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Typesetting, Yes. Typecasting, No

Typesetter 1979-1981
Music editor 1982-1985-ish
Writer, “Critical List,” mid-1980s-early ’90s
TV critic 1997-2002
Best of L.A. editor 1985 and 2001
Contributing writer 1979-2004

As a person with a regular byline, I am sometimes asked by journalism students for advice on how I got started in the business. I tell them that my case is a bad example, because I started at a place where experience counted for nothing. I mean that in a good way.

Back when it was a salable skill, I could type 100 words a minute. It was my only salable skill, and for two and a half years, or thereabouts, I typeset all the editorial content of the Weekly — the paper was very young then, and small. In those days, writers turned in copy written on typewriters, or even by hand. Every word in the paper went through my eyes and out my fingers, for better or worse. It’s a job that, for all intents and purposes, no longer exists.

One day, Jay Levin, who started the paper and still ran it and whom I would regularly shoo away from my office when he’d come nosing around wanting to alter his last-minute editorials, already hanging in galleys and ready for paste-up (another job that, for all intents and purposes, no longer exists) said something to the effect that the paper should do a piece on — and he mentioned someone I knew. And without thinking too hard about it, I put my hand up. All that typing of other people’s copy had been a kind of preparation, I suppose, a lesson in what I thought worked and what didn’t. And because it was basically a hippie paper, with a punk-adjacent staff — which is to say, it was run by people who didn’t much bother with rules, including some they should have bothered with — the fact that I’d never written anything that wasn’t for a grade at school (and most of those papers I never wrote anyway) didn’t matter.

That is how I became a writer. I was still mostly a typesetter, though.

Another day, Mikal Gilmore, who had been the paper’s music editor, left to become the music critic of the Herald-Examiner, a paper that doesn’t exist anymore. The way I remember it, I was standing with Jay and Mikal at the top of the stairs in the old building on Sunset, which also doesn’t exist anymore. (I have perhaps its last physical remnant, a stair post kicked out from the banister by photo editor Dennis Keeley. You can see it for a nickel.) Perhaps Mikal suggested me as a replacement, or perhaps not, but in any case, Jay asked if I wanted the job.

And then I was an editor.

I was still a typesetter, though, but at California magazine by then, which also doesn’t exist anymore. I must have been tipped to that job by my friend Janet Duckworth, who worked there and later became an editor at the Weekly. One day many years later, in a time when I was neither writing for nor editing (nor typesetting) the Weekly, I was at a party at Janet’s. Still-surviving Weekly editor Tom Christie (for whom I’d first written, coincidentally enough, at California magazine) was there, too, and we were talking about television.

And that is how I became a TV critic.

This does not constitute advice.

Robert Lloyd reviews television for the Los Angeles Times.


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