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How To Make The LA Times A Better Paper
Use people there already on staff! From a comment I left over in Patterico-land:

You know, it strikes me that, if they just let the upstarts be in charge at the paper — the young new hires like Richard Rushfield, Matt Welch, and Rob Barrett — they’d put out a much better paper. Why bring in Grazer to decide who does op-eds? Matt Welch, who, if you look at his Reason Mag years and his blog, is a pretty insightful, innovative-thinking guy. Why not just let Matt decide who goes in the op-ed section some weekend? Wow — you mean, hire good people, then just let them do their jobs? Put Matt in charge and you might just get somebody fascinating to read; say, Heather Havrilesky, instead of Rosa Parks — sorry, Rosa Brooks — Barbara Ehrenreich’s unreadable Virginia law professor daughter.

Oops...last night, I'd forgotten to link to Allison Silver, the former LAT Op-Ed editor, who supports my point about at least turning to somebody with editing experience who has an idea or two:

Editing is not a hobby, any more than teaching elementary school, producing a television show or running a political campaign is. The way I see it, the public debate, continual and intense, is like a huge mural that readers are looking at and trying to get a handle on. My job, any editor's job, is to give them easy access. It is as if I were holding up an empty frame to a specific part of the canvas, focusing in on one aspect of the wide-ranging discussion. This frame could be provided by an historian or an economist, a political analyst or cultural commentator, a constitutional scholar or a former diplomat; an intelligence expert or a humor writer.

There is a rhythm to the public debate, it has a flow and a syncopation. A big news story evolves as the weeks go by. For example, to help readers understand the varied elements of the story of Elian Gonzalez, a young Cuban boy claimed by relatives in Miami, first we had a political analyst write about the role of Florida in national politics; then an expert in Latin American affairs write about Cuban-U.S. relations; then an expert in the Cuban exile community in Florida; then a Mexican-American novelist who knew about magical realism (dolphins played a role in Elian's rescue); then a constitutional scholar on the power of a mayor versus the federal government. Each week of that story, there was a different element to focus on.

The trick is to ask the right question, and then get the right person to answer it.. That Platonic combination of the best person on the ideal topic creates the strongest piece.

And once you have the best possible piece, it has to fit into the best possible mix. Is there too much national news? Are there too many conceptual pieces? Have we missed a big urban design issue? Do we need to look at why a big movie resonates with the public? An editor plays this version of musical chairs regularly.

No matter how clever and talented the invited guest is, the decision to go outside journalism suggests indifference to editing as a critical profession. It goes without saying that you wouldn't turn your Sunset Strip restaurant over to your mom for the night no matter how good a cook she is, or take the Jet Propulsion Lab away from CalTech and give it to Cal Arts to run, just to shake things up. But the newspaper was suggesting that any one of a number of smart amateurs could pull together a Sunday analysis section, given a little guidance. Professional experience and journalistic skill were deemed of secondary value.

Posted by aalkon at March 26, 2007 11:34 AM

Comments

> Rosa Brooks — Barbara Ehrenreich’s
> unreadable Virginia
> law professor daughter.

ah-HA... I couldn't figure out why we were being bothered with this person's work.

Posted by: Crid at March 26, 2007 4:14 AM

I know what you mean. Now it all computes, huh? I always think of her as Rosa Parks -- because Rosa Brooks, herself, is so utterly unmemorable, except for the surprising tedium of her writing.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 26, 2007 7:09 AM

Imagine if that space were instead given to UCLA constitutional scholar Eugene Volokh, who blogs, off the cuff, things that are a hundred times more interesting than her paid-for column.

PS Here's a random sample of (not our) Miss Brooks:

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-brooks16mar16,1,567145.column

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 26, 2007 7:14 AM

"then an expert in Latin American affairs write about Cuban-U.S. relations; then an expert in the Cuban exile community in Florida; then a Mexican-American novelist who knew about magical realism (dolphins played a role in Elian's rescue); then a constitutional scholar on the power of a mayor versus the federal government"

I hate the magical realism/dolphin bit. Honestly, was that form of torture necessary? I've never met a Mexican-American who liked Cubans anyways, so this seems a little fishy (sorry dolphiny) to me.

Posted by: PurplePen at March 26, 2007 10:37 AM

I think the L.A. times could also become a better paper by running Amy's column!

Posted by: Norm at March 26, 2007 10:41 AM

One of the great contradictions of L.A. is the stuffy and uptight LA Times.

Posted by: Joe at March 26, 2007 1:06 PM

Did you see the news item the other day where Don Rumsfeld had been looking for an editorial job at the L.A. Times ?

Posted by: opit at March 26, 2007 1:18 PM

Actually, I heard that Rumy was suppose to be the 'guest editor' at the LA Times for a day.

Posted by: Joe at March 26, 2007 2:43 PM

Rosa Parks, I mean Brooks', left-wing drivel is wrong, but obviously not unreadable to all, since it is virtually always at the top of their most-emailed lists. Someone must be like it. Of course, maybe all but lefties have already stopped readng the L.A. Times? That would explain it.

Posted by: steve at March 27, 2007 6:21 AM

There are other lefty columnists out there who write well.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 27, 2007 6:23 AM

I think the L.A. times could also become a better paper by running Amy's column!

I'm with Norm!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 27, 2007 6:24 AM

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