Jews aren’t the only Angelenos dissatisfied with the Los
Angeles Times. Indeed, for the first time in a generation,
that dissatisfaction may actually produce something akin to
competition for the most dominant newspaper west of
Today speculation centers on the efforts of former Los
Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan to start a new weekly or daily
newspaper to compete with the gray lady of Spring Street. Like
other Angelenos, the Jewish community should look forward to
such efforts, if nothing else to provide an alternative to the
conventional, liberal-media spin that dominates not only the
Times, but virtually all the major national newspapers.
It may seem odd that Jews, supposed masters of the liberal
media, might want to break with institutions where, in many
cases, they have played prominent roles for generations.
Although never under Jewish ownership, the Times’ has long had
many prominent Jewish editors and writers.
Yet as historian Fred Siegel has pointed out, recent trends
in large-scale newspapers, including The New York Times, have
propelled a major rift between these institutions and Jews —
particularly on issues involving Israel. Several factors are
critical to this process, notably the growth of "Third
Worldist" ideology among reporters, detachment of editors and
writers from the concerns of their core middle-class readers
and the sheer complexity of news itself.
In the post-Sept. 11 reality, particularly since the recent
events in Israel, these factors have come to create — for the
first time — a well-founded impression that much, if not most,
of the news media is actually hostile to both the Jewish state
and our community’s interests. As adept consumers of
information, Siegel asserts, Jews have been perhaps among the
most likely to start seeking out new media sources that they
feel more accurately reflects reality.
"Jews are adept at going on the Net or to cable to find
things they feel more comfortable with," Siegel suggests.
"They are not likely to stand pat with something they feel is
hostile to them."
In New York, this dissatisfaction, particularly among
moderate and conservative readers, has led to a plethora of
new alternative publications, including the Manhattan
Institute’s City Journal, the New York Observer and, most
recently, the daily Sun. Many of those involved with these
publications, including Sun Editor Seth Lipsky, formerly of
the Jewish Forward, are prominent, self-identified Jews.
Can a Sun-like publication rise in Los Angeles? To some
extent, conditions for such a venture are promising. Over the
past few decades, the Times, once a supreme booster of Los
Angeles’ growth, has become widely perceived as a negative
force, particularly in business circles. Under the guidance of
Southern liberal Editor Shelby Coffey, the paper became
nationally renown as one of the more politically correct
publications in the nation.
In the dark days of the early 1990s the Times’ increasingly
reflexive pro-Third World, racially obsessed and often almost
hysterically pro-labor politics colored its coverage of local
events. A generally "progressive" tilt became so entrenched as
to not even be noticeable to editors and reporters themselves.
The paper’s perceived tilt against Israel may have its roots
in these attitudes, as leftist opinion has turned against the
Since the recent takeover of the Times by the Chicago-based
Tribune Co., the political bias seems to have somewhat eased,
and at least a patina of professionalism has made something of
a welcome comeback. Yet, the paper all too often seems still
inhabited by the spirit of Coffeyism — pandering to various
constituencies made up of presumed "victims" of color, while
often seemingly contemptuous of the values of middle-class
suburbanites, who make up the bulk of the readers.
Added to this problem are those brought on by having a
great newspaper now owned by out-of-state interests and run by
editors with often little firsthand knowledge of the
admittedly complex, often difficult to fathom, megalopolis of
Los Angeles. This inexperience, a lack of sechel, if you will,
not any deep-seated anti-Semitism, is what likely accounted
for such mistakes as not covering the massive Woodley Park
pro-Israel rally last month.
Riordan and his supporters hope these factors — a
perception of insensitivity to local interests, excessive
negativity and alienation of middle-class, middle-age readers
— can create the basis for a new newspaper. Yet sources close
to Riordan suggest that the former mayor is far from sure what
tack he wants to take. Some worry openly that the
amateurishness that characterized the mayor’s recent
disastrous gubernatorial run will now spill into this
Top Riordan advisers on the project, who include several
close personal associates, feel that a sophisticated weekly, a
la The New York Observer, would make the most sense. This
publication would appeal to many of those who are prime
targets of advertisers — notably affluent Westsiders and
Valley residents. These are readers who can get their national
news from the Internet, The New York Times or the Wall Street
Journal but are looking for incisive local coverage of
politics, culture and business. Jews would constitute a large,
perhaps even a majority, of the audience for such an
The case for weeklies rests on the success of several such
publications in Los Angeles already. Although not known as a
great print-media mecca, several weeklies — from the leftist
LA Weekly and its rival New Times, to the snappy Downtown News
and the nuts-and-bolts oriented L.A. Business Journal — all
thrive in this market. Much of the best reporting about Los
Angeles politics, where the Times reporting is often weak and
unfocused, comes from writers like Marc Haefele of the Weekly
and the acerbic Jill Stewart at New Times.
Economics suggest that a weekly, at very least, loses less
money than a daily. A general-interest weekly that serves the
more affluent and older reader — the LA Weekly and New Times
are clearly for the under-35 crowd — conceivably could find a
profitable market niche, Riordan’s more business-oriented
But another, perhaps more exciting and risky alternative
lies with following something closer to the Sun model. Matt
Welch, the 30-something publisher of the lively LA Examiner
Web site, (www.laexaminer.com), has been urging Riordan in
this direction. He sees a daily tabloid that covers Los
Angeles with passion and interest — in contrast to the
perceived indifference of the Times — as having far more
relevance than a weekly publication that, in his words,
"appeals to 25,000 rich people on the Westside."
Welch may well be right, and his zeal for a Los Angeles
publication that appeals to local pride and interests reflects
an increasingly strong local identity among a new generation
of post-riot writers and journalists. But it still may boil
down to a matter of dollars and cents. And since it’s largely
Riordan’s pocket change that is at issue, what happens next is
largely up to him.
As a community that loves Los Angeles, and intends to stay,
we can only wish Riordan, Welch and their compatriots well as
they look to create an alternative that all Angelenos deserve.
So, too, should my sometimes-journalistic colleagues at the
Times, for whom a strong, intelligent competitor would provide
the most salutatory of medicines.