Some peaks Kit remembers from his editorship include the Weekly’s coverage of the 1992 Rodney King–verdict uprising, which saw most of the paper’s writers out on the streets dodging bricks, and the selection of Andres Serrano’s notorious Piss Christ, which featured a crucifix immersed in urine, for the cover of an issue on the First Amendment. And there was the moment when Kit learned of late developments in a cover story about the closure of the Herald Examiner. "I walked into the production department," he recalls, "and announced, ‘I’ve always wanted to say this: We have to stop the presses.’"
Battles raged on behind the scenes. Mike Sigman, frustrated by his inability to steer a course through Jay’s minefield, had resigned in 1989. Gary Horowitz, a businessman, world-class gambler and longtime member of the board of directors, became publisher, immediately alienating the staff into a near shutdown by announcing there would be no smoking, drinking or drugging in the building. (Coincidentally, the staff soon consolidated its power by unionizing — one of the few journalistic work forces in the region to do so.) Jay took the Weekly to a new printer, and the old one sued. And for a while, two boards of directors operated simultaneously, Jay’s and Gary’s.
Eventually the boards merged and the waters calmed. But then Mike Sigman, assured that he would be allowed to do his job, returned in 1990. And he and Kit walked their way to a duel in the sun.
Mike was critical of the Weekly’s slant: "I thought there was too much navel-gazing and opinion-spouting, not enough news and information and street stuff. And I thought that it didn’t have much of a sense of humor."
Amid considerable acrimony, Kit was fired in late 1992. Wrenching all-night staff meetings were held to patch things up, and he was asked back. Eight months later, in June 1993, he was fired again. In a gesture of loyalty to Kit (who’s currently senior projects editor at the L.A. Times), writers John Powers, Michael Ventura, Steve Erickson, Tom Carson and Ella Taylor quit, and there were strong indications that more might follow.
Thus began a Lord of the Flies interregnum that would last a year, with the quality of the editorial content dropping like a big rock off a cliff. Numerous candidates were interviewed to replace Kit, but prospect after pros pect shied away from throwing himself into the path of the boulder.
Then the Weekly found a sucker.
An Amazing Story
Sue Horton, a connected USC journalism professor, had offered Mike a number of leads on potential editors. At first this unpretentious leftie insomniac wasn’t interested in the job herself. But, says Sue, "It was hard to go and talk to Mike and not start thinking what you could do with a paper in Los Angeles."
A student of Tudor history and the daughter and granddaughter of teachers, Sue had worked five years for the Community Information Project, a pool of socially conscious reporters who did investigative reporting under contract to print and television media, and had written a 1989 book, The Billionaire Boys’ Club. Still, she had never edited a newspaper.
Like many writers in L.A., Horton had endured a Weeklydebacle. For months in 1981, she had worked on a Weekly cover story on L.A.’s worst landlords, only to pick up the paper and find a new lead paragraph on her story: "Some ghastly tale of a woman with a sadistic landlord. I called Jay up, and he said, ‘Isn’t it an amazing story? I heard it at a party!’"
In 1994, she found herself in an awkward position: She was given her friend Kit’s former job.
On Sue’s arrival, the Weekly, about to make an expensive move to the former digs of The Hollywood Reporter at 6715 Sunset Blvd., was clunking edgeward with two broken axles in the editorial department: no organization, no direction. The staff were paranoid and feuding like hillbillies.
Sue was optimistic: "My mother had been a school principal, and I remember early on saying to her, ‘I really love the editing part, and as soon as all the people issues are solved, this is going to be the perfect job.’ And my mother burst out laughing and said, ‘You don’t get it. The people problems are never solved.’"
True, but over time — a long time, it seemed — the smoke cleared a bit. Dread prickled many a spine when Village Voice owner and pet-food magnate Leonard Stern bought the paper in 1995 — still, no hail of fire ensued. Through Sue’s emphasis on stories that put a human face on complex issues, the Weeklyhas drawn in readers not accustomed to seeing things from left field. The paper is (knock wood, pour libation) successful.
Lest heads swell, though, the gods keep nagging that lots of people complain — while admitting they don’t read it much anymore, so how would they know? — that the Weekly sucks.
Ginger Varney: "I’m assuming that the Weekly has some ‘credibility,’ but it has the kind of credibility that mainstream papers have these days, and I frankly don’t give two cents for that kind of credibility."