The Rise and Fall of the L.A. Examiner, a Blog That Was a Newspaper That Never Existed – The Awl

Myofficewasthelivingroomclosetinahugeone-bedroomina1920sEastHollywoodapartmentcourt,acrossthestreetfromthebigblueScientologyheadquartersintheoldCedarsofLebanonHospital。

Therewerebuilt-inbookshelvesandjustenoughspaceforachairandalaptopandanashtray。

Theneighborlady’srescuedpitbullsrompedoutsideintheovergrowngarden,andthatelectricL。

A。

sunlightcamefilteredthroughthegrimyoldFrenchwindowstothehardwoodfloors。

Itwasaverypleasantplacetowork,myfriendslivedwithinwalkingdistanceinothercheapapartmentsinLosFeliz,andIhadabadcaseofbeinginlovewithLos?

Angeles。

Theeastsideof2001wasstillcheap,stillscarredbytheRodneyKingriotsthatcrestedinSilverLakebeforefallingbacktothepoorerneighborhoodsthatalwaystaketheheavydamageintheseinsurrections。

IwaswritingaweeklymediacolumnforUSC’sOnlineJournalismReviewandhadenoughmoneytobuyaNashRamblerfromsomebodyintheneighborhood?

—?

thecardidn’treallyrun,soitsatbehindthebuildinginmy$25-a-monthparkingspot。

Iwalkedeverywhere。

Butmostly,likealways,Ityped。

JimRomenesko’sblogwasthefirstthingonmyscreeneachmorning,andIwonderedwhytherewasn’tsuchablogtocoverallthemediainLosAngeles。

Overthecourseofapotofcoffee,mynewL。

A。

sitewasborn。

Blogger,thewonderfulnewtoolfromPyraLabsthatletanyonecreateahandsomewebsite,hadanew“multipleauthors”feature。

IsignedupmyunderemployedcomradesintheneighborhoodandLAExaminer。

comwasborn。

Itwouldbeanother18monthsbeforeRichardRiordan,themayorelectedinthewakeofthoseriots,wouldverynearlylaunchtheLosAngelesExaminerweeklynewspaperwithmeasthe?

editor。

LAExaminer。

comwasallblackandwhite,itsearthquake-HollywoodsigntitlestripendinginaphotooftheGriffithParkObservatorydomerunthroughaPaintShopProfilter。

ThestylewasjustthewaywetalkedaroundendlesspitchersatYeRusticInnupthestreetonHillhurst,fullofmoralcertaintyandoutrageandcheapjokes?

—?

it’swhatiswidelypracticedandcriticallydismissedas“snark”today,althoughweneverhadanyinterestincelebrities。

ThedrearyMayorJamesHahnandthepompouscolumnistsattheterribleLosAngelesTimeswereregulartopics,aswasboosterismabouttheLakers,publictransportationandtheeastsideneighborhoodsingeneral。

WewerereflexivelyopposedtotheblandwealthyvaletparkinglotoftheWestside。

Thesitewaslittlenoticedforawhile,andthemostengagedreaderwasaMaliburealestateagentwhowasonapermanentcrusadetodiscreditthesocialistwriterMikeDavis,whodismantledtheLosAngelesmythologysobrilliantlyinhisbooksCityofQuartzandEcologyofFear。

ThatMikeDaviswasoneofmyveryfavoritewritersandhadcompletelyshapedmyunderstandingofL。

A。

neverseemedtooccurtoourreaderswhobelievedwewereaconservativealternativetotheLosAngelesTimes。

Wejusthatedboringnewspapers,andtheLATwastheworstbig-cityexampleofthepreciousnessandovereducationplaguingthestill-powerfulnewspaperindustryattheturnofthecentury。

Politicsistherealmofthedumb:Ifyou’renotblatantlypoliticalinyourapproachtolife,politicallyobsessedpeoplewillreadexactlywhattheywantintoyour?

