Dear kids: Meyerson sad about Contreras piece

MeyersonI didn't set out to post two Harold Meyerson items in a row, or three LA Weekly items. News is unpredictable, though, and they are all related. Meyerson, the newly departed ex-columnist of the Weekly and an admirer of the late labor leader Miguel Contreras, is going away mad. He is unhappy that tomorrow's Weekly will run David Zahniser's piece about Contreras' death. Meyerson fired off a late-night email to the staff registering his disappointment and informing them he wants nothing more to do with his journalism home of many years. His email:

Hey, kids - Looks like I'm gone at precisely the right moment. With the Contreras piece, we've crossed a line. Well, actually, you've crossed a line. I'm gone.

The Weekly is now its own sub-genre of newspaper: the guilty-conscience tabloid. A real tabloid would have headlined this week's cover piece, "Labor Boss Croaks in Hooker's Arms!" A non-tabloid wouldn't have run the piece, and certainly not on the cover. A guilty-conscience tabloid runs the folk art that Miguel inspired at the time of his death, and seeks to justify running the piece by equating it with the biographies on Martin Luther King's private life. But there's a crucial difference.

King's private life had public consequences: the FBI monitored it and threatened King with exposure. But we're not covering Miguel's private life; we're covering his private death, and it's hard for me to see how the circumstances of his death had public consequences. The fact of his death, as Dave rightly notes, had huge consequences, but nowhere in the piece does Dave really raise the question of whether the circumstances of his death caused the fact of his death. My understanding -- correct me if I'm wrong -- is that the piece was rushed on to the cover, that another story was yanked to make room for it.

Perhaps Dave could have drawn a connection that would have justified the play the piece received. But as it stands, he didn't.

Continuing after the jump, Meyerson complains the Weekly has lost its way and urges staffers to rise above the coming New Times-ization of the paper. (For those who don't know, New Times bought Village Voice Media which owned the Weekly, and NT editorial guru Michael Lacey was said to be in town this week holding meetings.)

I acknowlege at the git-go that Miguel was a friend of mine, a friendship that grew out of the circumstances I talk about in my final column this week: that for many years, the Weekly and the local labor movement, once Miguel became its leader, were embarked on parallel missions. Whatever may be said of the Weekly today, nobody not at the Weekly, and I suspect few people at the Weekly either, view its mission as fostering a particular kind of political, social and economic change in Los Angeles. The paper's decision, for the first time since forever, not to run endorsements makes that even clearer. That's unfortunate, but it's no disgrace.

But becoming a tabloid in the New Times model is absolutely a disgrace. The New Times model churns out "gotcha" news stories, it snipes at an undifferentiated establishment, it makes little effort to understand larger social forces at work in a city (that would require local deviations from the model), it has a weakness for rants. It produces columns like "L.A. Sniper," in the Jill Stewart mode of reducing commentary to drive-by shootings.

All this is a ridiculous misuse of the exceptional editorial and reportorial talent at the Weekly. Dave, I should make clear, is an exceptionally gifted reporter, and his piece this week displays all his usual virtues. The problem with the piece is that it's conceptually tabloid stuff -- sensationalism for its own sake, since, again, it does not even seriously address whether the circumstances of Miguel's death were in any way causal of his death. And the cover line -- encasing the prostitute reference within the United-Farm-Workers-esque folk art -- would make the guilty-conscience tabloid hall of fame, if one existed.

I have no idea what if any role Mike Lacy [sic] and the New Times folks played in this, but anyone who spends a nano-second looking at the paper understands that New Times template is already in place, and I know from countless conversations that editorial staffers live in fear of getting the ax if they deviate from it. That's sad for the city, sad for the paper, and sad for those of you who work there and are in no financial position to leave (a position I understand very well). You're all better than that, and you know it.

My understanding with the editors was that I could do individual pieces from time to time. Now that I've read the Contreras story and discovered that it's the cover, however, I'm afraid I don't want to do that any more. I regret that, not just because I deeply like to write about Los Angeles and California, but also because I like working with you all very much. But this is not the Weekly any of us signed on to (unless there are some new hires I don't know, which there probably are), and most certainly not the paper that some of us hoped would help remake Los Angeles into a more humane and equitable city, and have fun doing it along the way.

Sorry, kids -- I'm gone.

Best of luck,

Weekly's news editor responds: Alan Mittelstaedt sends Meyerson an email.

Photo: PBS Newshour

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