Find links to more of L.A. Weekly's 30th Anniversary features at the bottom of this article.
Intern, assistant to the editor, special sections editor, contributor 1984-1988
Editor in chief 2001-present
The phone call came just as I was walking in the door of my Greenwich Village apartment after spending a week in Paris. I was executive editor of Gourmet magazine and was researching a special Paris issue alongside my good friend and mentor Ruth Reichl, a few of the staff’s talented cooks and editors, and my husband the restaurant critic. I remember thinking as I picked up the telephone that life was good.
But then Sue Horton, L.A. Weekly’s editor in chief at the time, asked a simple question that changed everything: “Do you want my job?”
I hadn’t thought a lot about the paper after leaving L.A., but Sue’s words brought back a flood of memories. I’d arrived at the paper as a college intern and received a four-year education in critical reading, writing and what not to wear to the Anti-Club. I had some of the best teachers money could never buy, in Jay Levin, Bob LaBrasca, John Powers, Michael Ventura, Mayer Vishner, Michael Lassell, Eric Mankin, my future husband Jonathan Gold and four of the strongest female voices I’ve ever encountered — Ginger Varney, Gloria Ohland, Joie Davidow and Helen Knode. Any of these women could and did tangle with the competing male egos that roamed the halls, and I gained strength from their fierceness.
What I loved most about the Weekly was its openness — a film or music or restaurant critic was never typecast as someone uninterested in politics; in fact, the Weekly’s critics were often the paper’s best political thinkers. I also counted on the paper’s nurturing of individual voices — there was no house style and no two writers sounded alike. After I left the paper for the L.A. Times, I always felt as if I were still a part of the Weekly. The place gets under your skin. It wasn’t long after Sue’s call that I was packing up the apartment and leaving New York. I was headed home.
In this issue, celebrating the paper’s beginnings 30 years ago this week, I’ve asked some of the great voices from the paper’s past to come home again, too. For the first time in many years, Ginger Varney, Michael Ventura, Tom Carson, Lynell George, Robert Lloyd, Arion Berger, R.J. Smith, Alan Rifkin, Hunter Drohojowska-Philp and former publisher Michael Sigman appear in these pages. There are more familiar vital voices, too: Alan Rich, Joe Donnelly, Jonathan Gold, Marc Cooper, Ella Taylor, Tom Christie, Alan Mittelstaedt, Greg Goldin, Scott Foundas, Deb Vankin, Lina Lecaro, Steven Mikulan, Steven Leigh Morris. We will be adding more voices to the mix in print and online as the 30th anniversary year unfolds. But it’s safe to say that no other issue of the L.A. Weekly has ever included the writing of all four of its editors in chief. I’m thrilled that Jay Levin, Kit Rachlis and Sue Horton agreed to be a part of this project, and as I read their three very different pieces I realize that there is one thing we all share as editors — an audacious sense of ambition. Jay took on the world, not only by starting the paper with a crew of passionate misfits, but by insisting that L.A. Weekly readers needed to know as much about massacres in Central America as they do about corruption at City Hall. Kit took on sex-obssessed Jesse Helms and the whole anti-artist political establishment when he decided to put Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ on the cover and commissioned a package of stories on the culture wars. And when the Democrats held their convention here in Los Angeles in 2000, Sue and executive editor Harold Meyerson turned the whole paper into a daily operation for the week.
During my time with the paper I’ve seen the staff rise to the challenge of putting out a 9/11 issue literally overnight; researching in-depth special issues on drugs, LAPD and smog (a revival of one of the Weekly’s first obsessions); coming up with early coverage on gay marriage and showing the now-ubiquitous shot of two men kissing on the cover before Gavin Newsom came on the scene; and, with aggressive investigative reporters willing to ask, as David Zahniser liked to put it, “the bastard question,” uncovering political corruption even when the trail leads to beloved political figures. We still look beyond Los Angeles for stories because we know our readers are sophisticated thinkers interested in the world beyond the Westside and Silver Lake, but we also have put renewed energy into getting our writers out on the streets — from anti–Prop. 8 demonstrations and crime scenes in South L.A. to Hollywood green-carpet arrivals. And we’re always searching for new writing voices that can break through the mainstream media patter the way Ventura and Varney did 30 years ago.
Tim Ericson, a former managing editor, used to point out to me that our ambitions have always been bigger than our budgets. He was right. For 30 years, that’s been the secret of our success.
Read more of L.A. Weekly's 30th Anniversary features below:
“Between the Lines: The Music at the Edges,” by Jonathan Gold
“Grace and Calm: Bob LaBrasca, the Writers' Editor,” by Michael Ventura
“Ginger Varney's 'Edendale's Day of the Dead,'” by Michael Ventura
“How I Became Publisher of the L.A. Weekly,” by Michael Sigman
“True Blue: Finding Home in a Material World,” by Arion Berger
“Harold's Office: Six Words, and a Memo to Remember,” by Tom Christie
“Post-Post-Punk and the Rise and Fall of Elliot Smith,” by John Payne
“It Started With a Kiss: Finding Shelter Among the Stray Cats,” by Joe Donnelly
“The Freedom to Write,” by Alan Rifkin
“Unconventional Smarts: When the Weekly Went Daily,” by Sue Horton
“The Two-minute Interview,” by Greg Goldin
“The Mating of Millie: Dogfucker Blues,” by Rian Malan
“The Verdict: After Rodney King,” by R.J. Smith
“Upon Entering the Scene: Every Drama Critic's Nightmare,” by Steven Leigh Morris
“L.A. Dee Dallapalooza: Birth of a Nightranger,” by Lina Lecaro
“What Happened at the Botanica: The Death of a Labor Leader and its Reverberations,” by Alan Mittelstaedt
“The Weekly Goes to the Movies,” by Scott Foundas
“Between the Frames,” by Ella Taylor