LA Observed Notes: Long reads, short reads and more

arax-wonderful.jpgThe airstrip at the Wonderful almond and pistachio processing plant. Check out Mark Arax's story in California Sunday magazine, below. Photo by Trent Davis Bailey.

Our occasional roundup of news, notes and chatter. Between posts you can keep up with LA Observed on Twitter — now with 24,972 followers.

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If you read one long story this week...

Author and journalist Mark Arax lives in the San Joaquin Valley, around Fresno, and he's been gathering toward this story all his life. On the surface it's a deep dive — almost 20,000 words — into the story of Stewart and Lynda Resnick, the Beverly Hills billionaires who have become the biggest farmers in America. The piece in this week's California Sunday Magazine is that and so much more. Arax draws on his family history, including the murder of his father, and the migration of Armenians and others to his valley to tell the social history of this huge part of California. And of water, of course. Read the whole thing.

I had to tweet a little bit during the week. So did others.


Just so happens: California Sunday holds its latest LA pop-up event on Monday night at the Ace Hotel Theatre downtown. The magazine also has been named a finalist for three Ellies from the American Society of Magazine Editors.

More LA Times craziness

On Friday the California legislature released information on 18 cases of alleged sexual misconduct by members and staffers — released because the Los Angeles Times and its lawyers have been pressing for it for months. A good get. But the bigger reason the LAT was in the national news last week was, yet again, for the stumbles of its management. Man, that story is getting old. The self-inflicted wounds of managers rooted in Chicago are still in the archives from 2007 and 2008. It's a new era, and the names are different, but the headlines are a little too similar.

Anyway, to recap, the Times got another new editor-in-chief on Monday. Jim Kirk is professionally from Chicago and tried last year to stop the Times staff from forming a union, but at least he has more news chops than the guy he replaced, Lewis D'Vorkin. There's still no publisher — Ross Levinsohn remains on unpaid leave. But popular Business editor Kimi Yoshino returned from suspension to applause and cakes in the newsroom, along with social media posts from editors and reporters alike saying she never should have been suspended. Yoshino herself was conciliatory.

David Folkenflik of NPR reported that Yoshino was suspended over D'Vorkin and Tronc's anger about journalists in the Times newsroom talking to media reporters. Sure sounds like Tronc will spy on its own journalists when it feels justified. Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan included a stunning point in her Sunday column about the Times and the wish of some staffers for "adult supervision" of the paper: "Multiple reporters and editors...are convinced their email and cellphones are being monitored by management. Some have taken to buying 'burners,' disposable phones, so they can speak freely with colleagues and outsiders."

Wow. In the past, the Times leadership at the very top tried to discourage contact between the newsroom and LA Observed, even blocking browsers for a time, and trying to ferret out leaks, but there was never cellphone record monitoring (that I knew of.) Here's Sullivan on CNN's "Reliable Sources" with Brian Stelter:

Also last week, CNN's LA-based media reporter Dylan Byers reviewed all the happenings for a piece called What went wrong at the LA Times, saying "after years of painful, protracted decline, the Los Angeles Times has recently descended into chaos." In addition to that bad PR, Bloomberg View columnist Joe Nocera called for someone, anyone, to buy and save the LA Times from the Tronclodytes. He speculates that a high stock price should make the Times attractive to someone such as Laurene Powell Jobs or Steve Ballmer. There's no indication, by the way, that the LAT is actually for sale. (And Jobs is said to be in talks with BuzzFeed News.)

The nation badly needs a revived Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles is America’s second largest city, important culturally, economically and politically. And it’s not just an L.A. issue; the country needs a paper that can offer a West Coast alternative to the perspective offered by the New York Times and the Washington Post.

But it’s never going to happen so long as it’s owned by Tronc, which lacks the talent, the resources, the leadership, the patience and the imagination to produce a great newspaper.

