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Unconventional Smarts: When the Weekly Went Daily

Editor in chief 1994-2000

It was Harold Meyerson’s idea, and it was ridiculous.

Most weeks, we were overwhelmed just getting the paper out the door. Money was tight, deadlines were relentless, and the staff was too small. So what did Harold want to do?

“Let’s put out a daily newspaper during the Democratic National Convention,” he proposed in my office one afternoon in early 2000. If the Democrats were going to put on a show in our city, then we needed to be there to review the performance.

He was right, of course, and we all quickly embraced the challenge of producing the L.A. Weekly Daily. People from all parts of the paper pulled together, from the publisher, who had to fund the project and plan the logistics, to the plant manager, who had to furnish our work space at Staples Center.

And I don’t think anyone regretted it.

During convention week in August, the staff outdid itself. There were the able news folks, of course, but they were just a piece of the picture: Critics, editors, copy editors, arts writers — even astrologer Rockie Gardiner — took their well-aimed shots. And art director Bill Smith’s covers were gems, each featuring an original Robbie Conal drawing of one of the convention’s main players.

The week’s undisputed star, though, was its instigator. Night after night, up against killer deadlines, Harold pounded out perfect copy.

He wrote about Al Gore: “Al Gore has to speak populist, even if he has to learn it phonetically. And he’d better have it down by tonight.”

He wrote about then-California Governor Gray Davis: “As the citizens of 18th-century Königsberg were said to set their clocks by the morning walks of Immanuel Kant, so the citizens of present-day California can turn their calendar pages every time Gray Davis has raised another million dollars.”

He wrote about Bill Clinton: “The Democrats in Los Angeles this week love Bill Clinton more in spite of his politics than because of them.”

He wrote about Joe Lieberman: “In the hierarchy of American Jewish identity, God really isn’t at the top of the list, as Lieberman knows perfectly well. ‘Mom, I love you,’ he said last night. ‘It’s not just the size of our national feast that is important but the number of people we can fit around the table,’ he said. ‘Behind every successful man, there is a surprised mother-in-law,’ he said. Thus was the holy trinity of Jewish life — mothers, food and shtick — given its due.”

Day after day during convention week, Harold delivered searing, spot-on analysis. And if there was one bit of punditry that doesn’t hold up so well in retrospect, can we really begrudge him that? I’ll let you judge.

In the middle of his piece about Gray Davis, he explained why readers should care about the governor’s deficiencies: “I mention all this only because, either in 2004 or 2008, Davis will likely be one of the front-runners for the presidency of the United States.”