By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
What Raines didn’t mention, and should have, was “The Music They Made,” Weinraub’s look back at the legends of rock, country and soul who became inspirations to modern-day music icons. Not only was this Raines’ idea. Not only was each 5,000-word segment showcased on Page One. But it was genius for helping handle the diversity dilemma facing newspapers, under constant fire for portraying nonwhites in the context of their failures and not their successes. Talk about refreshing: The first three articles profiled three black men: Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and B.B. King.
Indeed, one of the first tests of Keller’s leadership will be to see how he handles the play on Weinraub’s music series, which is going to restart soon.
Keller is too new in the job to articulate any opinions about mass entertainment. He even freezes when asked what his favorite films are. “The mind blanks. I know that, five hours from now, I’ll begin to come up with a list. But I can’t do that by your deadline.” He finds time to go to the movies two to three times a month, which is more than average for his age range. As for vegging out in front of the tube, “I’ve had TiVo for the past two years, as a result of which I watch more television than anything. I’m very HBO-oriented. I loved The Wire.” (Okay, you HBO guys can stop high-fiving now.)
But Keller has a long way to go before he can ever match Raines’ comfort zone. Take music. Raines knows Eminem and Marshall Mathers are one and the same person (most newspaper editors would confuse Mathers with that other Marshall, as in McLuhan). And Raines can rattle off not just the names of rap stars, but even which rap stars have been killed and why. (On the flip side, Raines made reference in a New York Observer interview to CBGB, which today is best known for making edgy fashionwear. But Raines was referring to the seminal New York City club from 25 years ago that spawned bands like Television, Blondie, the Dead Boys and the Ramones.)
Keller not only doesn’t color his speech with pop-culture references, he doesn’t make them in his writing, either — unless you count an NYT Sunday Magazine piece that surveyed possible nuclear-terror targets and suggested Disneyland.
In November, he singled out the movie Traffic and praised as “splendid” two HBO series, The Cornerand The Wire, in a column about the drug war. But he eschewed an obvious opportunity to be hip (or make puns out of U2 lyrics) in a column about then–Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and Bono touring Africa together.
Instead, Keller in print embraces Rabelais and Shakespeare. (Heck, the last time someone other than Kenneth Branagh wanted to film Shakespeare, it was Mel Gibson asking Warner Bros. to underwrite Hamlet. In the pitch meeting, executive Mark Canton looked at his people and asked, totally serious, “Do we have coverage on that?”)
The Pomona College graduate, opining about California’s troubles, did use the post-9/11 period to moralize about the movie biz. “In Hollywood, the angst manifests itself in talk of a great creative disorientation following Sept. 11. Have our movies made the world hate us? Dare we go on producing mindless daisy-cutter flicks? My friend Sheryle Longin, screenwriter for Dick and other films, argues that, in fact, formula-driven, risk-averse corporate culture long ago dried up Hollywood’s creative juices. And Sept. 11 is just a convenient excuse for permanent ennui. Whatever.”
But Keller also has a very obvious devotion to his home state. After noting a “flag-wrapped self-interest” idea to paint stars and stripes on the Hollywood Sign, Keller concludes, “You can say it’s just California, where self-indulgence is embedded in the culture. But I’m inclined to agree with the great apostle of the West, Wallace Stegner, who said California was just like the rest of the country, only more so.”
Keller has been praised for being behind the paper’s move into the Internet and television, so that means he can talk the talk, and walk the walk, with Big Media’s moguls. They also may take heart from another of Keller’s columns. “I’m prepared to believe that a competent mogul might actually know some things that could be usefully applied to overseeing a piece of government,” Keller argues. “If Jack Welch [former head of General Electric, NBC’s parent company] had spent the last year applying his tough-love management to the CIA rather than compiling all his thank-you notes into a book, maybe we’d have seen Osama bin Laden coming.”
One problem: In 2001, Keller was packed off to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton business school. So he may know phony studio accounting when he sees it.
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