There have been a lot of media moves in the last week, mostly as a result of faltering ad sales and the softening economy. I'm going to take some space here to give my two cents. Dance-hungry readers can skip this.
-Metromix, the tabloid weekly newspaper from the Tribune Company, the folks who own the Los Angeles Times, hit the streets of L.A. less than a year ago with a cloud of doubt about whether it could make a go of it in a town with two alternative weeklies (LA Weekly and LA CityBeat) and a major weekly entertainment tabloid (The Guide) put out by the Times. The idea was to tap the twentysomething set with blurbs and listings about nightlife, culture and shopping. It debuted with a cover feature on DJs, by the way.
I wondered aloud if it was wise for Tribune to launch a weekly newspaper that would essentially compete with the Times' own version. But I praised some of its hires and admired its website, which ended up being second-to-none when it came to finding out what the heck was happening night-side in this town. The problem, I guess, was that ad money was to come from the print edition while readership was to be stoked online. The print edition didn't seem to have much to read; it consisted mainly of repurposed blurbs from the site. While, short, to-the-point pieces work online, Metromix, the paper, felt flimsy and without journalistic weight. I think people who pick up a newspaper want to take a journey that's akin to a three-course meal. Metromix in print was all appetizers. Unfortunately, both Metromix and The Guide went down -- The Guide first, and then Metromix last week. LA Observed reports that, as a result, the company is reconsidering a relaunch of a weekly entertainment inside the Times with my old boss, Dean Kuipers, as editor.
-LA Weekly (where I contribute now) and LA CityBeat (where I was once senior writer) are having their shrinking pains too. CityBeat is rumored to be laying off a few more people this month, and its headquarters in L.A.'s Miracle Mile is up for sale for $3.6 million. Former Weekly writer Marc Cooper has a rant about what he sees as the demise of the Weekly, with many people, including myself, weighing in on the changing landscape (I comment about the ruin of CityBeat, at least before current editor and publisher Will Swaim stepped in).
-My thoughts on CityBeat are familiar to readers here: More than anything, my problem with it is not that it has downsized in a soft economy. You gotta do what you gotta do. My issue is that core staffers, including editor-in-chief Steve Appleford, were let go under the guise of changing the editorial direction of the paper. This made it seem as if Appleford wasn't doing his job when, in fact, he was giving 150 percent at a time when the publisher didn't have his own act together. It was a weak, pass-the-buck move.
Under Cooper's post former CityBeat editor-in-chief Rebecca Schoenkopf comments, asking me "what I ever did to you that has you still bitching nine months later (at least you’re no longer going into Wikipedia every day to erase my name as CB’s editor, but probably only because I’m no longer there)." I want to respond here, as I think it would be off-topic on Cooper's blog.
I've rarely uttered Schoenkopf's name, mostly because I felt she was a victim of Southland Publishing's ill-advised moves as owner of CityBeat.
A little background: When Steve Appleford was sacked as the fall guy I walked away from the dance music column I still freelanced for the paper, and the publisher, Charles Gerencser, called me the night he fired Steve to beg me to stay. Schoenkopf was lured to the fray by Gerencser and her former OC Weekly boss Steve Lowery. Lowery was inserted as Steve's replacement, and Schoenkopf came in as arts editor (a job I had turned down a few months previously, by the way). Lowery barely lasted a week -- he said his heart wasn't in it, but I suspect he realized what a mess Gerencser had created -- and Schoenkopf took the top job, her first gig as an editor-in-chief.
The paper under her reign was a disaster. As I've noted, a publicist was allowed to write about a client she represented (a total no-no in serious journalism), a pop critic wrote about getting a blowjob, a piece that had been turned down under Steve's regime as unpublishable was published, and Schoenkopf's own unreported rants were used as filler (on the cover, no less). In one uncredited piece about travel and vacations she wrote: "Did you know that Hitler managed to give every German man, woman and child a yearly vacation at either the mountains or the sea?" I mean, this place got more black eyes from media critics than Dan Rather.