Also read:
• Bill Boyarsky at Truthdig, Tronc the Trump of journalism
• Ed Leibowitz, who wrote that Los Angeles Magazine piece a year or so ago on Davan Maharaj being the trouble with the Times, now writes on Tronc for the labor-oriented Capital and Main.
• Former Times columnist and editorial page editor Jim Newton on Kirk:

Also noted: While all this was going on, the LAT managed to misspell "Los Angeles" in a headline on the Calendar section.


Times staff is woke

One result of Tronc's inept oversight of the Los Angeles Times — beside the overwhelming union vote — has been to empower its own editors and reporters to speak up on social media. Some Facebook posts are still limited to friends and followers, but Twitter is about as close as you can get on social to a general broadcast and frustrated Timesers aren't holding back.


Credit where credit is due

The LA Times news staff continues to produce amid all the distractions. Last weekend's Steve Lopez and Francine Orr column on revisiting Skid Row 13 years later and finding it much, much worse led into a week's worth of stories on the Los Angeles County homeless crisis. Gale Holland wrote a nice analysis of how we got here, and she's one byline (with Christine Zhang) on this piece on how a citation crackdown has led, inevitably, to more expensive arrests and prosecution of homeless people for failing to appear on the citations. Key stat: One in six LA arrests is now of a homeless person.

Officers made 14,000 arrests of homeless people in the city in 2016, a 31% increase over 2011, the Times analysis found. The rise came as LAPD arrests overall went down 15%. Two-thirds of those arrested were black or Latino, and the top five charges were for nonviolent or minor offenses.

In 2011, 1 in 10 arrests citywide were of homeless people; in 2016, it was 1 in 6.

Also this: Cops and firefighters are reaping huge unintended paydays by filing for the deferred retirement program then going out on disability and sick leaves. Story

Tone deaf at the New York Times

Tim Arango, the newest reporter in the Los Angeles bureau of the New York Times, likely learned a harsh lesson after his first attempt to offer an analytical piece on Los Angeles' media and social fabric. Locals are reading — closely — and they not only know a lot more than he does, they aren't very forgiving of a newbie's learning curve. Especially when the reportage is in the New York Times, which endures more nitpicky reading than any other non-local media that tries to cover Los Angeles.

The story, co-bylined with bureau chief Adam Nagourney, started with the kernel of a valid observation: that Los Angeles and its wealthy people and institutions are mostly standing quietly by as the LA Times "tears apart" and news coverage more generally in the region wilts. That's pretty true, but the story quickly goes off the rails. It cites the 1989 closing of the Herald Examiner as evidence of the media collapse, while not mentioning last year's closing of LAist, the recent sale of LA Weekly, the effects of bad Chicago management on the LA Times or the massive cuts at the other newspapers that serve as many people regionally as the LAT does. The rise of online voices and news sources and of emerging mainstream news outlets such as KPCC (which relies heavily on philanthropy) are dismissed altogether. Same with Patrick Soon-Shiong, a civic-minded billionaire who is part of Tronc ownership.

Smart observers such as Bill Deverell, Donna Bojarsky, Austin Beutner and Bill Boyarsky are quoted about the historic reticence of LA's leadership class, and former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa backs them up, saying "Rallying the city around big challenges becomes more difficult when you don’t have the broad cross-section of institutional players...We’ve been struggling for 50 years with weakened institutions.” There's also true-enough observations about the complicating factors of geography and diversity, yet a deeper story could have reported examples of those factors being overcome. I mean, the region is currently building out a very expensive transit system and voted, at the county and city levels, to tax itself for homeless services. On the other hand, only a relative few people vote in local elections and there's no local leader who can claim any kind of success over the homeless or traffic problems.

Anyway, the bad taste from this story was so acrid that Nagourney addressed it in the next day's California Today newsletter sent by the NYT to Golden State subscribers.

One of the trickiest things to write about if you are a reporter covering Los Angeles for a New York-based newspaper — as I have been for close to eight years — is the subject of Los Angeles itself. I was reminded of that this week when I, along with a colleague, Tim Arango, wrote a piece about the turmoil at the Los Angeles Times and explored what it said about the lack of civic institutions in Los Angeles.

