Sounding like journalism’s version of Xena: The Warrior Princess and proclaiming "We’re going to win" the ongoing newspaper war, Amy Wallace, Los Angeles Magazine’s star writer, is returning after three years to the Los Angeles Times. Wallace’s move is a showy attempt by the LAT to pump up its show-biz reporting after being raided of key talent by the NYT in recent days. She will replace Michael Cieply, a recent defector to NYT, as deputy entertainment editor in the Business section. Wallace will report to the deputy business editor for entertainment, Joel Sappell.
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"It’s just an exciting time to be at the L.A. Times. This is a paper committed not just to competing but dominating," Wallace told L.A. Weekly today. "The L.A. Times is going to be at war with the N.Y. Times over entertainment coverage.
"And you know what? We’re going to win!"
There will be more significant hirings at both papers by fall, when the NYT unveils its new culture coverage and the LAT tries to counter it, L.A. Weekly has learned.
In an e-mail to his staff, L.A. Magazine’s editor, Kit Rachlis, greeted Wallace’s leaving "with great sadness" and pronounced, "The L.A. Times just got a lot better." Calling his competition downtown "mean and nasty," he noted, "Despite my many entreaties, the opportunity to learn new skills proved too much [for Wallace]."
Wallace told L.A. Weekly that she left the LAT after 11 years for L.A. Magazine "to learn how to write a magazine piece, and I’m going back to learn how to be an editor."
Of course, that begs the question as to why one of the country’s top three newspapers would hire (or why members of the staff should report to) someone who, no matter how proficient a reporter and writer, will need on-the-job training as an editor.
"They can be the judge of whether or not that’s what they’re putting up with," responded Wallace.
Praising Wallace as "a gifted writer with great instincts," LAT business editor Rick Wartzman joined Sappell in addressing that very issue in a joint memo: "Given the breadth of her skills — and her quick mind — we’re also certain that her entry into the editing world will be as seamless as her prose."
The LAT made Wallace "an offer she couldn’t refuse," according to a pal. But the job is fraught with difficulty because, given the differing personalities and often clashing egos on the show-biz beat at the newspaper, trying to edit that staff is akin to herding cats. Forecasts Wallace: "I think I’m going to get along with them because they’re great people and the most talented entertainment journalists in the country. Also, I know a lot of them well because I worked with them in Calendar."
Wallace began her journalism career as an assistant to James Reston, the famed NYT columnist, after graduating from Yale. Following a stint at the Atlanta Constitution, she moved to the LAT where she covered state politics and higher education before becoming a prized entertainment reporter in the Calendar section for three years.
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She surprised her LAT colleagues by moving to regional L.A. Magazine where it was presumed she’d be less visible. But she created an authentic show-biz scandal with her lengthy and nearly lethal profile of Variety editor in chief Peter Bart in September 2001. Because of it, she was nominated for a National Magazine award, and Bart was suspended from his job for a short time while Variety’s parent company, Reed Business, investigated the article’s accusations about him.
For a while, Wallace competed in the journalism derby to replace Rick Lyman as NYT’s Hollywood correspondent (The Washington Post’s Sharon Waxman wound up being hired), but later freelanced for the NYT’s Sunday Styles section. Wallace also increased her national visibility recently by writing a feature for The New Yorker.
Last week, L.A. Weekly reported that the LAT was talking to Wallace about Michael Cieply’s job. For more on the LAT-NYT war, see "The NYT Goes Way Off-Broadway and Other Big Hits."
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