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Echoing that sentiment, Jeff Leeds told L.A. Weekly Friday that it was an “absolutely gut-wrenching decision” to leave the LAT, where “I would take a bullet for Joel Sappell,” who is the business-section editor overseeing entertainment coverage. “I am excited and humbled by the opportunity that’s been presented to me.”
Both hires came just hours after Thursday’s announcement that LAT architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff, a Pulitzer finalist in criticism for two years running and who has family considerations in New York, would replace NYT lead architecture writer Herbert Muschamp, who asked to leave the beat but remain at the paper. Ouroussoff, who did not return L.A. Weekly’s calls and e-mails, was perceived to be more interested in the national architectural scene than in L.A.’s. Nevertheless, he enjoyed an enviably close relationship with deputy managing editor and features czar John Montorio, himself a NYT defector. “Nic was one of the few allowed to just go in and chatter away when John was in his office,” an LAT insider recounts.
However, the Calendar staff is known to be peeved about the “let’s-try-to-make-a-buck” decision to change online viewing of Calendar’s articles and reviews from free to subscription. LAT sources say Ouroussoff nagged bitterly and repeatedly about it. As for Dargis, in the words of one colleague, “She was very aware of being cut off from the world because Web sites that compile reviews would not have access to her work. And in the current environment out there, the Internet is where reviews are really bandied about.” That issue, though, “had nothing to do with my decision to leave,” says Dargis.
In an unusual step showing just how much they wanted her, the NYT not only allowed Dargis to remain in Los Angeles, not only gave her an unprecedented title as West Coast film critic, but also made her equal in status to A.O. “Tony” Scott, the NYT’s newly named lead reviewer.
According to NYT sources, Dargis turned down the first overture, but subsequent talks with Scott helped convince her to come over. (The two met a few years ago at the Cannes film festival and became fast friends.) As the NYT’s culture news editor Jonathan Landman gushed in an over-the-top staff memo, “Nobody is more excited about this arrangement than Tony, and we could never have snagged Manohla without his enthusiasm, leadership and generosity. Tony wanted to work with, and be challenged by, the most interesting critic he knew, and that was Manohla.”
Dargis is known for maintaining a strong voice both in and out of the newspaper. She’s the former president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, yet she takes the unpopular position of opposing the group’s annual awards.
“Nobody could ever accuse her of being Pauline Kael lite. She is her own free thinker,” says David Poland, the blogging editor of Movie City News Web site. “Sometimes you think she’s insane, and sometimes you think she’s the most brilliant thing in the world.” Both an intellectual and pop-culture addict, Dargis is known for her eclectic taste in movies. “She’s told me repeatedly her favorite films are good Joel Silver movies,” laughs Poland.
For its part, the NYT especially wanted Dargis “not just for her reviews but even more for her essays about Hollywood,” one NYT insider says. Indeed, in that effusive memo, the NYT’s Landman announced Dargis’ arrival Friday by presenting what he called “clips from [her] highlight reel . . . as lively, intelligent and passionate a picture show as you’re likely to find this side of Tony Scott.”
Dargis will start on August 2. “Tickets cost a buck,” Landman ends.
Like Dargis, Leeds will also be based in the NYT’s Los Angeles bureau. A one-time LAT intern who went on the music-industry beat in 2001 and eventually took over day-to-day coverage from Pulitzer-winning Chuck Philips, Leeds was first approached by the NYT many months ago. “It was a long process, and it was not entirely clear until [last] week that the job would be offered to him, or that he would take it,” an insider says.
Since the arrival of LAT editor John Carroll and especially his No. 2, NYT defector and LAT managing editor Dean Baquet, there has been considerable to-and-fro-ing between both newspapers. In May, Benedict Carey left for the NYT’s Science Times section, headed up by the NYT-LAT-back-to-NYT features editor Rick Flaste. And, before that, the LAT stole editors Michalene Buscio, Kevin Sack and Doug Frantz from the NYT.
The NYT also was smarting recently after the LAT routed it in the recent Pulitzer derby. And, as L.A. Weekly reported in May, NYTeditor Bill Keller ordered his newspaper to match an in-the-works LAT investigation into Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter’s financial relationship with Hollywood that was going on right under the NYT’s nose.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the NYT announced that media editor Lorne Manly will become the paper's chief media writer. It's part of what the memo called "expanding and reorganizing our media coverage -- a move designed to focus more attention on media industries, issues, content and personalities." Manly, whose new gig starts later this summer, will cover trends and issues across television, music, movies and publishing, writing for both the culture and business sections as well as Page One, according to the announcement.
The media editor's job will be left vacant, NYT sources say. But, as part of this radical expansion of media coverage, now the NYT is looking to fill another editor position -- a TV editor with vast knowledge of the beat. Stay tuned.
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