The angle was new, but it’s not a particularly new observation or thought. The Los Angeles Times addressed many of the same questions in 2006 and again in 2015, when an organization was founded by longtime civic figures here to respond to what they saw as a civic vacuum. I am also well aware of the (in truth, well-founded, in my view) wariness Los Angeles readers have of East Coast media coming in and offering look-down-your-nose judgments on life here. (Botox! Day care for dogs! Traffic!) It is a trope that I and my colleagues in the bureau here have tried at all costs to avoid.

Part of the challenge and allure of covering a place like Los Angeles is people have very strong opinions of, and loyalty to, the place where they live. I expected the story would ignite a hearty and thoughtful debate, though I wasn’t quite prepared for how my Twitter feed blew up the night it posted. And the next morning. And the next afternoon.

Arango, by the way, is new to Los Angeles but not to the media beat. He was a media reporter in New York before leading the Baghdad bureau for seven years, and also managing the Istanbul bureau. I think he can take the heat from some offended Angelenos, but hopefully he widens his reporting spectrum.

Some readers like better: Univision anchor Jorge Ramos' letter about coming back to Los Angeles and UCLA to moderate a candidates debate

Also this: If LA Journalists Covered New York Like the New York Times Covers LA from The Wrap.

Daniel Hernandez is now L.A. Taco

daniel_surfing_madonna-la-taco.jpgDaniel Hernandez, the former Los Angeles Times and LA Weekly staff writer who returned from Mexico City to work in the Vice News offices here, has now taken up residence as editor and blogger-in-chief at L.A. Taco. He has brought in a bunch of writers who are commenting on everything from the retirement of LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and that incident where an officer yanked an 18-year-old woman off a Red Line train to the New York Times piece on Los Angeles and the Last Bookstore. Hernandez himself wrote a "Dear Jim" open letter to new LA Times editor Jim Kirk. Sample:

Mr. Kirk, you are stepping back into the helm of the paper already so mismanaged and badly hurt by your corporate parent’s decision-making that most of us couldn’t imagine it getting any worse, or at least not this quickly into the new year....

Last year the chet went into hyper-drive. Former editor in chief Davan Maharaj was fired — finally — after years cultivating a trail of bad blood with key figures, mostly women, in the newsroom. (About two years ago, when I went to the paper to talk casually with Davan about working there again, I watched with horror as he pat his palm upon the knee of a subordinate woman, right there during a meeting, and also yanked a phone out of her hands. That’s all I needed to see to know to not work for the guy. How did he last so long?)


Given the high drama of what’s been going on, I invite you to do something truly cathartic upon arrival. For the sake of the women and men who produce a vital daily source of Fourth Estate democratic action — journalism — for the city of Los Angeles, do something right for once, for the paper.

Taking the newsroom out for ice cream would be symbolically nice, sure. But maybe the very first thing you should do is immediately apologize to the masthead editors for the Lewis D’Vorkin and Ross Levinsohn disaster. With that, you can send a promising signal about what that kind of bullying, anti-quality management style should represent in modern media companies anywhere — garbage for the trash where it belongs.

Next step, after a possible open-bar “lunch” at the Redwood (as you may or may not know or care, the bar was once a long time ago the LAT newsroom’s old-boys cantina), is maybe you should publicly state that Tronc is willing to negotiate in the best possible faith with the Los Angeles Times Guild. You know, now that it’s a federally recognized union of news-gathering professionals.

Hernandez also had a piece on KPCC's "The Frame" about 'Luzia' as Cirque du Soleil's valentine to Mexico.

