ALTERNATIVE VERSIONS

Los Angeles

Jon Wiener’s July 16/23 “End of an Era at the LA Weekly” contained many misleading statements, including the assertion that I had declined to respond to his questions. When he contacted me back in March, we set up a time to talk on the phone but missed each other. He never followed up, and as the months passed I assumed the story was off.

Wiener suggests that there is no longer room in the Weekly for strong, independent voices from the left, but in every issue his Nation colleague Marc Cooper gives our readers a smart, original take on political events in Los Angeles, around the nation and throughout the world, including Iraq.

Wiener also reads too much into our motives for printing last year’s investigation into the death of Miguel Contreras. Is Wiener suggesting that we should have killed or censored a story for political reasons? The Weekly has always aggressively investigated LA politics. The difference is that progressive politicians are running the city now. So when David Zahniser discovered an attempt to alter the public record about the death of a major figure–a beloved progressive–I had to back up my reporter and print the story. My only considerations were journalistic. Once I was sure we had the story right, we had to go forward. Certainly our commentary has always been rooted in the left, but our reporters have always placed journalism above politics. To attribute Zahniser’s solid reporting to a shift in political direction or a change in corporate ownership unfairly denigrates the integrity of an excellent journalist.

As for Tim Rutten’s suggestion that people at the Los Angeles Times don’t pay attention to the LA Weekly anymore, he should check with his colleagues, who regularly follow up on many of the stories we break, and also keep hiring away our writers–most recently, I’m sad to say, the reporter who broke the Contreras story. Rutten’s accusation that we have gone “hyper-local” is also odd. Yes, we are strong on local politics–we always have been–but a recent cover story followed a human rights activist as he helped free sex slaves in Vietnam, Sudan and Myanmar, as well as in Orange County. On the MacArthur Park incident, we’ve written four stories, not one, and have related longer-view stories in the works.

I’m not suggesting that everything after the merger has gone smoothly. We had some painful layoffs and lost some excellent journalists. We’ve also experienced rough spots as two different corporate cultures have come together–as happens in any kind of merger. But instead of believing the cartoon version of Mike Lacey as newspaper bogeyman and quitting at the first sign of difficulty, I stayed and found in Lacey a strong defender of long-form journalism, a rare quality in a media climate that encourages quick hits and instant analysis. We still have a fiercely talented staff and have just emerged from our most successful awards season ever–not only Jonathan Gold’s Pulitzer Prize but a record-breaking fourteen Association of Alternative Newspaper Awards and fourteen LA Press Club Awards, all for postmerger stories. In addition, readership on our website has exploded this year, and the paper is healthy on the ad side. I don’t know what the future will bring, but our first year and a half under the new Village Voice Media has hardly been the disaster that was predicted.

LAURIE OCHOA
Editor in chief, LA Weekly


Santa Ana, Calif.

I’m disappointed in Jon Wiener’s tale of the tumultuous first months of 2007 here at OC Weekly, the paper I now edit. He quoted exactly one named source: my predecessor, Will Swaim, whom Wiener describes as “a friend and former student.” Wiener noted that Swaim and “half a dozen of his top staff” had left OC Weekly and started a competing publication.

Now, if a reporter came to me wanting to write an article highly critical of a local company and to quote a single source who (1) was a disgruntled former employee of that company, (2) was a friend of said reporter and (3) had started up a competing company, well, what do you think I’d say (OK, after I stopped laughing)? Right: I’d put another reporter on it, and then–wait for it–tell that reporter to give the company an opportunity to respond to the disgruntled former employee’s charges.

If Wiener had called or e-mailed me, I would have told him what an incredibly rewarding three months I’ve had working with what I like to think of as the “half a dozen of [Swaim’s] top staff” who decided to stay on at this paper after Swaim’s departure–along with the more than half a dozen other “top staff” I and my right-wing Stalinist corporate masters have hired. OC Weekly was a great newspaper, is a great newspaper and will continue to be one because of the talent, work ethic and professionalism of its editorial staff, whether they’ve been here eleven years or eleven days. I’m proud to be a part of this newsroom. See? If just one Nation editor had told Wiener to make a phone call, his story would have been bursting with feel-good quotes just like that one!

TED B. KISSELL
Editor, OC Weekly


Santa Ana, Calif.

Gracias to Jon Wiener for the kind words he said about my column. That said, many of the conclusions he reached about Village Voice Media and its subsequent meaning for my employer, OC Weekly, are ludicrous.

Wiener begins by claiming that the new owners of VVM–the barbarians from Phoenix previously known as the New Times–strip papers of a commitment to their communities and care only about profits. His proof? That LA Weekly and OC Weekly no longer print endorsements. I am personally for newspaper endorsements, but refusing to print them doesn’t translate into a dereliction of duty. Many lively independent papers and blogs don’t offer endorsements; does this mean they’re captains of avarice?

Wiener’s thesis clashes with his own description of VVM’s owners as focusing on hyper-local stories targeting the elite. How is hyper-local coverage not a civic service, especially at a time when dailies are more interested in layoffs, consolidations and the shaved cooters of movie vixens?

Wiener’s analysis implicitly dings OC Weekly, so let’s go to the tape: In June alone, it trashed anti-immigrant wack job Tom Tancredo, cast a critical eye on media accounts of imprisoned Vietnam War relic Vang Pao, exposed white supremacists and other criminals who prey on Orange County’s defenseless, profiled a man who breaks up international slave rings, praised Vietnam’s Communist president and called for legalizing our illegal immigrants. Hardly the stuff of neocons, ¿qué no?

