LA Observed Notes: Fires in December and much more

december-10-sunset-rick-dickert.jpgThere was quite a smoke-intensified sunset over the Pacific Ocean Sunday night. Here's why. Beauties were all over social media — this was posted by Fox 11's helicopter reporter Rick Dickert from his backyard in Redondo Beach. "Absolutely zero filter..."

Our occasional roundup of news and notes. As always, between posts you can keep up with LA Observed on Twitter — now with 24,849 followers.

Fires in December

The Thomas Fire now spreading into Santa Barbara County has become the fifth biggest in California (by acreage) since 1932, says CalFire. It was at 230,000 acres and 10 percent containment Sunday evening — that's less containment than earlier. It's expanding on fronts toward Carpinteria, Santa Barbara and in the mountains above Ojai. UC Santa Barbara has postponed the upcoming finals week. There's no rain in sight for California and everything you touch these days is dry and crisp; red flag conditions remain in force through Monday from Santa Barbara down to Los Angeles County.

Officials here are calling the Creek Fire above Lake View Terrace and Sylmar 95 percent contained at 15,619 acres burned. There's similar good news about the fires in Bel-Air (which got the massive response it did because of this, despite the small acreage) and in Rye Canyon by Castaic.

KPCC and NPR health reporter Stephanie O'Neill, the former LA Times reporter and PBS correspondent in LA, lives in Ojai and has been reporting like crazy on the fire there while juggling evacuation of her horses and the threat of her own hasty retreat. NPR story.

And check out some of the pics from Los Angeles Times photographers who have been at the Thomas Fire. The front pages of the Times have been pretty dramatic for days now.

Sometimes the picture doesn't need any flames to tell the story.

Doyle McManus leaving LA Times

Doyle McManus, the Los Angeles Times Washington columnist and the paper's former DC bureau chief (as well as foreign correspondent), is taking a buyout and leaving the Times staff at the end of the year. No word on who initiated his departure or whether there is a buyout offer in front of other senior staffers. McManus was with the Times for 39 years, including 34 in Washington.

The note to the staff from opinion editors Nick Goldberg and Juliet Lapidos praises "a long and distinguished career."

Many of you have only known Doyle as our Washington-based op-ed columnist who files witty, informed and - amazingly for these times - balanced, non-hysterical pieces twice a week for the Opinion section. But in fact Doyle has been at the paper for nearly 40 years, contributing to it immensely in a succession of important roles. He joined The Times in 1978 and has reported for the paper from the West Coast, the East Coast, the Middle East and Central America. He moved to our Washington bureau in 1983 and served as Washington bureau chief from 1996 to 2008. Somehow, he also found the time to become the face of the paper on PBS' Washington Week, and to write three books, including, with Jane Mayer, the best-selling "Landslide: The Unmaking of the President, 1984 - 1988."

Those of you who have worked with Doyle are aware of his extraordinary collegiality. He is supportive, seemingly unflappable, always gentlemanly; he's also clever, deeply knowledgeable and articulate. We'll miss him, and he'll be impossible to replace. Which is why we're delighted that he'll continue his affiliation with the paper, writing op-eds as a contributing writer.

McManus has come to see the beauty in posting to Twitter, I notice. I hope that continues. Couple of recent examples:

Bad sheriffs in the LA Times

This is a pretty big weekend investigative story by the LAT's Maya Lau, Ben Poston and Corina Knoll. "The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department keeps a secret list of about 300 deputies with histories of dishonesty and similar misconduct that could undermine their credibility when testifying in court. Even prosecutors and many high-ranking sheriff’s officials can’t see this so-called Brady list."

When Sheriff Jim McDonnell attempted to give the list to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, the deputies’ union sued him. Lower courts ruled that the list is confidential, and the California Supreme Court has announced it will decide the issue.

The Times reviewed a version of the list from 2014 and obtained government and court documents that detail the accusations against the deputies.

LA Weekly names interim editor

After another week of stumbling, and a thin first print edition containing no masthead or hard news, the new overseers of the LA Weekly may be starting to get their act together. The head guy without title, Brian Calle, gave some interviews and said he really, really wants the LA Weekly to be great and won't change its direction or politics. He told KCRW's Madeleine Brand there would be substantially more content related to cannabis, as many suspected, but on that and any other news topic, it's completely unknown if Calle and his investors will stand for actual reporting that makes them or their friends uncomfortable and that plows ahead without regard to any of the financial interests of the owners. Like a real news publication. The names of the investors weren't kept secret, Calle insists; the roster was just in flux.

