Friday, June 29, 2007

Dept. of I Can't Resist

Here's The Nation on the LA Weekly, with some material relevant to the PTSNBN:

What, then, drove [former OC Weekly editor Will] Swaim to quit? "Two problems," he said. "First, they gravely underestimate the value of writers. They have a kind of faux populism--they say they are against articles that say, 'Look how smart I am.' They have an insecurity about good writing, a combination of arrogance and ineptitude. Everything smart is ridiculed as pointy-headed." The New Times business model, he said, was the second problem. The company has imposed a "fat layer of middle management," to which editors are required to report. "Our covers have to be approved by a guy in Oakland. The film reviews are assigned by somebody in Denver. Five people oversee the marketing manager. They say it's a sophisticated business system. My sense is that it's lard. People who've never edited a newspaper tell editors how to edit." Another LA Weekly employee familiar with New Times's corporate strategy said the chain runs "the most Stalinist operation imaginable," with "commissars in Phoenix" overseeing every phase of the seventeen newspapers, "from graphics to the web."

Best line:

Like many mediocre newspaper chains, New Times has imposed productivity standards for writers: "Basically, they count words," Swaim said. "But you can't measure quality by the number of words you write. That would make the phone book the greatest publication of all time. For them, a 2,500-word investigative piece is worth only twice as much as a 1,200-word food review. It's grotesque. It really is bean counting." So Swaim quit. Now he's started a new alt weekly in Long Beach that competes directly with his old paper--and he took half a dozen of his top staff from the OC Weekly with him to the new paper, called the District. It began publishing in April and distributes 30,000 copies weekly at 1,100 locations.


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