writing。

Inthe2001mayoralprimaryandrun-off,wevigorouslyendorsedthetattooedLatinoliberalfromthebarrio,AntonioVillaraigosa,overtheawfulinsiderJamesHahn。

Theeternallybegrudgedright-wingersofLosAngelesdecidedwedislikedHahnbecausehewasaDemocrat,andnotbecausehewasadullardmoderate。

TheanonymityoftheL。

A。

Examiner,itselfnamedintributetothegaudyoldLosAngelesHerald-Examinerthatsaidgoodbyeadozenyearsearlier,addedtoagrowingmythologythatwewerecrustyoldnewspaperburnoutswhotookthewhiteflightexpresstothesuburbanSanFernando?

Valley。

Therewerenobylinesbydesign,buttheunpaidcontributorsincludedcomradeswhoworkedfortheLosAngelesBusinessJournalandLosAngelesDailyNewsandahandsomeglobe-trottingwarcorrespondentwhoworkedfortheclassroomnewsshow“ChannelOne”withAndersonCooper。

MostpostswerewrittenbymeorMattWelch,whoI’dmetatanEnglish-languagenewspaperinPragueandwholivedafewblocksawayatVermontandLosFelizBoulevard,behindtheChevron?

station。

Therewasnoadvertisingforblogsatthedawnofthiscentury?

—?

evenGoogle,whichhadyettobuyBlogger,forbid“personalsites”fromjoiningitstext-adnetwork。

LAExaminer。

comwasstrictlyahobby,createdbecausenobodyelsewoulddoit,andtheeventsofthatSeptemberledtoagradualabandonmentofthesite。

Still,itwassomuchfunthatweaskedourjournalist-turned-entrepeneurpalNickDentontobecomepublisher,buthehadgrownwearyofCaliforniaandsaidhewasheadedtoManhattantolaunchhisownsnarkymediablogwhereitwasmostneeded。

Gawker。

comdebutedatthebeginningof2003beneathabannerforCorocan,thebigNYCapartmentbroker。

Howdidhesellasponsorshiponablog?

Hehadn’t?

—?

itwasafakebanneradmeanttolooklikeasponsorship。

Corcoranapparentlyknewnothingofthisgenius?

move。

Asthelonginsaneblurofautumn2001gavewaytoagloomyLosAngeleswinter,Iretiredfrommybrieftenureasthetokenliberalinanincreasinglynuttyrealmrememberedwithscorntodayas“warblogging。

”IhadlostmyUSCmediacolumnandmainsourceofincomeduetosomeidioticbattlewiththePowersThatBeinwhichIwastheprimaryidiot。

Ihadalsomovedhouse,toacrumblingcottageafewblockspasttheoldVistaTheater,andgottenmarried,andsoldacomedicthrillertoasmallpublisherinAustralia?

—?

allofwhichistosay,Iwasutterlybrokeandshamefullyunemployable。

LAExaminer。

comwasstillthere,mostlyuntended,andIwentbacktoitwithoutmuchenthusiasm。

Sweatingatathrift-storemetaldeskinthespider-infestedcarriagehousethatnowservedasmyoffice,Ilookedattheringingphoneforawhileandforsomereasonanswereditinsteadoflettingitgotovoice?

mail。

“I’mtryingtoreachKenLayne,”shesaid。

“MattWelchgavemeyournumber。

I’vegotMayorRiordanonthe?

line。



Termlimitsbackedbypre-MayorRiordanmeantthatpost-MayorRiordanwasn’tmayoranymore?

—?

theodiousJamesHahnhadwontherun-offelection?

—?

butDickRiordanmaintainedhismayoraltitleamongsthisfriendsandunderlings。

Andinhisnewboredom,theverywealthyinvestmentlawyerandpoliticianwasthinkingaboutpublishinganewspaper。

PartiesunknownhadsuggestedhegetintouchwiththepeoplebehindtheL。

A。

Examiner。

WhenWelchandIwerefirstsummonedtoRiordan’slow-slungCaliforniaramblerinBrentwoodafewweekslater,wemetagarrulousandsomewhatdisheveledoldIrishmanfullofzealandfilthyjokes。

Hewasalwaysakindhostandgavehisscruffylow-incomevisitorshisfullattention?

