LA Observed Notes: Guild vote isn't even the top LA Times story

women-march-garcetti.jpgMayor Eric Garcetti posted this photo of Saturday's women's march to Twitter, calling it a downtown turnout of 600,000. That's more than the number of votes in the March 2017 LA mayoral election.

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Top of the news

• Highway 101 re-opens through Montecito - AP
• Governor Brown denies parole to Manson follower Leslie Van Houten - SF Gate
• A President Not Sure of What He Wants Complicates the Shutdown Impasse - New York Times
• SAG Awards: ‘Three Billboards,’ ‘This Is Us’ take top prizes - Variety

Times staff votes in the guild - and that's not even the lede

The Los Angeles Times newsroom voted 248-44 to be represented going forward by the NewsGuild — in the end it wasn't close. Guild organizers celebrated after the NLRB vote count and later in a downtown bar near the Times, and Tronc issued a "we respect the outcome" statement. It's a milestone moment — the Times newsroom has never had a union before. Now begins what could be a stressful year or more of negotiations toward a contract and figuring out work rules and salary scales in a newsroom with wildly varying pay levels and zero tradition of collective bargaining.

The company has some new editors coming in, and a new digital strategy on the way, and still faces evaporating ad revenue — and oh yeah, the owner is still Tronc and the publisher just got put on voluntary leave. So the best intentions of guild supporters may not be enough.

On Friday, embattled publisher Ross Levinsohn "voluntarily agreed to take an unpaid leave of absence," Tronc CEO Justin Dearborn told the staff. The company also said it retained law firm Sidley Austin to review allegations of inappropriate behavior by Levinsohn at previous jobs. Times president Mickie Rosen, a longtime associate of Levinsohn's, was put in charge of the paper "in the meantime." The LAT Guild has already demanded that Levinsohn be officially removed and that Tronc allow an independent investigation into how he could have been hired with a background that includes sexual harassment settlements and a report that he referred to gay men at a Hollywood party as "fags." Twelve senior editors also said if the charges are true that Levinsohn should not remain at the head of the paper.

Also looming over the Times: Levinsohn last week had just helped unveil a controversial strategy in which Tronc and the online edition of the LA Times would rely less on a staff of journalists and more on outside contributors whose main role would seem to be to create cheap content that Tronc can sell or put on the web. LAT top editor Lewis D'Vorkin oversaw this kind of out-sourcing of content when he was at Forbes, and since that was basically the only qualification he brought to the job of being editor-in-chief of a top-tier U.S. newspaper, nobody was too surprised it arose here. "His construction of its contributor network — both admired as innovative and decried as cheapening the Forbes brand and embracing clickbait as an editorial strategy — seems to inform" plans to create a Los Angeles Times Network of non-journalist contributors, media analyst Ken Doctor writes. But: "Without Levinsohn having D’Vorkin’s back, what’s his half-life in his still tentative tenure?"

If it all kind of sounds like Tronc using Russian-style web content farms to write cheaply reported (if at all) stories for the Times website, that may not be far off. There's nothing good about it for Los Angeles Times readers, in print or online. Doctor says the documents detailing the plan were pulled offline shortly after NPR broke its story on Levinsohn. For what it's worth: remember those thousands of unpaid contributors who fed content to the Huffington Post, often ghost-written for public officials or celebrities, or interests pushing one cause or another? The HuffPost announced last week it was killing that whole program after 13 years. If the LA Times opens up its brand to let thousands of Joe Internets play expert, it will be the only major news organization doing so.

Also from Doctor last week: Newsonomics: Inside L.A.’s journalistic collapse, about the troubles brewing at the Times, at the Southern California News Group newspapers, and for other media here. Doctor and NPR's David Folkenflik discussed the Times Friday on AirTalk with Larry Mantle on KPCC.

Noted: I was on KCRW's "Friday Mixer" talking about the Times and local journalism, with anchor Steve Chiotakis and former Los Angeles Magazine editor-in-chief Mary Melton. Listen

Val Zavala retires from KCET

Val-Zavala-kcet.jpgKCET's longtime vice president, producer and anchor Val Zavala is retiring at the end of January. She goes back 30 years with the former PBS flagship for Los Angeles, now an independent station based in Burbank. KCET will air a half-hour tribute hosted by KNBC's Fritz Coleman on Feb. 13 and 14.

Zavala was a reporter, anchor and for four years the executive producer of KCET's former daily news show "Life and Times." She has been the anchor for "SoCal Connected" for 10 years and was that show's executive producer from 2014 to 2017. She also was KCET's vice president of news and public affairs, and hosted numerous specials.

"Val Zavala is a true Southern California treasure," said Juan Devis, KCET's chief creative officer. "In her 30 years as a journalist covering our region, she has shaped a legacy defined by truth and integrity, and built legions of devoted fans along the way by putting community first."

Ed Moses, 91

ed-moses-alston.jpgEd Moses, the Venice artist who was a founder of the Cool School movement of artists at the Ferus Gallery in the 1950s and '60s, died at home at age 91. "Moses will be remembered as an L.A. art world fixture, one of the city's most productive and experimental artists of the last half-century," the LA Times obituary says. The William Turner Gallery at Santa Monica's Bergamot Station made the official announcement.