Uma Thurman speaks

uma-thurman-nyt-page.jpgAs she signaled last fall that she would, once her anger subsided, Uma Thurman finally spoke her piece about Harvey Weinstein and Quentin Tarantino. Or some of it, anyway. Thurman chose to direct her voice through New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. A warning, the piece is weirdly conceived, written and edited. Thurman does, however, allege sexual assault by Weinstein and heavy manipulation by Tarantino. A sample:

"The complicated feeling I have about Harvey is how bad I feel about all the women that were attacked after I was,” she told me one recent night, looking anguished in her elegant apartment in River House on Manhattan’s East Side, as she vaped tobacco, sipped white wine and fed empty pizza boxes into the fireplace.

“I am one of the reasons that a young girl would walk into his room alone, the way I did. Quentin used Harvey as the executive producer of ‘Kill Bill,’ a movie that symbolizes female empowerment. And all these lambs walked into slaughter because they were convinced nobody rises to such a position who would do something illegal to you, but they do.”

It's well worth a read — Thurman might be the biggest actress whose early career was most tied to Weinstein and Tarantino. Be aware, reactions to the piece are mixed.


Also this weekend, nine women told the Washington Post that Hollywood manager Vincent Cirrincione made unwanted sexual advances toward them over a period of two decades. Eight of the women are African American, and "several said they viewed Cirrincione, who is white, as an important gatekeeper for black actresses in an industry notoriously difficult to break into — one whose path is even more narrow for minorities."

Three of the women say that he pushed for sex as a condition for representing them, and that he did not take them on when they refused. A fourth said he offered to help advance her career if she agreed to have sex with him monthly. A fifth actress said he masturbated in front of her in his office during the years he managed her.


Cirrincione said in a statement that he accepts responsibility for pursuing sexual relationships but denies allegations that he sought sexual favors in exchange for representing actresses.

Also: The Katie Roiphe piece in Harper's that led the creator of the Shitty Media Men list to out herself has now published. To much discussion. Roiphe: "No one would talk to me for this piece... Yet here in my living room, at coffee shops, in my inbox and on my voicemail, were otherwise outspoken female novelists, editors, writers, real estate agents, professors, and journalists of various ages so afraid of appearing politically insensitive that they wouldn’t put their names to their thoughts, and I couldn’t blame them."

Noted: The sexual abuse scandal in women's gymnastics came to light due to reporting by newspapers — first at the Orange County Register and later at the Indianapolis Star. While we're giving out kudos, there were emotional moments at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion on Sunday. Gymnasts from the Bruins and visiting Oklahoma jointly produced a video thanking the athletes from both teams who went to Michigan to testify at the sentencing of former Olympics doctor Larry Nassar.

Media notes

Russian trolls again! How Twitter bots and Trump fans made #ReleaseTheMemo go viral, via Politico... The Atlantic has dropped reader comments on stories and instead will start up an edited Letters section with the "smartest, most compelling responses to our journalism." James Fallows says yay.... The board of the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists expressed "sadness, frustration and dismay" at the layoffs of reporters, editors and photographers in the Southern California News Group... "The day the Long Beach Press-Telegram laid off its only sports writers."... Lin Bolen, NBC's executive in charge of daytime programming in the early 1970s and at the time the highest-ranking woman in television, died on Jan. 18 in Santa Monica. NYT... American Public Media is collaborating with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History to produce a landmark podcast series, Order 9066, on the Japanese American Incarceration during WWII and its legacy in America.

LA Times op-ed columnist Virginia Heffernan portrays White House comms director Hope Hicks as "a publicist to the bone" who cut her teeth in tough New York PR shops. Heffernan goes further on Twitter: "I’m interested in how pretty, not bright 'communications' people...slide into doing 'litigation support,' oppo, smear campaigns, security & all kinds of K2 / Black Cube / ex-Mossad & probably Erik Prince-style ops & thuggery. People in this category: Hope Hicks, lawyer Kellyanne Conway, lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. They start out doing plain PR: Puffing up success and hiding misconduct and failure. Graduate to participants in a complicity machine. Then start committing crimes themselves."

