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Wiener & Pals Recall the Good Old Days at the LA Weekly—It’s All Jill Stewart’s Fault

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In The Nation, Jon Wiener, the UCI prof and John Lennon expert, bewails the new era or rather the passing of the old era at the LA Weekly. He has reinforcements from Tim Rutten, Kevin Roderick, and Harold Meyerson, and to summarize: it’s all Jill Stewart’s fault.

Matt Welch, on book leave from the LAT, isn’t so sure about that or most of Wiener’s other assumptions. Bob Norman makes the point in a letter to Romanesko.

Wiener emailed Jill Stewart a pretty general question in March:

My basic question: the departure of Harold and your arrival seem to signal a major political shift in the paper. Is this correct?

And Stewart replied:


Jon, not that I know of. I’m not privy to how news-side stories were chosen, assigned or edited before I arrived, but I think the solid coverage from the news-side staff all of last year is testament to the fact that former News Editor Alan Mittelstadt was already going after serious news without regard to partisanship or political dogma. I’ve no information that suggests Harold was directing news coverage. If that’s what you are suggesting, I think you have bad info.

The old New Times ethos is alive and well, which is to say they aren’t interested in taking partisan sides. They are very interested in hot news and in beating the hell out of the big local papers whenever they can. That certainly sums up my approach. Pardon my assumptions about The Nation, but I don’t find the old partisan left-wing media approach to be anymore interesting that the old partisan right-wing media approach.

My charge from VVM honchos is to rev up the readership and get juicy stories into Newsroom and onto the cover, typified by the wonderful piece by Judith Lewis this past week, “A Terrible Thing to Waste,” which I assigned and edited. That’s a story that the LA Times was also contacted about – but the editors there decided it didn’t fit whatever strange news coverage profile they are trying to satisfy, and they passed on the story. When I asked Judith to dig into it, she went for it. We’ve had tens of thousands of unique viewers to “A Terrible Thing to Waste,” on our site this past week, and I hope it will surpass 100,000. So I’m very pleased–but not surprised. That’s not an exact measure of how many of our print readers also read Judith’s piece, but it’s probably not a bad approximation.

Since I arrived, we have had a couple of news-side stories break records for news readership on our site, and ABC News is following our story about the dictator in training who lives in Malibu–another story the Times city desk knew about, and passed on.

You want to talk about a change in political slant. I apologize for being so direct with you, but I find that topic utterly boring and backward-looking. The writers here know that hot stories are hot stories. That’s a lesson I think the media has had a horrible time trying to learn, and its failure to do so is clearly hurting the industry. Mike Lacey gets it, and so do I.
You are welcome to use any of the above. Good luck on your piece.

Wiener quoted the bolded text–and that only.

But it’s also cry from an old media guy in a new media world.

Case in point:

“Six hundred cops fired more than 100 “nonlethal” projectiles into a crowd of families and charged with clubs swinging, injuring forty-two, including several members of the mainstream media.The story made front pages around the world and dominated local news for a week. The old Weekly would have been all over it, but the next issue of the new Weekly contained one small, 330-word piece on the event while devoting six articles and 3,700 words to the Coachella music festival.”

He’s looking at the paper version, quaintly called the “next issue”. The online edition, where ever increasing numbers of people read news, had these stories:

MacArthur Park Showdown

LAPD clashes with immigrant-rights marchers
By DANIEL HERNANDEZ
Wednesday, May 2, 2007 – 6:00 pm

Bratton’s Mea Culpa Tour
By DAVID ZAHNISER
Tuesday, May 8, 2007 – 2:00 pm

May Day Do-Over
By DANIEL HERNANDEZ
Friday, May 18, 2007 – 5:00 pm

A Classic Diversion
Chief Cayler Carter is publicly sacrificed, but the screwups on May 1 began with Bratton
By PATRICK RANGE MCDONALD
Wednesday, June 6, 2007 – 6:00 pm

He also examines the OC Weekly, and picks at the usual scabs left from New Times laying waste to the Village Voice.

Luke Thompson, who’s on staff at the OC Weekly, emailed his take:

In the last few days at the LA Film Festival, I’ve had numerous people come up to me and tell me how much better they think the Weekly’s news coverage has gotten lately. I realize that’s anecdotal, but it’s interesting to note that these are people who have no idea who Jill is, or that there’s been any editorial change.

Also, the film reviews haven’t been assigned out of Denver for as long as I’ve been a part of it. There’s corporate oversight from Denver on the business end, as one might expect from a company that has executives based there–but that isn’t the same thing.

Annette Stark, who writes for Citybeat, has no love* for the New Times management, told FBLA:

“Jill Stewart’s reporting on Playa Vista, for example, was left of mine and the Weekly’s. I haven’t worked with her, so I can’t speak to that, but I have read her stuff and found that she goes issue by issue.. Jill was the first one to cover Najee Ali, which was back when he was a huge supporter of Antonio’s. But the New Times organization does not respect writers.”

*Stark, who’d been working at The Source, moved to Florida, and started jobhunting. At the New Times, Andy Van De Voorde asked her to write 4 or 5 sample stories, as he didn’t “trust anyone who’d been at a consumer magazine.”

(Disclaimer: this FBLA editor has free-lanced for the Weekly.)

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