—?

duringonesessioninhisMexican-tiledlivingroom,theunseenpresenceofhispersonalsecretaryhadtorepeatedlyremindhimbyintercomthathisfriendBillClintonwaswaitingontheline。

AsinNewYorkCity,Riordan’sbirthplace,amoderateRepublicanincoastalCaliforniaisamoderateDemocratanywhereelseinthecountry。

Ilikedhimright?

away。

California’sangryRepublicanbasedidnotcareforRiordanatall,anditwasthisrealitythatkepthimoutofthegovernor’smansion。

RiordanhadtheleadoverGov。

GrayDavis,theunlovedDemocrat,buthecouldn’twintheGOPprimary。

OnMarch5of2002,theallegedRINORiordanlostbadlytoBillSimon,whotalkedtoughandhadonceworkedforSeptember11heroRudyGiuliani,whoatthatpointhadstillsomehowsavedAmericafromterrorismbybeingthemayorofNewYorkon?

9/11。

Riordancould’vehirededitorswiththerightconnectionsandrightrésumés,buttherewassomethingaboutthoseprintoutsofLAExaminer。

comspreadaroundthegiganticcoffeetablethatbewitchedhim。

EvenashemusedabouthiringthisorthatLATveteranorNewYorkeditorandhadWelchandIbringinasuccessionofbloggingfriendswithfarbiggernamesthanourown?

—?

JeffJarviswholaunchedEntertainmentWeekly,TimBlairofTIMEAustraliaandMurdoch’sDailyTelegraphinSydney?

—?

theonlyeditorontheonlymastheadoftheonlyissueoftheLosAngelesExaminerwas?

me。

TheformlessplanningstagedraggedonsolongthatIhadmostlygivenupontheproject,andintheOctoberdaysfollowingyetanotherbirthdaywithoutasteadyincome,Iwasmorose。

Backinmyterribleofficewherethenighttimeraccoonsandopossumswouldstepinsidetoeattheever-presentspidersswarmingthefloor,Ilistlesslyworkedonasequeltothetrashythrillerthathadbarelysold,inAustralia,andwasuniformlyrejectedbyanumberofNewYorkagentsbecauseitsauthorwasunknownandthestorywasbasicallyacomedyaboutterrorism。

Youjustcannotoverestimatehowcrazyeverybodywasafter9/11,foryearsafter?

9/11。

Itwastimeforanotherridiculousphonecalloutoftheblue,onthisoccasionfromRickBarrs,theeditorofNewTimesLA。

IhadbecomefriendlywithTonyOrtega,thenthemanagingeditorforthelocalNewTimesalt-weeklythathadreplacedtheoldL。

A。

Readerafewyearsearlier,andTonyneededanewseditor。

WouldIagreetostayforaminimumofayeariftheygavemethe?

job?

AtthispointIwould’vesignedamulti-lifetimecontractwithScientology’sSeaOrginexchangeforapaycheck。

Isaidyes,ofcourse,andwemadearrangementsformetocometotheofficethenext?

day。

ThatwasthedayNewTimesLAwasshutdowninadealwithbetweenitscorporateparentinPhoenixandtheVillageVoicecompany,whichownedLAWeeklyatthetime。

IbarelyhadachancetobegindrinkingheavilywhenRiordan’speoplewerecallingagain,becauseRiordanhadapparentlybeenofferedvariousassetsofNewTimesLA,includingthethen-crucialnewsracklocationsaroundtown,ifheagreedtolaunchhisrumored?

weekly。

Wewerebackinsemi-realbusiness,eventhoughwehadlostsomeoftheoriginalteamatthispoint。

Welchhadtakenthefirstjobofferedafterseveralyearsofrejection:afill-incontracteditingjobforthelibertarianmonthlyReason,whichsomehowledtohimworkingfortheL。

A。

Timesop-edpageunderMichaelKinsley。

Inanycase,Welchdidn’thavethetimetodotheprototypeissueofRiordan’sLosAngelesExaminer。

Meanwhile,thewordgotouttotheprintreporters:Acoupleofcommonbloggershadhookedupwiththeverywealthyformermayor。

Here’stheglossyLosAngelesMagazine,fromthesamedismal?

