Harold Meyerson, the LA Weekly's executive editor and chief political writer at the time of the Los Angeles riots in 1992, is one of the alumni whose jaw dropped when the current LA Weekly posted a blog item yesterday claiming that the alt-weekly did not cover the riots when they happened. (Alas, I fell for it.) The item was later corrected when the Weekly's blogger, Simone Wilson, re-visited the archives and turned up the May 8 issue. Meyerson, now editor-at-large at The American Prospect, explains in a note to LA Observed what the Weekly's engagement in the riots was back then.
In those days, we went to press Wednesday noon, so our Friday May 1 issue went out the door (by car – no emailing pages in those days) on Wednesday the 29th before the riots began. Our next issue, which went to the printer on May 6th and was dated May 8th – had blow-out coverage of the riot.
But even as the May 1 issue shipped to the printer, the staff stood around the TV set in the conference room to watch the verdicts in the Rodney King beating trial. When the acquittals came down, we knew the city would erupt and Kit [Rachlis, then editor-in-chief] began talking about who should cover what if it did.
That night, I was in what was then called South-Central, at the first AME church, watching the city’s African-American elite try to come up with a response to the verdict as the streets outside grew chaotic. (Ruben Martinez, also covering the church meeting, emerged to find his car had been torched.) We had reporters all over town during the next four days, and our next issue – the first after the riots started – was entirely a riot issue, with notable pieces from Martinez, Tom Carson on the TV coverage (with a headline taken from something a local TV anchor said that night: “Do You Fear the Coming Darkness?”) and many others. A shorter version of my overview piece also ran as the cover story in that week’s issue of The New Republic, and that issue was a finalist for the best-single-issue prize in the National Magazine Awards.
Beyond that, we also did what I think was the best coverage of the pre-riot city, in at least two particulars: Ongoing critical coverage of the LAPD from Joe Dominick and others (some of which was cited in the Christopher Commission’s report on police reform), and ongoing coverage of the growth of the city’s poverty-wage Latino workforce. The Weekly had also covered the persistence of poverty in the African-American inner city, most notably, a few years earlier (before Kit and I arrived), in Ron Curran’s cover story “Malign Neglect.”
Finally, LA Observed just ran a piece by Bill Boyarsky on Thursday’s USC conference on the riots and their aftermath. I was on the opening panel, asked by the moderator, Manuel Pastor, to explain how the LA Weekly got the city so right in those days. I don’t think I would have been invited to be there had the Weekly not covered the riots.
I don’t know the blogger who wrote the entry about the Weekly, but I presume she wasn’t around in 1992. Her editors, assuming, perhaps optimistically, that they’re still sentient, have no such excuse.