The young reporter (he's 25) who left the Los Angeles Times this year for the LA Weekly (and did a well-received profile of Gustavo Arellano and took heat for his unromanticized coverage of the South L.A. farm story) answers questions from Adrienne Crew at LAist about the switch and his view of ethnic politics and divides in L.A. Excerpts:
Why did you move from the Los Angeles Times to the LA Weekly? How are the jobs similar and different?
I owe The Times lots. They taught me so much. They gave me freedom and room to work, and pushed me to push myself. Everyday the people there amazed me, their talent and drive. But The Times has a very clear, very rigid tradition on how to report the news.
Shortly after I got there, I started having these long, tortured thought sessions with myself about my participation in the MSM. I saw how the people and places the paper chose to cover were automatically political decisions because for every thing you chose to cover there is something you chose to not cover. I started realizing that the mainstream style on reporting the news that most papers employ is not really concerned with depicting the truth, but concerned primarily with balancing lots of competing agendas and offending the least amount of interests as possible.
I saw how so much was looked at from certain assumptions and subtexts, and a very narrow cultural view. When I raised questions about such things, I was told we were writing for a "mainstream reader," which I quickly figured out is basically a euphemism for a middle-aged, middle-class white registered Democrat homeowner in the Valley. From where I stand today, I had very little in common with this "mainstream reader" and I didn't care to be in this person's service. I wanted to talk across to people, not up or down to people. I had to get out. So I thought, why not experiment? Try different forms? Laurie Ochoa and the editors at the LA Weekly said, 'Go ahead, abandon rote objectivity and embrace the subjective lens through which we all see the world—Just report it all out.' It was ON.
The jobs are basically the same: go out there, report the story, think about it a lot, write, turn it in, get edited, learn from it, and start all over. It's been a real challenge. The Weekly is more challenging. At The Times I was just challenging the institutional and cultural barriers of an ultimately very conservative place. That was exhausting, and not very fulfilling. At the Weekly, there's all this freedom, and that means you have to be more careful and more thoughtful.
Is Los Angeles still a segregated city and how?
Yes and no. The geography makes it easy to declare L.A. is segregated, but I think L.A. is really quite integrated, more than a lot of other cities I've seen. At the street level, everyone pretty much gets along and goes about their day like people do all over the world. At the edges of the city's cultural nodes, where the different cultures meet, interesting hybrids happen: in the music you hear out the windows, in the food, in the storefront signage, in the clothes people wear, in the colors of people's skin. For the most part, I think racial tensions in L.A. are exaggerated and media-fueled and politicized, but that doesn't mean they aren't real. Maybe I'm naïve, but isn't everyone everything by now? We're in L.A., we have access to and interact with the entire world, because the entire world is here. I just don't see how everything comes down to race. People are more than the sum of their ethnic heritage and the color of the skin. Just ask them.
What types of graft and dirty dealings do you see go on in our local government? Is it just an LA thing or a California thing or a national phenomena?
Mostly I follow the juicy and slimy stories dug out of City Hall by my colleagues at the Weekly. It's part of the lore that dirty dealings are in the city's political DNA. Can't even begin to ruminate on an explanation for that. Maybe it's something in the water, or in the "Water & Power." For me, it's just interesting to see how the city's rising Latino political stars—I like calling them the Mexican American Princes—are morphing into politicians like any other politicians anywhere else, in any other period. They just happen to be brown. We'll see if they can come up with something transgressive at the upcoming National Latino Congreso, but I'm not holding my breath.