This month in Los Angeles *

Cover of Los Angeles magazineThe magazine's September issue out now is a good one, and I'd say that even if I didn't have the cover story on Mayor Jim Hahn and his political conundrum. Ann Louise Bardach unravels why the National Enquirer and other tabloids gave a pass to Arnold Schwarzenegger and his dalliances — usually one of their surest cover sellers — during the recall. There's a piece by Ariel Swartley on author Kem Nunn and his latest surf-culture novel, and R.J. Smith profiles and appreciates the irrepressible Nikki Finke [* see a response after the jump].

When I first called L.A. Weekly Hollywood columnist Nikki Finke to say that I wanted to profile her, she instantly asked what took me so long, and then declared almost as instantly that nobody would want to read about her. Why, she proposed, wasn’t I writing about the right-wing takeover of the Los Angeles Press Club, for God’s sake? Then, after a lengthy negotiation—which culminated in a request that she not be photographed—she hit the antigravity button. In a span of a few hours, Finke sent me nine e-mails, which included recommendations on who to contact, a list of her favorite TV shows, and her prediction, only half in jest, that the piece might force her to move to Tahiti. After she canceled our sit-down interview, she offered to meet me 1,500 miles away, where I was going on vacation (the answer was no), and then begged me not to do the piece at all. In between she was checking out whom I was talking to, letting me know she knew what I was asking, and hurling my questions back at me: “What do you mean, ‘Is she a recluse?’ That’s absurd!”

Nikki Finke can’t possibly be for real...


Working for the Weekly seems to have liberated something in Finke. She can give voice to her liberal politics and make a lot of indulgent jokes. Shouldn’t that be what an alternative weekly is for? Here’s a place where snarling at the boss—“Don’t make me come down there!” she shouted at her first Weekly editor—is seen as a personality quirk. “Working with Nikki is … is …,” her current Weekly editor, Joe Donnelly, says, “it’s loud.”

She puts the Weekly in the game, as far as Hollywood goes, in the same way that longtime Industry reporter Kim Masters does for National Public Radio. Like Masters, Finke has a reputation for bringing buzz to a publication. Sometimes, though, all she does is leave an audible ringing in the ears.

“I have had to beat editors over the head, not literally, to say, ‘This is a story, and I am going to do this story whether you like it or not,’” says Finke. “I’m going to look like an idiot for saying this, but I haven’t been wrong yet.”

Modest she ain’t, but vain, not either—more like blind to how she looks to the rest of the world. She challenges the idea that her work has any impact. “I’m constantly telling my editors that nobody reads the L.A. Weekly,” she says. “The only time I see people reading it is when I go to the car wash and people are standing around. I call it the official paper of the valet parkers. And they’re reading the massage ads.” She’s wrong about her impact and wrong about the Weekly to boot. Week in and out, she’s been writing a great Hollywood column, one that actually feels like a product of the city.

My Hahn piece isn't online yet — I guess they want you to buy the magazine for that. In it, I try to make some sense of the L.A. native who has won more citywide elections here than anyone ever, but who is less well-known nationally than the rookie mayor of San Francisco and now faces the race of his life if he's to be reelected. I'm aware of a smattering of online reaction, here and here.

* Alex Ben Block, an honorary board member and former executive director of the L.A. Press Club, clarifies Finke: "For the record, there has been no right wing takeover of the L.A. Press Club. The board and membership are as diverse and varied a group as you can imagine. There have been events featuring people and issues of all political stripes. The leadership includes well known conservatives who sit right next to well known liberals and outspoken independents."

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