Among the many accomplishments of Mark Lacter, the respected journalist who died last week, was his mastery of a now-essential journalism skill---an ability to move seamlessly from long, deeply reported pieces to punchy blog items. That’s a talent editors value and young journalists find hard to learn.
In her moving and witty tribute to Mark, his wife, Laura Levine, the novelist and comedy writer, talked at his funeral about his many talents, including his ability to write and think fast and creatively.
His mastery of the short items needed for Internet journalism was on display here on LA Observed’s LA Biz Observed. Each morning, he offered his analysis and opinions, and had links to items in other publications. He saw the connection between business and politics-- absolutely essential to understanding what happens in Los Angeles—and hammered away at it, helping make this long-neglected issue part of the L.A. story.
Mark’s longer pieces, appearing in Los Angeles magazine, where he was a regular contributor, and other publications, often made the same point. He attacked the myth, promulgated by Mayor Eric Garcetti and other politicians, that Los Angeles is hostile to business and ought to provide more giveaways to companies to lure them here. He wrote in Los Angeles, “Rather than engage in any full-scale reengineering, city officials might want to focus on getting the basics right, which means police, fire, parks, libraries, and roads. If that ever happens, L.A.’s business climate will take care of itself.“
Yet, “Even when he was systematically dismantling a shibboleth, Mark had a way of steering clear of rancor or cheap shots,” Los Angeles magazine executive editor Matt Segal wrote in a tribute to the journalist.
At a reception after the funeral, I talked to Segal and Los Angeles’ editor, Mary Melton, about Mark’s ability to shift from the short to the long. Both of them, like me, were in awe of it because the feat is so hard to master. Blog items must be catchy and short, a style that encourages superficiality, a sin Mark avoided. Long pieces require interviews, research, organization and writing ability. Journalism schools try to teach this now-essential combination of skills. Mark came by them naturally.
On personal note, Nancy, my wife, and I have been friends with Laura and Mark since we met years ago at an LA Observed brunch for contributors. We had dinner with them the weekend before he died. After dinner, the four of us stood on a sidewalk on Westwood Boulevard, continuing our conversation. We said they should join us when we go to London next year. They said they might. We said goodbye and watched the devoted couple walk away toward their nearby home.