Last week saw former writers and editors call for a boycott of the Weekly, a food-and-booze event that's supposed to make money had to be canceled because so many sponsors pulled out, and UC Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky revealed he would not be joining the investor group after all. Then on Friday, the only staff writer who wasn't fired, Hillel Aron, announced that he would be interim editor after asking for, and receiving, some assurances. He also asked for support from the LA Weekly journalist community in exile.

I just accepted the job of interim Editor-in-Chief of the LA Weekly. I did so only after the paper’s new owners agreed to several conditions: As editor, I have control of the newspaper’s editorial content; I be allowed to hire at least two former writer/editors; that our contributors be paid. I also asked that the union representation of the newsroom be permitted to return. The owners have agreed to all these conditions.

This has been a difficult and painful week for the LA Weekly’s community of writers, readers and advertisers. To put it bluntly, the essential trust that binds the paper to its community has been damaged. I will seek to repair that trust. I will also aim to uphold the paper’s values of independence, irreverence and fearlessness.

Los Angeles is a lot better with the LA Weekly than without it. But a small, independent newspaper cannot survive without the support of the city it covers. Which is why I’m asking for your help. Writers and readers, please, give us a chance. I ask that you judge us by the content that we produce, and that you hold us accountable, just as we seek to hold this great city accountable.

Aron had previously sent a note to past contributors asking for story pitches and admitting "the new owners have made some missteps, and they're working to correct that." He also said "the wall between 'church and state,'that is between editorial and sales & marketing, stands firm, and will continue to do so." Aron has not run a news operation before, and I don't see anybody arguing that he and one or two staffers bring anywhere close to the depth of what the Weekly was before. (Let alone in its heyday before the New Times takeover.) But it does sound like there are people willing to give the scaled-back Weekly experiment a chance. Though not all. Here's former Weekly writer Daniel Hernandez's take.

A CityLab piece by Julia Wick makes it pretty clear that the Weekly was making money before the staff was gutted, and stands to pick up cannabis ad dollars after the first of the year.

Good read people are talking about

cat-person-illo.jpgCat Person, a short story in the New Yorker by Kristen Roupenian, is so engaging that it's been trending even on Los Angeles Twitter. It's a woman's detailed perspective on a date that turns into a relationship of a sort. Fictional, and yet..."I can’t remember the last time I read a short story so brutally and uncomfortably relatable," Entertainment Weekly writer Dana Schwartz posted. The New Yorker recognized it had something with this piece and also posted an interview with Roupenian, a first-time contributor to the magazine. Excerpt:

Your story in this week’s issue, “Cat Person,” is both an excruciating bad-date story and, I think, a kind of commentary on how people get to know each other, or don’t, through electronic communication. Where did the idea for the story come from?

The story was inspired by a small but nasty encounter I had with a person I met online. I was shocked by the way this person treated me, and then immediately surprised by my own shock. How had I decided that this was someone I could trust? The incident got me thinking about the strange and flimsy evidence we use to judge the contextless people we meet outside our existing social networks, whether online or off.

Especially in the early stages of dating, there’s so much interpretation and inference happening that each interaction serves as a kind of Rorschach test for us. We decide that it means something that a person likes cats instead of dogs, or has a certain kind of artsy tattoo, or can land a good joke in a text, but, really, these are reassuring self-deceptions. Our initial impression of a person is pretty much entirely a mirage of guesswork and projection. When I started writing the story, I had the idea of a person who had adopted all these familiar signifiers as a kind of camouflage, but was something else—or nothing at all—underneath.

Media notes

60 Minutes devoted a segment Sunday night to Gov. Jerry Brown and his resistance to Donald Trump. Climate change was a key piece of the segment: "The fire season used to be a few months in the summer. Now it's almost year long... I don't think President Trump has the fear of the Lord, the fear of the wrath of God, which leads one to more humility." Brown also shows Bill Whitaker around the solar-powered ranch where he will soon retire.

Mayor Eric Garcetti sat down for a Q&A with the editor of The Atlantic. They talked about Garcetti maybe running for president but also some interesting stuff, including about Trump. Sample:

I am totally opposed to so much of the immorality coming out of the White House right now, but I’d like to also talk about its impracticality. This is a very impractical White House. When it comes to public safety, I listen to police chiefs and cops, not to a cable-news station. When it comes to environment, we’re not engaged in ideological conversation about the merits of climate change. We’re actually dealing with the impact.

