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.