October:

Dailynewspapersarestruggling,yetthesearefertiletimesforsomejournalists。

Blogs?

—?

standsfor“Weblogs”?

—?

areflourishing;theyareWebsiteswithshorthit-and-runcommentaryandabundantlinkstootherblogs,articles,andsites。

BlogsareapureexpressionoftheInternet:unmediatedopinionandinformationpassingfromhandtohand。

Blogspromiseareckless,independentuseoftheFirstAmendment,journalismwithoutfactchecking,editors,advertisers?

—?

nothingbutwritersandreaderscommunicatingdirectly。

Intheorytheyofferacross-the-spectrumopinion,electroniclibertarianism。

Onelocalspecimen,LAExaminer,hasclearlycapturedRiordan’seyeballs。

LAExamineroffersawealthofinformationwithoutgeneratingmuchitself。

Whatitdoesgenerateisamountainofopinion,mostlypresscriticism。

TheExaminerlinkstoasmatteringoflocalnewspaperstories,makingitagreatgrab-and-readforjournalistsandinsidersperusingSouthernCalifornianews。

ButwhathasgottenitfarmoreattentionisitsskeweringoftheLosAngelesTimes。

Fromreadingthesiteentriesandthee-mailfromitsreaders,youcansummarizeLAExaminer’sopinionoftheTimesthisway:Thedum-dumsblewitagain!

MuchlikeRiordan’sreview,adatedtonecreepsintotheExaminer’scriticisms?

—?

theysoundlikeCivilWarre-enactorssuitinguptorestagecreakybattlesover“politicalcorrectness”and“liberalbias。

”Thetoneisacerbic,patronizing,witty,whiny。

(Fulldisclosure:TheycriticizedmeforbeingsoftonTimescolumnistSteve?

Lopez。

)

ThesiteisstewardedbyMattWelchandKenLayne,apairofyoungcollegedropoutsandveteransofmediastart-upswhotalklikeinsiders,whowiththeiraccesstotheInternetareinsiders。

Blogsscramblethedividebetweenreaderandwriter,professionalandamateur。

Thisdrivesalotofprintjournalistscrazy。

Butwhilebloggersgoheavyontheanti-printrants,there’sapassionthere,too。

ThankstotheInternet,theoutsidersarein。

TheWebmakeseveryjournalistequivalenttoeveryother;itmakeseveryoneamediacritic,mediacriticswhodon’tevenneedRiordan’smillionstogettheirmessage?

out。

Callingpeople“CivilWarre-enactors”isanotverysubtlewayofimplyingracismisbehindadislikeofshittynewspaperswrittenbywealthywhitepeoplewithIvyLeaguedegrees,whichis…insane?

Butthemagazinewritergotpartofitright:Ipleadguiltytohatingdullnewspapers,andIpleadguiltytoapro-LosAngelesboosterism?

