Last Friday, in response to an article by student-run Neon Tommy, the LA Weekly ran a post on its daily blog harshly critical of the paper prior to its acquisition in 2006 by the owners of the New Times chain (now Village Voice Media). The author of the post, Dennis Romero, all but declared that a new golden era has arrived at the paper, rescuing readers from what they gladly picked up for nearly three decades. It’s a strangely schizophrenic and defensive piece of propaganda, and probably not even worth addressing – but here I go.
Romero argues that “what’s seen as a reduction of the editorial department is also a changing of the guard.” That the new owners reduced the staff of the editorial department by more than half is not a perception – it’s a fact. Romero should note all the empty cubicles around him in the Weekly office. Furthermore, the freelance budget has been slashed and the paper’s page count has shrunk. But Romero would have you believe that getting smaller is a good thing:
While the Weekly of yesteryear was a place for old white guys to pontificate — in 10,000 words or less — about the state of the nation, the new Weekly is, ironically, more like a daily newspaper, where reporters and journalists are employed to report, dig and do research before putting it on paper in fewer, tighter, fact-driven words.
I’m stumped as to how having fewer stories makes the LA Weekly more like a daily newspaper. Or why Romero would applaud the trend towards shorter stories, when his own boss, editor-in-chief Drex Heikes, has stated his intentions to produce more “long-form, serious journalism.” The mention of “old white guys” is similarly baffling. The “Weekly of yesteryear” was run by a Latina woman – who was fired and replaced with an old white guy. The staff of the LA Weekly at the time it was acquired by the new owners had more religious, cultural and ethnic diversity than the one today. There were more women. More homosexuals. Not that there’s anything wrong with being an old white guy. It’s just inaccurate to characterize that demographic as having been the dominant voice of the paper: a “crusty, bell-bottom voice,” according to Romero, in stark contrast to the “bright and digital” era he lauds as the paper’s future.
The real truth is that the changes at the LA Weekly are not nearly so radical, nor so black-and-white. While the paper has changed, it has hardly been reborn – or destroyed. The Weekly still runs great stories and still has a talented staff. There’s just less of them. Heikes openly acknowledged the paper’s problems to Neon Tommy, and spoke plainly of his plans to fix them. It’s that kind of honesty that inspires confidence and effects useful change – not denial and spin. I hope very much his efforts are successful, and I am sure the rest of the “old guard” feels the same. No, the paper will never be what it was, and it has been painful to witness so much of what we built be dismantled. But we’d still like to see what’s left – and what’s new – become a large, thriving alternative weekly again.
Previously on FBLA:
LA Weekly Gets Defensive About Neon Tommy Report