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Strong reflection of Riordan in new Examiner
People who liked Riordan’s eight years as mayor probably won’t mind his handsome, new tabloid.
By Tim Rutten
Since the 1950s the alternative press has played a vital role in Los Angeles. It still does.
And Monday, when Village Voice Media and New Times agreed to pay fines and make restitution for violating antitrust laws by illegally dividing the Los Angeles and Cleveland markets between them, a sad and venal chapter in an otherwise vigorous -- often courageous -- history came to a close. Meanwhile, another era of an unexpected sort is trying to be born as former Mayor Richard Riordan begins circulating a prototype of his Los Angeles Examiner, a tabloid he hopes to begin publishing weekly in June -- if he can secure investors and sufficient advertising.
Graphically, the new weekly's 52-page prototype is a handsome, highly readable package with a promising and intelligently arranged editorial format. The decision to print on high-quality paper makes for exceptionally crisp photographs and drawings, something a shrewd editor can exploit and advertisers probably will like.
So, what about the content?
Journalists who worked on the demonstration issue say it's fair to regard it as a serious statement of their editorial intentions. As such, it seems clear that people who liked Riordan's eight years as mayor probably won't mind his newspaper. Whether two trips down the block to punch the chad beside his name translates into a desire to share his enthusiasms and antagonisms on a weekly basis is another question.
It's an important one, though, since there's a lot of Riordan here -- two caricatures and a promotional photo, a statement of welcome and a kind of column. There's a lot of sniping at some of his favorite targets -- unions (bad), bureaucrats (very bad), liberals (irritating), The Times (very irritating). New antagonisms also emerge; for some inexplicable reason, the wretched Michael Jackson is repeatedly hoisted as this issue's rhetorical piñata.
There are also predictable appearances by many of Riordan's longtime hangers-on: former New Times columnist Jill Stewart, who naturally finds that the Democrats' historically unprecedented sweep of the state's last general election has brought the party to the brink of disaster; Joel Kotkin, who has been fulminating for years about the exasperating refusal of the city's self-destructive business leaders to listen to Joel Kotkin; Susan Estrich, who -- in the course of admonishing Hillary Clinton not to run for president -- accuses the junior senator from New York of lacking humility. This advice is offered without irony by the person who ran Michael Dukakis' presidential campaign.
On the other hand, Riordan's old friend James Q. Wilson contributes an essay on campaign reform that reminds us once again that, whatever one makes of his conclusions, here is a scholar simply incapable of misstating or distorting the facts he used to get there.
Turning to the celebrity contributors promoted on the Examiner's cover: Lynda Obst and Billy Crystal have done a great deal of very smart, very funny work. Suffice to say these pieces show that even they have bad days. Sort of heartening for the rest of us, actually.
On the journalistic front, there's a shrewd piece by Chris Nolan on Internet celebrity Craig Newmark and a knowing essay on the changing Los Angeles Police Department and gangs by former Times city editor Bill Boyarsky. A necessary absence of timeliness renders the Laker cover story by Espn.com's Eric Neel flaccid. The Examiner hopes to win readers with its film, literary and cultural criticism. What's on offer here is unremarkable with the exception of Cathy Seipp's piece on Hollywood restaurants, which is a small model of watchful intelligence and breezy lucidity.
In the promotional ad at its center, the first Examiner describes itself this way: "It's not an alternative paper. It's an alternative voice. Intelligent. Informative. Irreverent. Relevant. No smug assumptions. No blatant biases. Not transparently left or predictably right. Not pompous, earnest or boring. But gossipy. Engaged. Blond.... In love with the idea of Los Angeles.... How L.A. is moving too fast to over-think itself."
True to its own rhetoric, nobody seems to have over-thought that. Here's something that weighs on the Examiner's prospects: Its imagined readership seems much like the Los Angeles that twice elected Riordan mayor -- more affluent, better educated, more conservative and, most of all, much whiter than the city as a whole. In fact, Latinos, Asian and African Americans -- unless they play basketball or a musical instrument -- are conspicuously absent from this prototype.
A colorblind society is not one in which people of color are invisible.
Moreover, while Riordan's ferocious resentment of what he calls "political correctness" is amply documented, his irreverence extends only so far. During the prototype's production, for example, he intervened in the editing of Boyarsky's essay. In the original, Boyarsky recounted how, in the early days of the Rampart scandal, he went to Parker Center to talk with then-Police Chief Bernard Parks. Boyarsky wrote that, following their conversation, he left feeling that the chief's inquiry into Rampart would end in "cover-up."
Riordan objected and insisted the word be removed.
Taken as a whole, the Los Angeles Examiner wants to be something novel in the alternative press, what might be called the voice of the beleaguered former majority, an insurgent establishment.
With an editor strong enough to restrain a strong-willed but antic publisher and force him to attend to the better angels of his nature -- much as trusted political advisors Bill Wardlaw and Noelia Rodriguez did during his first mayoral term -- Riordan's Examiner could be a lively addition to the Los Angeles press.
A lot of affluent Westsiders and even their children, spending a semester abroad in places like Silver Lake or Echo Park, will probably make a place for it.
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