—?

journalistsshouldlovethebeattheycover。

Localjournalistsshouldlovethetowntheycallhome。

Pinpointwhat’swrongandraisehellaboutit,butifyourapproachisalwaysdrearyandschoolmarmy,youshouldgooutofbusiness。

Thevoiceofacitycannothate?

itself。

DickRiordanstilldislikedtheLosAngelesTimes,butdidn’tseemtohavehisheartintheLosAngelesExamineroncewefinallyneededtoproduceasampleissue。

Still,hewaspayingus,andIlikedfinallygettingpaid。

IassignedfeaturesandillustrationsanddutifullycalleduponRiordan’sfamousfriendstogetsomecelebritysubmissions。

ThecontributorlistforthathandsometabloidissueincludedCathySeipp,sincelosttocancer,andBillyCrystal,whocamethroughwhenSteveMartindidn’t。

RecycledLAExaminer。

compostsandcapsulerestaurantreviewswrittenbyadrummerfriendofminefilledtheholesinthelayout。

Inhopesofpresentinganapoliticalfronttothecity’swell-offliberalmediawatchers,IgotthetalentedESPNwriterEricNeeltodoapieceontheLakers’dysfunctionaldynasty,andonthecoverIputacaricatureofL。

A。

heroesShaqandKobedoingtheirbesttoignoreoneanother。

Ishouldn’thavebeensurprisedwhensomecriticsofthewholeenterprisecomplainedthatthepolitics-freecoverwassecretlypolitical,becauseillustratorRomanGennfreelancedforNationalReviewandcaricaturedtwofamouspeoplewhowere?

black。

Still,therewasrealexcitementamongjournalistsbecauseanewpaperisalwaysacauseforhope。

EachtimeIdidanotherinterviewabouttheprototype,thecallwouldendwiththereportersheepishlyaskingifIhadbegunhiringforthepaper。

IdutifullyworkedthelocalpressandattendedourcelebratorylaunchdinneratGladstone’sMalibu,Riordan’sbeachsiderestaurant。

ButIdidn’tbelievetherewouldbeapaper。

WhenmywifegotagoodjobofferinReno,Iencouragedhertotakeit。

Myprospectscouldn’tbeanyworseupthere。

Besides,thejournalist’sdreamhadalmostcometrue:Youcouldworkanywherewith“accesstotheInternet。

”Ifyoucouldfindany?

work。

Riordanwasthinkingofrunningforgovernoragain,thistimeinthecombinationrecall/replacementelectionof2003thatwouldthrowDavisoutofoffice?

—?

theloathsomecar-alarmsalesmanDarrellIssaledtherecalleffortfromtheright-wingsuburbsofNorthSanDiegoCounty,althoughheultimatelygotnothingforhistrouble。

Riordanwasstillpopularstatewide,stillthewinnerofamatchagainstDavis。

Butthatsummer,ArnoldSchwarzeneggerannouncedhisrunontheJayLenoshow。

Theaction-moviestarandRiordanhadprivatelyagreedthatonlyoneofthemwouldrun。

Atthetime,Arnoldseemedaperfectcandidate。

RiordanstooddownandtheLosAngelesExaminerdiedonthevine。

IwatchedJayLeno’s“TonightShow”fortheonlytimeinmylifethatnightinAugust,frommycrappynewhouseintheGreatBasinDesert。

Astart-upthatdoesn’tgoallthewayisaheartbreak,butthestart-uppartisalwaysfun。

WhathasneverreallybeensaidaboutDickRiordan’sdecisionisthathewasabsolutelyright,asabusinessman。

Hehadownedapaperbefore,aweeklyinPasadena,andhefiguredoutthatanewspaperlaunchedin2003wasdeadonarrival。

Afterallhismeetingsandphonecallswitheverybodyfromthealt-weeklypeopletotheNewYorkObserver’spublisher,Riordanthesuccessfulventurecapitalistdidn’tseeanyfutureinfreeweeklies。

LACityBeattooktheJusticeDepartment-imposedslotontheLosAngelesalt-weeklymarketandwasgoneafewyearslater。

NewTimeswouldbuyitsrivalVillageVoiceandthendivestofthethinlittlepapersaltogether。

TheInternetbledallthesethings?

dry。

MattWelchandKenLaynewithapaintingofMattWelchandKenLaynebytheartistGregMcIlvaine,LosAngeles,2002。

(PhotobyTony?

Pierce。

)

Previously:HowToGetYourReadersToWriteYourNewspaperFor?


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