I have no animosity towards Schoenkopf. Like I said, I think she was a victim in all this. She probably would have done fine as an arts editor or columnist in an organization that had proper staffing levels and a decent copy editing and fact-checking department. To be fair, under her reign, news editor Alan Mittelsteadt did solid work, made waves and managed to hold onto and lure in some heavy hitting reporters (Jeffrey Anderson) who could kick my journalistic ass. But Mittelsteadt was left over from the Appleford days and, in fact, was cut loose under Schoenkopf. Am I sour that, after working hard to help launch the paper it turned into the kind of unreported thumb-twiddling rag we tried so hard to avoid? Absolutely. When we started CityBeat in 2003, we felt we had a mission. Some of the resources used to grow the paper came out of a federal antitrust lawsuit settlement between LA Weekly and New Times L.A. alleging that the two conspired to cut competition in the market. Our launch was specifically aimed at restoring competition, and we had a duty to inform.
But make no mistake, it's Schoenkopf who's had a hard-on for me, not vice-versa. Anyone who knows me knows I have reserved most of my animosity for the paper's former publisher, who managed to convince CityBeat's owners that the problem with the paper was "editorial direction" while he continued to drop the ball (ad sales people lost ads because they hadn't read the paper, distribution points were hit-and-miss, marketing was nonexistant, the web was a foreign term). The fact that Gerenscer finally left the building (claiming to be moving on so he could raise money for Barack Obama -- a whopping $60 that I can track) after he burned down the operation metaphorically is icing on the cake. Gerenscer left the same way he presided -- surrounded by a steaming heap of b.s. Wasn't your journalistic lie detector working, Ms. Schoenkopf, or did you leave it in O.C. when you came north?
So, no Ms. Schoenkopf, I don't think you ever did anything to me. In fact, I would have thought it wise to keep your name out of it. I certainly did. Maybe the local journalism world would forget. I sure would like to. But if you want credit for what became of CityBeat before Swaim came along, be my guest. You even egocentrically accuse me of wiping your name from CityBeat's Wikipedia entry. I did no such thing. It's all about you, huh? And you say you didn't know a writer was a publicist when you published her story. (She had previously distributed press releases for the venue she wrote about in your paper, so everyone else in L.A. media circles seemed to know). I pointed this out to your beloved boss, Charles Gerencser, so your organization knew, and you certainly should have. I would be surprised if CityBeat consultant Jay "Real Crock" Levin didn't know. She was his protege, right? So you're the only one in the chain of command who didn't know? Really.
Why you continue to carry water for Gerencser is beyond me. (Here's a guy who commented on my blog something like, "What do you think about CityBeat now," after my employer, Ciudad magazine, folded last June and I was out of a job. Of course, he was sour because I turned down his cheaper-than-thou offer to be CityBeat's arts editor, which would have also entailed editing a sister publication, New Angeles, in a two-jobs-for-the-same-salary deal. And, I suspect, I would have had to choose allegiances when Gerencser fired Appleford only a few months after he made me that offer to become entangled in his web). That Gerencser ended up exiting with CityBeat being a shadow of its former self in terms of quality and page count only makes me like Ciudad more, to tell you the truth. At least we went out with class. What do you think about Ciudad now, Mr. Gerencser?
So, if you did such a hot job, Ms. Schoenkopf, then why aren't you still at CityBeat. I mean, the current editor and publisher was your former boss at OC Weekly. I'm guessing he knows your work better than anyone. And yet it took him all of about a week to sniff around, see what you've done there, and sack you. Be brave: Put that in the Wikipedia entry.
-Finally, four years ago I marvelled how a place like CityBeat could put out a Weekly paper with about 6 and 1/2 people (now it's down to three and rumored to be shrinking) while a dance-centric email newsletter like Earplug could boast "seven editors, seven production team members, two designers and 15 contributors." Well, no more. Starting this week Earplug is done and has been folded into the parent company Flavorpill's "Daily Dose."