Budget pressures are the stated reason for ending Rick Wartzman's weekly California & Co. column in the Business section. But as usual with the L.A. Times these days, there's a backstory or two going around. Wartzman, you may recall, got the column when he left the paper abruptly in December to become a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. Until then, he was viewed as a rising star, the former editor in charge of the Business staff who was tapped to reinvent the paper's Sunday magazine as West. Friends say he left ten months into the new magazine's run because it was clear that, after LAT editor in chief Dean Baquet left for the New York Times, West would be gutted by associate editor John Montorio. The column was apparently a negotiated part of Wartzman's departure.
He used it to write often, though not exclusively, about labor, worker and class issues. His May 11 column, for example, urged a "real, honest debate about implementing a citywide living wage." Well, that's not the most popular beat with today's Times editors, as ex-labor writer Nancy Cleeland opined recently.
Now newsroom gossip says the Montorio plan for West is to ditch the literary California-centric format and re-invent yet again as a style and celebrity-driven magazine, perhaps with less-than-weekly frequency. Lennie Laguire, the former Calendar editor who took the buyout, is said to be working on the redesign on a contract. All the staff writers, including Pulitzer winner J.R. Moehringer, and many of the editors who used to work for West left last week on the buyout or were reassigned. Top Times editors might also have seen a third strike on Wartzman's resume: he co-authored a book with Mark Arax, the Armenian American reporter who has engaged in a public difference of opinion with managing editor Doug Frantz.