Meanwhile, Trump used the weekend to campaign for Alabama's sullied dinosaur candidate Roy Moore, and also to attack the Washington Post's Dave Weigel for a tweeted pic that didn't tell the whole story about the crowd at Trump's rally. Weigel fixed the error quickly, but Trump — history's biggest proponent and beneficiary of what he calls fake news — demands the reporter be fired. Nicolle Wallace, the chief political analyst for NBC and MSNBC and former Bush White House spokeswoman, rolled her eyes. "Some free PR advice for my pals in the media - Donald Trump would love to have a fight about whether the press tells the truth - FACT: there are higher standards in every newsroom than on potus twitter feed and White House press briefing- do not take the bait. Carry on."... Alabama's Republican Senator Richard Shelby chose CNN's Jake Tapper for his bombshell that he would not vote for Roy Moore.

Much more interesting: The NYT White House team of Maggie Haberman, Glenn Thrush and Peter Baker has one of those stories future historians could study to try to understand the Trump blip in U.S. history. "Around 5:30 each morning, President Trump wakes and tunes into the television in the White House’s master bedroom. He flips to CNN for news, moves to 'Fox & Friends' for comfort and messaging ideas, and sometimes watches MSNBC’s 'Morning Joe' because, friends suspect, it fires him up for the day..." Also this: "Despite all his bluster, he views himself less as a titan dominating the world stage than a maligned outsider engaged in a struggle to be taken seriously, according to interviews with 60 advisers, associates, friends and members of Congress."... Megyn Kelly will conduct "an exclusive live sit-down interview" this morning with three women who have publicly accused Trump of sexual misconduct. They will be on NBC News' "Megyn Kelly TODAY" at 9 a.m.

Maria-Elena-Salinas-final-newscast.pngMaría Elena Salinas (pictured), who began her career at KMEX 34 in Los Angeles, ended her run at Univision as the longest-running female anchor in the United States. She began co-anchoring with Jorge Ramos in 1987.... Sinclair, the likely future owner of KTLA Channel 5 in Los Angeles, is more about pursuing political agendas than letting its stations cover news honestly. It's forcing local stations to air multiple false attacks on the Southern Poverty Law Center, Media Matters says... Sure, your tweets are going into the Library of Congress, but that doesn't mean that they'll form a useful part of the historical record... A.O. Scott and Wesley Morris of the New York Times discuss their top 10 film actors of the year, from Daniel Kaluuya and Tiffany Haddish to Timothée Chalamet and Saoirse Ronan. On the star of "Lady Bird" they say: "It has been apparent for at least a decade — let’s say since 'Atonement,' which you may have forgotten had anyone else in it — that Saoirse Ronan can do anything... She is as spontaneous and unpredictable as an actual 17-year-old — someone you know, someone you were — which suggests an altogether stupefying level of craft."

Margaret Sullivan of the Washington Post wants more media savvy: "How do you use an anonymous source? The mysteries of journalism everyone should know."... NPR has posted a new guide for print reporters who want to work in radio: "We want to make your journey easier, so the transition to audio feels less like a hike without a map and more like an adventure through an unfamiliar-yet-friendly wilderness."... The Wall Street Journal is looking for a personal tech columnist in the Bay Area... HuffPost is seeking an environmental reporter with a focus on social justice and equality... Simeon S. Booker Jr., the Washington Post’s first black reporter and later columnist and Washington bureau chief for Jet and Ebony magazines, died at age 99.

Local: The Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists will honor six local journalists at the March 1 Distinguished Journalists banquet: Kim Masters, editor-at-large of The Hollywood Reporter; Robin Abcarian, columnist at the Los Angeles Times; KPCC reporter Sharon McNary; ABC7 Eyewitness News reporter Miriam Hernandez; Norberto Santana, founder and publisher of the Voice of OC; and Rob Eshman, former editor-in-chief and publisher of the Jewish Journal... The Herald Examiner building downtown is getting a big remodel that will include a bistro by the people behind Republique on La Brea and the new Sari Sari Store in Grand Central Market... Karen Wittmer Jekel, publisher of the Daily Pilot in the 1980s, has died. She was 65.


Drones take off in the battle against the Los Angeles fires - Wired

Five things we already know about California's races for governor and U.S. Senate - LA Times/George Skelton

Los Angeles should preserve CBS Television City before it's too late - Zev Yaroslavsky

Coveted Japanese pitcher-hitter Shohei Ohtani chose to sign with the Angels - ESPN

Selected tweets



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