Luke Thomas: Making a play in online news

Luke Thomas has the “media” part of “media and marketing” down. But by his own admission, the busy founder of the online Fog City Journal needs marketing aid.

Thomas, 43, was a partner and photographer at the San Francisco Sentinel news Web site, until a very public falling-out with partner Pat Murphy this past autumn. In September, he launched fogcityjournal.com to stay in journalism, a second career he’s grown to love.

A native of Fulham, England, he moved to California in 1984 to work as a computer programmer. A contract with Apple brought him to the Bay Area in 1990. From then through 2001, he had his own consulting firm, Electronet Inc., and was hired from there by HP. He took a voluntary severance during the dot-com bust.

For the next three years, he traveled the world and built his photography portfolio. An amateur photographer since age 17, he felt drawn to journalism. That feeling was strengthened when he became a citizen on Sept. 11, 2001.

Upon his return to the Bay Area, he began taking photography courses at City College of San Francisco, and scored his first freelance gig for a Spanish-language newspaper out of a school job fair. He began working for small community newspapers in The City, where he met Murphy. The two formed their partnership in April 2005; Murphy had started the Sentinel site years before.

The relationship taught Thomas a lot: the importance of high readership, political advertising as a revenue stream and how an easy-to-Google template can draw readers.

Now, as the sole owner of Fog City Journal and a freelance photographer, he is publishing, editing, photographing and has little time for the marketing end of the business, he said. He hopes to hire a marketer on an ad-commission basis, followed by a Web master. Besides his own content, he has a stable of around six reporters and several photographers, all of whom work for free.

With sanfranciscosentinel.com, beyondchron.com, sfist.com, sfusualsuspects.com, several newspapers’ Web sites and others all vying for The City’s local-news readership, Fog City Journal is in a competitive environment. Thomas said he hopes that his inclusion of wire-service stories from Bay City News, investigative reporting and photography will give him an edge.

“Some people argue that on election night, Fog City Journal actually had the best coverage because I had so many photographers all over the place,” he said.

kwilliamson@examiner.com

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