntosh will publish on the Internet. "As long as it does not add to the paper waste in the county," Cloward said.

Chris Lloyd, a frequent contributor to the newspaper opinion pages, also wished McIntosh well.

"I think there is an almost inexhaustible demand for news" and opinion, Lloyd said. That thirst for content, which on a national scene has led to the success of cable TV interview shows, could translate to the local level, as well, Lloyd said.

This foray into publishing marks another step away from the relaxed lifestyle McIntosh promised to cultivate when he moved to Citrus a few years ago from San Diego.

He kept his promise for two days before he started writing letters, attending government meetings and founding the county's Libertarian Party. The work grew to a fevered pitch last fall, when McIntosh mounted an unsuccessful bid for a County Commission seat.

This new endeavor is no less serious. McIntosh has formed a corporation and joined the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce. He has spent $800 or so to supplement his computer hardware and software and learn how to build and maintain a Web site.

He already attends government meetings, such as the County Commission and School Board, so reporting on those events for the Reader will be no problem. But the business side will take some more doing: For the publication to succeed, McIntosh knows he must convince advertisers to buy space on the Web page.

The Reader will have a counter that will allow McIntosh to gauge how many hits the page receives. The counter won't be displayed on the page, but McIntosh will have access to the numbers.

He will entice businesses to buy ad space the same way he convinced newspaper readers that his letters were worth reading and public officials that he was worth listening to, if not always agreeing with. It is the same way he will try to persuade a skeptical public that his new publication is a must read.

"I'll have to show them."

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