In a career that spanned 7 decades, Moses received national and international recognition for his practice, known for its restless intensity and ever-evolving style. Considered one of LA’s most innovative painters and a central figure in the city’s art scene, Moses often referred to himself as a “mutator”, driven less by the desire for self-expression than by an insatiable curiosity to explore and discover. Describing his approach, Moses said, “The rational mind constantly wants to be in charge. The other parts want to fly. My painting is the encounter between the mind’s necessity for control and its yearning to fly, to be free from our ever-confining skull.”

Ed Moses was born on April 9, 1926 in Long Beach, CA. His mother Olivia Branco had just separated from his father Alphonses Moses, and was relocating the family from Hawaii to California. Moses did not initially choose the artistic path. After serving as a surgical technician during World War II, Moses intended to become a doctor. He enrolled in Long Beach City College’s pre-med program, but dropped out, citing his inability to memorize the curriculum. On a whim, he took a life-changing class with artist Pedro Miller, who recognized the spark of untapped talent. Moses changed course and enrolled in UCLA’s MFA program. There he met artist Craig Kauffman who introduced him to the future Ferus Gallery owner Walter Hopps.

Moses had his first exhibition at Ferus Gallery in 1958 while still a graduate student at UCLA. It was at Ferus that Moses would become a member of the raucous group of artists known as the “Cool School”; a group that included Kauffman, Billy Al Bengston, Robert Irwin, Edward Kienholz, Ken Price, Ed Ruscha, Larry Bell, John Altoon and Wallace Berman - all of whom pushed the boundaries of Post War art and shaped the nascent LA art scene at a time when almost none existed.

Greg Critser, 63

Greg-Critser-obit-photo,2009.jpgGreg Critser, a journalist and author of books on science and health issues and a former magazine editor, died Jan. 13 at age 63 following a three-year battle with glioblastoma. In addition to his best-selling books, Greg was an occasional contributor to LA Observed through the years. He lived in Pasadena with his wife, Antoinette Mongelli, and is also survived by his parents.

Greg was an editor for the late Buzz Magazine in Los Angeles and for Pasadena Weekly. He also wrote or edited for Inc. Magazine, Worth Magazine and Harper's. He taught science writing at Caltech and USC.

His books include "Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World," an international bestseller in 2003; "Generation Rx: How Prescription Drugs Are Altering American Minds, Lives and Bodies"; "Eternity Soup: Inside the Quest to End Aging"; and "California," a National Geographic travel guide. Greg also collaborated with personal trainer Bob Harper on a series of weight-loss and exercise books including "The Skinny Rules” (2012), "Jumpstart to Skinny" (2013) and "Skinny Habits" (2015).

Media notes

A final interview with public radio storyteller Joe Frank as he knew he was dying, with Mark Oppenheimer at Slate. Frank died last week at 79... Michael Sigman, the former publisher of LA Weekly, and Wendy Block wrote an LA Times op-ed about losing their home in the Ventura wildfire last month. "Sharpest gut punch: The loss of the original sheet music for hundreds of songs written by my father, Carl Sigman, along with tons of other memorabilia that conjured the magic of Manhattan’s Brill Building, where my parents met 70 years ago."... The backstory to allegations against Michael Douglas by writer Susan Braudy, from Hollywood Reporter editorial director Matthew Belloni... NBC correspondent in LA Jacob Soboroff reported on the homeless here who live in rented RVs for the Today Show... Playboy has sued popular Los Angeles-based website for linking to something, not for anything BoingBoing published. "Playboy’s lawsuit is based on an imaginary (and dangerous) version of US copyright law that bears no connection to any US statute or precedent," the site says, scratching its virtual head.

'Washington Post' To Expand Newsroom After Second Year Of Profits. Publishers Daily... Twitter Admits There Were More Than 50,000 Russian Bots Trying to Confuse American Voters Before the Election Slate... Russia-linked Twitter accounts are working overtime to help Devin Nunes and WikiLeaks. Business Insider... Trump, Wolff and The Secret of the Russia Story, by Josh Marshall at TPM.

Author and former LA Times reporter David Freed, a longtime Santa Barbaran: "I survived the California fires and mudslides. Here’s why I don’t leave."... Mekahlo Medina now anchors the weekend morning news on NBC 4... Rico Gagliano guest-hosted The Frame on KPCC... Bob Smith, pioneering gay comedian and writer, died at 59... Hawthorne High School got around to changing an F in music given to Brian Wilson, before the Beach Boys. They gave him an A and Wilson appeared at the school... Film LA says the LAPD has declared a "filming respite" in areas of Highland Park until April.

Must see TV

"Larry, you do realize now the women you so heartlessly abused over such a long period of time are now a force, and you are nothing" — Olympic champion Aly Raisman, two-time captain of the U.S. Olympic gymnasts, giving a 12-minute victim statement that drew applause in a Michigan courtroom. And far beyond.

Raisman called out the adults in charge of the U.S. Olympic program for doing nothing during former team doctor Larry Nassar's decades of sexual abuse — or since. The New York Times published Raisman's statement in full in Saturday's paper.

Author and journalist Joan Ryan, author of "Little Girls in Pretty Boxes: The Making and Breaking of Elite Gymnasts and Figure Skaters," on Twitter: "I wrote that book 23 years ago — and USA Gymnastics has done nothing in that time to protect the children in their care. Seriously there should be criminal charges. I am heartbroken for these young women."

Selected tweets


Noted: That's Veronique de Turenne of our Here in Malibu blog at lower left.

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