Interesting Angelenos

Boom profiles Hidden LA's Lynn Garrett


In the current issue of Boom, the journal from UC Press, Lynell George explores the phenomenon that is Hidden LA. The blog, website and Facebook page started by Lynn Garrett are so hugely popular with readers that Los Angeles Magazine tried to horn in on the name and finds itself in a legal battle with Garrett. So who is she and what is this phenomenon all about? From Boom:

Since 2009, Hidden Los Angeles has presided over a lively 24-hour virtual town square—linking current city-dwellers and expat, multi-generational natives to the casually curious from around the globe, feeding them into conversational threads that explore both place and perception, past, present and future.

Part old-school news editor and part 21st century content curator, Lynn Garrett single-handedly offers a regular flow of informational/conversation-prompting posts—video, photographs, news links—that fold in breaking news, history, cultural studies, recreation, city planning, conservancy, and nature/ecology. She has transported a famously elusive city into a virtual place, and attempted to give it shape and form.

Over three decades (on and off) kicking around Los Angeles, Garrett, an accomplished artist and graphic designer, has worked variously as a jazz singer and tour guide, for Disney Consumer Products as a senior designer of toy packaging, and for a time, as a senior art director at Mattel, where she designed board games. You see a little bit of all of those incarnations in the range of content explored on Hidden Los Angeles—in the online environment she’s created and the improvisational flow of ideas that dovetail to the next big thought.

Taken as a whole, Hidden Los Angeles is a fully interactive community—a virtual tour/online magazine of the city. It doesn’t ignore Hollywood as an industry but puts it in the context of the rest of Los Angeles—its ethnic communities, its flora and fauna, the curious factoids about LA in its earlier incarnation (a “horizontal” city, suburban sprawl, the old sky-scraper limits)—in other words, what it really means to live here.

The real city, Angelenos know, blooms along the edges of outsiders’ perceptions of it. What might appear arbitrary is actually the many chambers of its complex, working heart and how it fits into the world. That was the big question Garrett asked herself when she began her inquiries.

Part of really seeing Los Angeles, she has learned, is a simple act of shifting one’s perspective. “When we go to visit other places, we seek out and are often attracted to the cultural things. The history. It’s as if we have different expectations for Los Angeles.”

Nice piece. George, if you have lost track of her, is teaching journalism and writing at Loyola Marymount University. She blogs at Native to the Place. George was a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, the LA Times Magazine and the LA Weekly, and is the author of "No Crystal Stair: African-Americans in the City of Angels."

A word about Boom. Keep an eye on this magazine, from UC Press and now housed at UCLA and edited by a professor, Jon Christensen. They are doing more interesting pieces about California and spending more time in the south — check out Laurie Glover's piece on the Los Angeles River and the Glendale Narrows — and wants to be the California magazine we've never really had. From a recent examination of Boom in the Columbia Journalism Review:

Boom started as a way for researchers to converse with the public about California studies, but, Christensen says, he hopes to expand the magazine’s reach, so it speaks to people outside the state as well, addressing the idea of “California in the world.” He also hopes the journal can help break down, if not do away with, the mutual suspicion—some might say disdain—that often characterizes the relationship between academics and journalists. So far, Christenson says, he’s been heartened by the response from humanities scholars, social scientists, journalists, and independent writers taking part in the fall issue of Boom, which focuses on the 100th anniversary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which has carried the water LA needed to grow from the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains and been a center of controversy through much of its life. (For the pop culture version of part of the controversy, revisit the film Chinatown.) The issue is partly supported by a grant from the Annenberg Foundation’s Metabolic Studio.

Christensen talks of a familiar three-pronged strategy—a subscription print publication ($34.95 a year); a website that offers some (but not all) of the journal’s articles for free, along with a blog and links to social media; and public events, often put on with partners—for sparking conversation about major California issues and growing Boom’s reach. He boils the strategy down to “going where the conversations are” and emphasizes that partnering with other organizations—libraries, museums, and media outlets, including Burbank-based public television station KCET—in terms of both content and events is crucial to the Boom mission. “We don’t do anything alone,” he says.

Like its editorial effort, the business model for Boom is a work in progress that shows, at least, promise. Boom does accept advertising, but it is primarily a subscription-based publication that is sold, in clusters of UC Press journals, to university and other libraries. These kinds of library subscriptions are “very valuable” to academic publishers, Robinson says. Still, library sales are a complex business, and a movement toward open access (read: free) journals is challenging traditional academic publishing models. “It’s a quick and changing landscape,” Robinson says wryly, acknowledging that although Boom has a three-year plan for achieving sustainability, it “may need some outside philanthropic support in perpetuity.”

Photo of Garrett at Farmers Market by Lynell George

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