L.A. Times media writer James Rainey has not previously talked about the transformation of the LA Weekly from lefty cultural organ known for hard-hitting pieces into pursuer of Jill Stewart's various agendas, with some hard-hitting pieces still. In today's column, Rainey takes a look at the change and the exit of editor Laurie Ochoa. He begins by noticing that a recent piece on Antonio Villaraigosa "employed more semantic spin than Kobe Bryant puts on a jump shot, along with a prosecutorial methodology that proved much more about the declining quality of our city's dominant alternative newspaper than it did about our attention-grasping mayor."
The Weekly has fallen far from the days it was required reading for those in the know about the city. In those days, the paper belonged to powerful writers such as Michael Ventura and Harold Meyerson, the political savant who now writes op-ed columns for the Washington Post.
But many who work at the paper attribute its tone and direction in the last couple of years to its news editor, Jill Stewart.
A convoluted history brought Stewart -- a former L.A. Times reporter and flame-throwing columnist for the now-defunct New Times Los Angeles -- to the Weekly to replace popular news editor Alan Mittelstaedt, who was forced out in late 2006.
While Ochoa remained in charge of the overall operation, a couple of people who worked at the paper told me she effectively ceded control of news to Stewart, a favorite of the Village Voice Media executives who oversee the operation....
Cooper and others have written about the stark change in political focus that infused the paper after Stewart's arrival. The Weekly's faithfully pro-union, lefty bent gave way to the news editor's libertarian sensibility. "Laughable 'reporters' were brought in," Cooper wrote, "to scribble highly ideological pieces that reflected Stewart's world view."
But to me Stewart's more important, and insidious, influence has been not as an ideologue but as a pedagogue -- pushing for what one writer who has worked with her called "gotcha, pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey journalism."
(Like most of those who spoke to me, this scribe declined to be named because he feared Stewart could hurt his chances of writing for the Weekly, a risk he didn't want to take in a contracting market.)
I know Jill from her time as a metropolitan reporter here at The Times. Her strength is intelligence, sharp writing and her passion for local news.
Her weakness, described by several journalists who have worked with her and reflected in several recent cover stories, is that she pushes story lines that make some sense, with arguments that make very little.
It was once fun to read Stewart's New Times column because she painted a cartoonish world. Public policy was either brilliant or shameful, politicians either beatific or (more often) amoral and parasitic. Forget the shades of gray.
I see those same strains in pieces like the one on Villaraigosa's work habits.
Rainey also includes the news that, even with wife Ochoa's exit as editor, Pulitzer-winning food writer Jonathan Gold will remain "at least through the fall publication of his list of L.A.'s top 99 restaurants." Ochoa had nothing to say for the story.