Best Downtown News

If you’re worried about the demise of newspapers, look no further than the Los Angeles Garment & Citizen, a scrappy weekly that serves downtown L.A. with the kind of verve that can turn the darkest newsprint pessimists into true believers.

The paper combines straight news — heavy on cops briefs — with loads of service and explanatory journalism. The “Local Hero” feature is a front-page staple that celebrates the tiny but stellar accomplishments of regular downtown folk, people like Aaron Hernandez, a security guard who recently made the cut for retrieving a weary lady’s forgotten keys on a hot afternoon. (The paper got tipped after she wrote a letter to the editor praising Hernandez.)

The Garment & Citizen launched in 2000 as an 8-by-11-inch newsheet with a circulation of 3,000. It’s circulation is now 25,000, and it’s making a profit, says Jerry Sullivan, the publisher, editor, lead writer and guy who answers the phones at the paper’s noirish three-room office, four floors up on Ninth Street just off Main.

“I can’t keep enough papers out there,” Sullivan says.

The formula is what some in the news hand-wringing business call “microlocal,” a phenomenon where newspapers, gasp!, serve their readers with highly focused, service-oriented coverage of a specific zone. The paper has a decidedly East of Broadway feel to it, a welcome antidote to the development-minded, boosterish feel of the L.A. Downtown News.

For the Garment & Citizen, it’s also about talking to its readers across cultural lines.

“When I started, people would say, ‘they’ — meaning immigrants, or Latinos, or Mexicans — would never read it because it’s not in Spanish, but there’s an enormous appetite for it,” Sullivan says. “A lot of people read the paper to learn English, to stay sharp.”

At 45, Sullivan carries the air of an old-school newsman. He props his feet up on his desk, is fond of Havana hats, and speaks with a thick Chicago Irish accent. His grandfather played on the notorious White Sox team that went to the rigged 1919 World Series (“He was just a rookie”), and his father was a steel man in Fontana.

“There’s a defeatist attitude at daily newspapers,” Sullivan says. “They always have some fix for the problem other than doing a good job.”

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