Outside looking in

When I moved from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon four years ago, it was with the sense I was going into exile. It was not so much the physical dislocation, as the fear I was leaving my work as a journalist. I was extremely fortunate that, from the time I began freelancing in LA in 1995, I was able to make a living. Nearly all the money came from local publications, which continued to give me assignments until the day I drove out of town, and beyond. I still occasionally contribute, though itís been less the past two years, something Iíve chocked up to being far away, the umbilical getting too long to deliver ideas, and vice versa.

Then, yesterday, I received an email from one of my editors down there: ďAm sure you heard about the Times this weekÖ Good thing you moved and donít have to compete with all these out-of-work LA journalists!Ē

Being a daily reader of LA Observed, and having friends and colleagues on Spring Street, I of course knew what was happening at the Los Angeles Times; had read the most recent list of lay-offs with real dread I would see one of my best friendís names. (I didnít.) I read earlier today there will be more layoffs at the LA Weekly. I have no idea whether my current editor will be let go, but do know my former one, Joe Donnelly, was laid off earlier this year, prompting me to think, then, that if they could let go Joe, no one is safe.

I landed in Portland at a timely moment. For a feature writer, there was a lot of work, if often at half the rate and half the length. And while some of the local papers have lately been shrinking, the major monthly, where I contribute, is getting fatter. They also have a sharp new editor in chief, theyíre running smarter longer features, and, with the exception of Conde Nast publications, pay as well as any magazine Iíve written for.

Last year, when this same magazine was looking nationwide for its new editor, I mentioned the position to several folks in LA. No one was ready to jump, and why would they have? Portland is not as vibrant a city as LA (trust me); itís a big move, people have kids; they had hope. Now, I have an LA editor asking about Portland real estate, a Hollywood columnist wanting to know whether thereís a position for him in my husbandís business, and, with increasing frequency, the sorts of emails above.

I tell them, Iíd love to have them here, and that I will, as I tried to do for a recently axed Timesman, make connections for them. That nothing would make me gladder than a giant influx of big city news talent. But I also know, itís already here: while walking through the magazineís office the other day, I saw a gal in conference with several editors, and heard her telling them, ďI was on staff at LA City Beat.Ē Two years ago Ė heck, two months ago Ė I would have butted in, to find out who she was and whether we knew each otherís bylines; to take her out and sit her down and tell her what Iíve learned about the politics of Portland journalism. But I didnít. I walked on, thinking, I hope they have a job for her.

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