In L.A., a new tabloid from its ex-mayor

Richard Riordan's L.A. Examiner will have local focus, 'unbiased' news, and even pieces by Billy Crystal.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Presses hum while men in blue jumpsuits scurry to and fro, jabbing computer buttons to adjust color and contrast at the Los Angeles Examiner, a new weekly tabloid.

The prototype newspaper copies are the brainchild of former Republican Mayor Richard Riordan, who wants to add color and contrast to the nation's second-largest media market, which has close to 70 radio stations but only one major newspaper, the Los Angeles Times.

"What I'd like to do is get a paper that is L.A.-centered, unlike the Los Angeles Times, which has been drifting more and more away from what the city is about," says Mr. Riordan, the two-term mayor and millionaire businessman who is reportedly financing much of the paper's $5 million start-up costs. "Second, I'd like to have a paper that is prohonesty, which doesn't let reporters espouse their [own] ideology unless they can prove what they are saying is right."

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Besides Riordan's longtime and well-known beefs with the Times - he claims 98 percent of writers are liberal Democrats - he says the city he loves is hungry for a publication that reflects its uniqueness within the American landscape - from the entertainment world of Hollywood, to the affluent Bel Air/Beverly Hills, to the immigrant neighborhoods of Koreatown and South Central.

Although some newspaper industry analysts have said the venture will be expensive and take a long time to establish, the idea received a much needed boost with the recent closing of another alternative weekly, "New Times Los Angeles."

Holding a copy of their 52-page prototype - which editors hope to circulate to prospective advertisers and investors for a June 5 launch - managing editor Ken Layne explains further: "I read the Los Angeles Times and think, this is a bunch of East Coasters who are trying to imitate The New York Times," he says.

The family-owned Los Angeles Times was purchased in March 2000, by the Chicago Tribune Co., ending 100 years of local ownership.

"We want something that reads like it actually comes from the city," says Mr. Layne.

With that said, the self-described "centrist" and "non-politically correct" Los Angeles Examiner is aiming to spice up its news/politics/sports/arts/business formula with sassy writing, unvarnished opinion, gossip, and wit.

A handful of paid editorial and business staff (perhaps 40) will be supplemented by regular and guest columnists. Those will be drawn from a wide and deep pool stretching from local and state journalists to Hollywood to the state capital in Sacramento to academe.

Actor/comedian Billy Crystal has a column in the first edition ("Love your movies, Can I see a picture ID?") as does 'Sleepless in Seattle" movie producer Lynda Obst on Hollywood personality disorders ("Pathologically Happy"). Susan Estrich, a professor at the University of Southern California, who ran Michael Dukakis's 1988 presidential campaign, writes on why Hillary Clinton should not run for president, ("she has all of [Bill's] faults and none of his charms"). And well-known state political reporter Jill Stewart writes about the recent demise of Republicans in California.

The aimed-for readership, says publisher Jane Kahn, a veteran of New Times, Condé Nast, and Hearst Magazines, is "sophisticated, smart, funny, intelligent, affluent, politically connected people who care about the community and the issues affecting it."

Besides standard newspaper fare, editors say they will include "quality gossip," Internet guides, film history, short movie reviews "that people can understand," and book reviews about "books people really read."

"Los Angeles desperately needs an alternative voice," says Catherine Seipp, a longtime media critic for Media Week and Buzz Magazine, who will review media for the new publication. "The problem with L.A. media is that it has been extremely provincial. The thinking behind this is extremely nonprovincial."

James Naughton, president of the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank in St. Petersburg, Fla., welcomes the addition of more journalistic voices to the West Coast's largest city, but cautions that the L.A. Examiner's concentration on local issues could become too narrow in its focus.

"If they are saying they want to be very local in their coverage, that could complement what the LA Times is doing, but if they are being critical of the Times for having a world view and a national view in their coverage, that is foolish," says Mr. Naughton. "To their credit, the L.A. Times is doing a good job of trying tell people what is going on in the wider world and there aren't enough of those resources being used in journalism."

Analysts say that whatever the need or desire by readers for such a paper, owners will first need to attract them in sufficient numbers to build a loyal advertising base to support the paper longterm. Far from just being a soapbox for alternative views, editors admit the venture hopes to make money.

And beyond the romantic ideas of printing great copy comes the nitty gritty and costly task of getting the paper to readers. Meeting such goals is an uphill battle, say many analysts, one that has foiled more than a dozen metro daily newspapers launched in recent decades.

"The romance of starting a paper is in the editorial decisions, but the hard work is in the distribution," says Michael Parks, former editor of the Los Angeles Times, now director of the Annenberg Journalism School at USC.

Despite many years of dueling with the former, Mr. Parks lauds Riordan's motives.

"The problem we as a nation face is also true in Los Angeles, which is that we've fallen into a period of great civic disengagement," says Parks. "I applaud Riordan's willingness to spend his own time and money promoting civic reengagement. I don't think he will put the Times out of business or even steal a lot of readers, but he is putting needed ideas in the public forum and that is a good thing."

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