By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Concerning the changes about to take effect, Martinez describes how he, Johnson and op-ed–page editor Nick Goldberg all agree that “we need more of a local presence. Jeff definitely wants it, and I definitely feel it’s needed, and Nick recognizes it’s an issue, too. I think the mix of subject matter on the editorial page right now is about right. But I think the op-ed–page mix is a bit different, and the local component needs to be ratcheted up. The argument is that you’ve got columnists writing on local subjects elsewhere in the paper, like Steve Lopez, obviously. But I don’t necessarily buy it.”
Asked about the internal and external debate over whether the L.A. Times’ ambitions of being a national player have hurt local coverage, Martinez chides it as “tiresome. It's a semantics game. I don’t think what you cover should be dictated by where your readers are. It should be dictated by what your readers are interested in. And I think it’s insulting to people in L.A. to pretend that they’re not interested in national or foreign issues. Any paper has a sort of balancing act they have to go through in terms of covering local versus the outside world. When I first arrived, I was amazed at how all-consuming some people found this existential argument over whether we’re a national paper or not. It just seems a big distraction.”
Born in Mexico Cityand reared in Chihuahua by an American mother and a Mexican father, who worked as an executive for the huge beer company Femsa, Martinez received a B.A. from Yale, an M.A. from Stanford and a J.D. from Columbia. He practiced law before plying journalism; by 1997, he was writing editorials for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. When his wife got a gig in NYC, he applied to the NYT. “But I didn’t even get a post card back,” he says.
Three years later, he was reporting for The Wall Street Journal and taking book leave to pen a personal account about blowing 50 grand in Vegas. Out of the blue, he fielded a job offer from Howell Raines’ office based on those old clips. “The idea they held on to them was very amusing to me,” Martinez says.
In 2000, he moved to the NYT’s editorial page, working first for Raines and then for Gail Collins. He admits to having “stage fright” when he first started there. “But the self-importance of the institution can be oppressive at the NYT,” he claims. “It starts hurting the honesty of an editorial page if you get too impressed with your own role in the process. And, at the NYT, there was a tendency to get too caught up with the fact that we’re a player at the table.”
When Kinsley sought him for the LAT job, Martinez wrestled with the decision to make the move or not. “I had a California hankering,” he explains. “I loved living in New York, but I always found the place a bit provincial. I just never bought into the notion that it’s the center of the universe. I thought California was a more important place.” For one thing, he felt that, as an editorial writer telling people what to think, he could have more impact in Los Angeles than New York.
“The thing I had to remind myself is that the LAT is more influential in L.A. than the NYT is in N.Y. The mayor of NYC probably cares more what the Post and Daily News think about him than the NYT. It’s a more competitive environment mediawise there. Here, everything is more diffused, and you have more impact as an editorial page.”
But his career was skyrocketing at the NYT: He’d been promoted from writer to assistant editor of the editorial page, and he’d traveled the country and the globe for an editorial series about farm subsidies. (“It was a great excuse to get out of the building.”) He lost the Pulitzer to the LAT’s Bill Stall.
He was also restless. Enter NYT publisher Pinch Sulzberger, who urged Martinez to go to L.A., “but go there for us. We’ll even give you suntan lotion.” Still another NYT counteroffer was to become a foreign correspondent in New Delhi, Rio or Mexico City. At the same time, Kinsley was describing how the LAT had “a lot of momentum,” and John Carroll was offering him a foreign posting in the future.
“Everybody assumed I was wrestling with leaving the NYT, or with the NYT versus the Tribune Co. It had nothing to do with that. It just had more to do with the narrative arc in life. Did I want to recommit to doing opinion journalism for a lot longer? In the end, I decided it was too good an opportunity to pass up.”