Finally, I’m curious as to why Wiener didn’t talk to the half-dozen staffers who remained at OC Weekly instead of joining Will Swaim at his new paper–especially to the news staff Wiener praised, all of whom stayed. Wiener would’ve found folks who believe that the ideals that made the OC Weekly such an important part of Orange County for the better part of a decade remain safely in place. We old-timers from the ancien régime know a mediocre newspaper chain when we see it, and the new Village Voice Media frankly isn’t one.

GUSTAVO ARELLANO
Staff writer, OC Weekly


Dallas

Saddened but not shocked by the knowledge of what Michael Lacey’s New Times Corporation has done to the once-mighty LA Weekly, I couldn’t help but also see what Lacey’s frilly little newspapers are doing to journalism nationwide. All pap, fluff, puff and crap, the superficial barge-fleet of New Times newspapers, identical in style and flavor, mainly resembles what some here in Dallas, another city sorely disappointed in its New Times franchise, observe as a kind of McDonaldsification of alternative journalism. When a city like Dallas, much further along the path to becoming a truly journalistically challenged region, can’t even see what New Times has done to freedom of information, one can only buck up and be grateful that The Nation is standing up for the people of a large city who see themselves offered up to the same fate as Dallas in the future.

GORDON HILGERS


WIENER REPLIES

Irvine, Calif.

Laurie Ochoa seems to have missed the part of my article describing the LA Weekly under her leadership as a “truly great” paper whose coverage has “towered above” the rest of the alt weeklies. I did argue that the recent takeover by New Times Media has brought three big changes that have shifted the paper’s politics rightward: far fewer stories about the Iraq War and other international or national issues, no more political endorsements and no more writing about the forces working to make LA a more egalitarian city. These are editorial policies proudly proclaimed by the new owners, especially CEO Mike Lacey. Basically, he says “good riddance” to what he regards as tired leftist Bush-bashing and whining about the underprivileged.

Lacey didn’t respond to my request for an interview, or to the published article; he left that to people who work for him. But instead of saying “good riddance,” these letters take a different tack. Ochoa starts out by complaining that I didn’t give her a chance to respond to questions. Maybe she forgot that she did respond to my questions, and maybe she didn’t notice that the piece quotes her responses, sent by e-mail. She didn’t respond to other questions, although I e-mailed her seven times and set up a phone interview, which she skipped.

Regarding the Weekly‘s story about Miguel Contreras, I did not suggest that the Weekly “should have killed or censored” it. I held it up as an example of the changes at the paper: In the past, it ran cover stories on Justice for Janitors and the Living Wage campaign; now it runs cover stories that could well be headlined Labor Boss Croaks in Hooker’s Arms. That’s evidence of a new editorial policy, one that follows the new owners’ often-declared ideas.

As for the Weekly‘s coverage of the LAPD attack on an immigrant rights march in MacArthur Park, three of the four stories appeared only later and only online–while the print edition after the riot ran five stories (and the cover) on the Coachella music festival. Again, not a crime, but a sign of the change at the paper.

Ochoa is right that the paper still runs occasional stories touching on the Iraq War, but much less often and with a shift in political tone: Recently the Weekly ran a story on how returning vets are dealing with stress by “tapping” Buddhist meditation practices.

As for Jonathan Gold, I love his work and celebrated his Pulitzer–but he doesn’t write about Iraq or candidates or movements; he writes about restaurants.

Ted Kissell and Gustavo Arellano make the same mistake: My piece was about the LA Weekly, not the OC Weekly. I did mention OC Weekly, but I also mentioned the Village Voice, the Seattle Weekly, and the Minneapolis City Pages. None of the staff at those papers thought it necessary to write The Nation to express pride in their publications. I did quote the former OC Weekly editor–not about content but about the management practices of the new corporate owners, which drove him to resign. Neither Kissel nor Arellano disputes anything in that account.

JON WIENER


GIVE US YOUR TIRED, YOUR POOR…

San Bernardino, Calif.

I am a loyal and longtime Nation reader, but I am becoming irritated by your constant badgering that I must be in favor of illegal immigration. I have been a progressive all my long life, but I do not favor open borders whereby Mexico can send us its millions.

DAN KING


Monterey, Calif.

The Nation is wonderful, especially on immigration. I have been surprised by some of the letters in response to your immigration articles. If these readers understood that there is no line to join, they would not demand that illegal immigrants “get in line.”

LOREN WILLIAMS


GREAT MINDS…

DeSoto, Tex.

I have always dutifully recycled my copies of The Nation. But my wife had a brilliant idea: She suggested I leave my finished copies in public areas for others to discover. I have left them in waiting rooms at the doctor’s, the dentist’s, the tire store, the auto repair shop and several coffee shops. (Of course, because of where I live I remove my name and address.) Spreading the message in Texas,

GERALD DOLLINGER


Lancaster, Pa.

I suggest readers leave their Nations with a note inviting others to take them and read them. The idea came to me when I saw the egregious right-wing trash in the waiting room of our local medical establishment. (From a faithful reader for forty years, half my life.)

WILLIS RATZLAFF


OFF THE ROAD

In “Kings of the Road” [July 30/Aug. 6] Jonah Raskin states that Jack London is the only author mentioned by name in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. In fact Kerouac names numerous authors, including Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, Shakespeare and Hart Crane.