Media people

Ex-blogger Ken Layne has a desert magazine


In case you have lost track of Ken Layne, the former LA journalist and blogger is the subject of today's Column One feature on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. He's now publishing and hand-deliering a print journal called Desert Oracle and planning to move his family back to Joshua Tree, while building a cabin east of Mono Lake. The story frames his current life as a contrast to being the politics blogger at Wonkette, which he did for awhile, though it's not clear if the Times reporter knew his fuller LA media profile. The LAT probably got onto the story from a February piece in Capital New York which laid out the theme of disenchanted politics blogger takes to the desert. There also was a March interview on the subject in Stack.

Before all that, Layne was the co-creator with Matt Welch of the original Los Angeles media and politics blog, LA, and the pair collaborated with former mayor Richard Riordan when he flirted seriously with the idea of starting a print weekly to be called LA Examiner. Layne was also part of the Online Journalism Review at USC and wrote for some local publications, and took his first turn as a California deserts wanderer with a website he called Highways West. He teamed up with Gawker in 2005 on a tabloid-emulating site called Sploid, and after Ana Marie Cox made the original Wonkette popular, Layne became the politics site's West Coast person in 2006 and later the managing editor. In 2008 Gawker sold Wonkette to Layne and partners. In 2012 Wonkette was bought by LA journalist Rebecca Schoenkopf, and as far as I know she still has it.

Layne writes and publishes the Desert Oracle by himself — he got his first desert cabin when he was 22. He eschews having much of a digital presence, but there's a Desert Oracle website and Twitter feed. Layne, 49, sounds seriously burned out on the web after living in a Gawker world for too many years. "The Internet has ruined our collective mind for being able to rationally deal with news and issues," he says. "You need to come up with ever more vile headlines to get a few more clicks from the other 400 news outlets and sites that are doing the exact same story based on the same tiny bit of information."

"That is one reason there is no news in the Oracle," he adds. "I thought everyone could use less news."

From the Times story on Layne:

He considered doing a radio show like "A Prairie Home Companion" that focused on the American Southwest. Then, last summer, his new off-line venture appeared to him almost fully formed in the midst of a solo four-week drive through Death Valley and the Eastern Sierra. ("It's what I do instead of go to a psychiatrist," he says.)

It would be a quarterly regional magazine about the Southwest. The look would be inspired by old desert guides from the '60s and '70s like "Owens Valley Jeep Trails" and "Mines of the Mojave," but it would pay homage to the weirdness of the desert with stories about strange desert animals and even stranger desert characters. He called it the Desert Oracle.

"I saw it pretty clearly," he says. "It was going to be small, it was going to be yellow, and inside it was going to be all black and white. No color, no GIFs, no apps, no content on the Internet."

Layne doesn't have the best coloring for a desert rat. There are touches of red in his thick beard, and he burns easily. But when he grabs a long, sturdy walking stick and sun hat out of the car, he looks at home among the boulders and cholla cactuses near Joshua Tree National Park.

"You find a chunk of wild and quiet desert and you're in an old, magical land," he says.

Matt Welch, Layne's original collaborator on LA, is now the editor in chief of Reason magazine and lives in Brooklyn.

More by Kevin Roderick:
'In on merit' at USC
Read the memo: LA Times hires again
Read the memo: LA Times losing big on search traffic
Google taking over LA's deadest shopping mall
Gustavo Arellano, many others join LA Times staff
Recent Media people stories on LA Observed:
Walking through 4,000 photographs with Annie Leibovitz
Read the memo: LA Times hires again
Read the memo: LA Times losing big on search traffic
Joe Frank, somewhere out there
Gustavo Arellano, many others join LA Times staff
Michael Bloomberg
Put Jamal Khashoggi Square outside the Saudi consulate on Sawtelle
Here's who the LA Times has newly hired*