Feb 6th 2003 | LOS ANGELES

From The Economist print edition

Los Angeles has lost one newspaper but is about to gain another AP

Riordan has his say

AS MAYOR of Los Angeles, and during his brief run for governor of California last year, Richard Riordan was a gift to journalists. Affable and unguarded, he spoke (and sometimes misspoke) his mind in a way that reflected his earlier years building a fortune in business, rather than the polishing efforts of spin-doctors. Now Mr Riordan wants to put $5m of his fortune towards starting a new weekly newspaper in Los Angeles.

The LA Examiner is due to start publication in June. A prototype produced last month gives a hint of what to expect. The editors, Ken Layne and Matt Welch, two experienced newspapermen who were pioneers in the online world of weblogs, have put together a colourful 52-page tabloid full of articles by an array of seasoned LA journalists and a few well-known outsiders, such as Billy Crystal. The aim, says Mr Layne, is to reflect the cultural energy of the city and, naturally, to cover local stories better than the existing media does.

This is a reference to the Los Angeles Times, the dominant local daily�and hardly a favourite with the Examiner crew. Mr Riordan griped at it throughout his time as mayor and during his failed run for governor. Messrs Layne and Welch, irritated by what they saw as the Times’s lack of basic beat reporting and its mealy-mouthed approach to racial issues, started a website in 2001 devoted to daily criticism of the paper. They called it LAExaminer.com in memory of an earlier competitor, the LA Herald Examiner.

If this sounds familiar, it is because the story is distinctly similar to that of the New York Sun, a right-wing newspaper which sprang out of smartertimes.com, an anti-New York Times site. Messrs Layne and Welch insist that they are less conservative sorts than their New York peers, but the Herald Examiner is still likely to be more right-wing than the LA Times, and it is making the same pitch as the Sun for upmarket readers.

Until last October Los Angeles had two free weekly �alternative� papers, the Los Angeles Weekly and the New Times LA. They both wrote about local politics, published entertainment listings and competed for advertising, especially for movies and sex services. In October, though, the New Times group, which is based in Phoenix, Arizona, reached a deal with the Weekly’s parent, Village Voice Media in New York: the New Times LA and the Village Voice’s Free Times in Cleveland would both close, letting the LA Weekly and the New Times’s Cleveland Scene raise advertising rates.

The news was a blow to LA readers who relished having alternative �alternatives�. But the Examiner has duly snapped up some New Times writers. Even better news came on January 27th, when the Department of Justice ordered the colluding weekly groups to pay fines and sell the assets of the closed newspapers, including the newspaper racks that sit on street corners. It will hardly hurt the Examiner to have had the leftish Weekly’s parent so briskly spanked for behaving like a scheming monopolist.

The Examiner plans to eschew sex-ads but still offer itself for free. This chaste, generous approach may make it hard for it to break even in three years, as it hopes. Mr Layne loyally argues that one attraction will be the voice of Mr Riordan himself, who will have a column. Another interfering proprietor? At least he dropped his original plan (possibly not altogether serious) to call the paper the Big Dick.

mssr matt welch + mssr ken layne

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