The Print Moment
I remember the day I first walked into the L.A. Weekly. It was the summer of 1984, not long after the Olympics had left the city, and the woman who introduced herself as my boss was wearing a thigh-high Girl Scout uniform. She and the editor in chief’s assistant, a go-go-boot-wearing, platinum-haired punk rock princess, took one look at me in my earnest first-day-on-the-job outfit and whisked me off to Jay’s Jayburger. Where to eat lunch was just one lesson I learned that day.
The week before, I was working as a college intern at CNN’s Los Angeles bureau. I thought I wanted to be a television reporter. I loved the immediacy of television and I loved the access — a network camera crew can get through almost any door in the city — even if I was just the girl lugging equipment and logging tape. I eventually attained the duty of gathering actualities, which meant getting quotes from news subjects without getting my face or voice on camera. I was on my way. There was only one problem. Every time an interview started to get interesting — with, say, a doctor at a Salvadoran health clinic treating war refugees — I was told to stop asking questions. We only needed a single quote — we’re talking 30- to maybe 90-second news stories — and there was no time to linger. We had to get on to the next story.
By this time, I’d become a devoted L.A. Weekly reader. Every Thursday, on my way to the CNN building in its old Sunset and Vine location, I’d pick up a paper. And if I was too late and the rack was empty, I’d feel as if part of my week was ruined. No one seemed to be telling L.A. Weekly writers to stop asking questions. The paper covered politics in an opinionated, in-depth way I’d never seen before, even in the political journals I subscribed to as a teenage news junkie. And I loved the mix of stories about independent film and local bands and emerging L.A. artists. Reading the Weeklywas like cracking a secret code to the city. When I spotted an ad for intern openings, I made the switch from TV to print and never looked back.
After that first day, I spent four years at the Weekly — writing news and feature stories, working as editor Jay Levin’s assistant, even editing shopping guides . . . anything to stick around what seemed like the center of the city. I interviewed homeless men in their camps downtown, met fashion designers in their Melrose district studios, talked with abortion clinic defenders and learned about storytelling from the writers and editors at the paper. It was better than any graduate program I could imagine.
I went on to spend 10 good years at the Los Angeles Times, and then went to Gourmetmagazine, a job I loved. (What could be bad about traveling around the world, eating good food and working with some of the country’s best writers?) But when then-publisher Mike Sigman called several years later asking if I wanted to come back to the Weeklyas editor, I realized I hadn’t gotten the paper out of my system.
So much is happening in Los Angeles right now, in politics, in the art scene, in design, and I wanted to be back in the thick of things. We started doing obsessive single-subject issues — on drugs in America, on the cops in Los Angeles — that took months of planning. At the same time, we positioned ourselves to react even faster to news and cultural events — as soon as we got word that gays could marry in Canada, for instance, we put together a cover story on the subject for the next week’s issue. But mostly we’ve built on the solid foundation laid down by our predecessors: From Jay Levin, we got our ambition, spontaneity, curiosity and commitment to social change; Kit Rachlis brought cultural sophistication and a demand for excellent writing; Sue Horton came with solid journalist’s instincts, compassion and a deep understanding of city politics. These are just some of the tools we’ve used to bring the paper into the 21st century.
We spend a lot of time here contemplating our future, but this moment, the L.A. Weekly’s 25th anniversary, is an occasion for looking back at our past. We set out to gather 25 moments from the life of this newspaper — moments of decision and creativity inside the building, and moments in history that changed the way we viewed the world. We came up with more than 30 and still feel we’ve only scratched the surface. But I think you’ll appreciate reading how far we’ve come and how close to home we’ve remained.
Laurie Ochoa Editor in Chief