Newspaper chain out: Dolores Sanchez announced last week that the effort to find a buyer for the Eastern Group Publications did not work out. Instead, the Sanchez family has shut down the papers. The final issue was last week. Luis J. Rodriguez, the former poet laureate of Los Angeles, tweeted Sunday night that his first newspaper job was at EGP's Eastside Sun. Alum Elizabeth Chou of the Daily News, LA Times story

Media people

A week after being laid off from SoCal News Group's Daily Bulletin, friends say that Michelle Gardner lost her husband Jerry. Devastating... Tom Hoffarth, laid off last month, is continuing his weekly media column at the Daily News on a freelance basis and also doing a regular Monday feature called Play It Forward, about the week ahead... Drew Tewksbury, the former managing editor at LA Weekly, wrote a piece for NPR Weekend on JPL's Orbit Pavilion... Erika Anderson, former president and publisher of Los Angeles Magazine, joined United Way of Greater Los Angeles as chief development officer.

Matea Gold, the former City Hall reporter for the LA Times (and editor of the UCLA Daily Bruin) has been named deputy national politics editor at the Washington Post. Karen Tumulty, another former LAT person at the Post, is moving to the opinion page as a columnist... Deane Wylie, a retired opinion editor at the LA Times, died at age 83 per Facebook.... Former LA Times reporter and correspondent Maria La Ganga is now a reporter at the Idaho Statesman... Marty Kaplan is now columnizing for the Forward twice monthly. He starts with UFOs... Ashley Alvarado has been promoted to director of community engagement at KPCC... Max Boot, the former LA Times op-ed columnist, is now doing that for the Washington Post opinion pages... Journo Ray Richmond gots a script blessed, sorta, by Paul McCartney... The Athletic is staffing up in SoCal and has added Pedro Moura, formerly of the LA Times, to cover the Dodgers and Angels... Personal column from Dennis McCarthy in the Daily News: "It all started with ‘you have a letter from the DMV’"... Natalie Delgadillo has her first feature in Governing magazine, "about East LA, lead poisoning, a long history of state bureaucratic failure, and a really determined guy trying to heal his community."... Brian De Los Santos is leaving the LA Times to lead digital strategy for the Desert Sun in Palm Springs.

Belated kudos: I didn't post last weekend so here's the list of Golden Mike winners. Also, author and LA journalist Lynell George won a Grammy for her liner notes on the boxed set titled “Otis Redding Live at the Whisky A Go Go: The Complete Recordings.”

Caravan Book Store closing

caravan-books.jpgThe downtown fixture on Grand Avenue sent word that the store is closing and the business will move online. A close-out sale began on Saturday and is scheduled to run through Feb. 24. Caravan has been on Grand Avenue almost 64 years. There used to be a lot of bookstores on that stretch of Grand, including an early version of Dawson's, which later moved to Larchmont Boulevard

"My parents established the business in 1954, and I grew up in it, learning the book trade from them," Leonard Bernstein emailed. "I've had the pleasure of watching my children grow up in it as well, bringing their curiosity and imagination and, later as adults, contributing to its development and growth." Here's a story in the Downtown News.

Listen to Lisa Napoli's KCRW piece on Caravan a few years ago.

Good news: Pomona's Magic Door Books is staying open for now. David Allen in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

New publisher in town

Fairly-Cover1_01_04_18.jpgBill Dwyre, the longtime and now former sports editor and columnist at the Los Angeles Times, has opened Back Story Publishing. Bill has posted a couple of Visiting Blogger items here, on avoiding movies where the dog dies and Arnold Palmer. Our own Native intelligence contributor, Ellen Alperstein, is the VP and editorial director of the new venture. Rich Perelman is COO. Their latest book is “Fairly at Bat: My 50 years in baseball, from the batter’s box to the broadcast booth,” by the former Dodger and Angel (and USC Trojan) Ron Fairly. It's timed to coincide with this year's 60th anniversary of the Dodgers moving from Brooklyn to the Los Angeles Coliseum. Fairly's co-writer is Steve Springer, with photos by Gary Ambrose and foreword by Tommy Lasorda.

Selected tweets

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
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