Voices in our heads
Founders and others who have left their mark reflect on 25 years of the Pasadena Weekly
That was then, this is now.
It’s hard to recapture the sense of possibility unfolding then in Pasadena. Old Pasadena was waking up after a long urban slumber.
Neighborhoods were emerging with feisty identity and pride. The clubby downtown business establishment was on its last legs (although no one realized it). There were new, progressive voices clamoring to be heard. And symbolizing the forces of change was the installation of Loretta Thompson-Glickman as mayor, the first African-American woman to ever lead a city our size in the nation — a young, energetic and controversial symbol of a new Pasadena.
The Star-News was as old-fashioned and out of touch as it could be. “Alternative” papers had come (and gone), leaving nothing but the crusty daily to gripe about change and wax nostalgic for the good old days.
Fresh out of journalism school at Columbia, I dreamed of a paper that would challenge their century of dominance by out-hustling them with a “dream team” of young journalists. Pierce O’Donnell thought mine was a grand idea, but insisted I actually put together a “business plan.” I’d never seen one, but I spent nine months carefully researching successful models and putting together a “realistic” budget. Pierce and I then shopped it to civic-minded investors, hired a veteran alternative newspaper guru, Ed Matys, as our “publisher” and made plans to give the Star-News a run for its money.
We stole Dick Lloyd, their most respected reporter, and made him associate editor. As managing editor I chose Steve Coll, a friend right out of Occidental College. Not a bad choice, as he went on to win two Pulitzer prizes and rocket to become the youngest-ever editor of the Washington Post. We assembled a hungry team of editors and reporters with the goal to not only beat the local competition, but earn a lasting place in the hearts of Pasadena area readers.
We had not even started publishing before we diverted from the “business plan.” We figured it would be easier if we acquired the Altadena Weekly rather than start from scratch. A great move, but one that added costs. Of course, I’d estimated we’d lose $240,000 the first year, so what would a little more matter? Unfortunately, it was the first of many similar decisions.
One was that two publications could be produced (nearly) as cheaply as one. So we pioneered a free paper aimed at Pasadena’s huge daytime population of office and service workers, Nine to Nine, which meant a few more staff, including the amazing Pam Fisher, hired as editor on the strength of a single movie review in a health club newsletter. It had a great, brief and expensive run before we learned our lesson that two publications were more than we could handle.
The new Pasadena Weekly debuted the first week of 1984. Our ace business staff was selling ads and our high-powered editorial team was filling the space in between with fresh, hard-hitting, first-rate journalism. As a newly elected City Council member, I made a vow never to interfere in editorial matters. (It was a rule broken only twice — when looming deadlines forced me to edit a cover story on the Pasadena Symphony and another on a journey down Fair Oaks from the Altadena hills to South Pasadena. Both were a mess and there was no one else available to make sense of them.)
Instead of editing or writing, I was in charge of the business side. It was a plus for me to get a crash course in economics, but probably not our best personnel decision. My handy aide was Larry Wilson, who put his newly minted international business MBA to work by writing a personal check to cover payroll one week when we were short.
I can see why, over the decades, newspapering has driven so many to drink. I never worked so hard, got so little sleep and took such a relentless beating for everything I did. As a council member, it was a media disaster. My own Pasadena Weekly went out of its way to roast me to prove their editorial independence and the Star-News was equally vengeful toward a putative rival.
Exhausted, I quit after one year. My most difficult decision was firing our future prize-winning editor when his salary proved too pricey for our ballooning shortfall. Along the way, I lost money and gained priceless memories.
Newspaper people are, by nature, sentimental about their business. But they have a right to be. They live a shared life. They participate in the vivid lives of the communities they serve and those of the newsmakers who shape them and the readers who make it all worthwhile. I speak with authority when I say that people take newspapers very personally, especially when they find their names in them. Of all the many descriptions of a newspaper, my favorite is: “a community talking to itself.” In today’s world, for a creature of paper and ink to survive to 25 is a remarkable milestone. I’m proud to say I was there at the beginning.
Rick Cole is City Manager of Ventura.
Co-founder and Chairman of the Board 1984 to 1988
As a co-founder and first Chairman of the Pasadena Weekly, I vividly recall the first meeting of the Board of Directors in November 1983.
Eight of us sat on cushions in a sushi restaurant, sipping sake and optimistically planning the future for a new breed of alternative newspaper for Greater Pasadena. Among others, Rick Cole, Robert Davidson, Channing Johnson, Harvey Knell and I insisted on editorial excellence, independence, and diversity in coverage and employees. While we obviously wanted to profit from our investment, we realized that if we produced an outstanding newspaper that people wanted to read, financial success would follow.
The founders’ vision has been more than realized. I could not be more proud of the Pasadena Weekly that has become the “must read” for tens of thousands of local residents, public officials and opinion leaders. The next 25 years will surely bring new challenges, but I am confident that the men and women who have devoted their careers to the best in journalism will succeed even more handsomely. Congratulations!
Pierce O’Donnell is an attorney in Los Angeles.
It was the worst of times, and the best of times.
Republican Ronald Reagan was president. Republican George Deukmajian was governor. Our Republican congressman, Carlos Moorhead, had defeated his Democratic opponent 145,831 to 46,251.
What can a Pasadena dissenter/ liberal-radical-progressive/ non-establishment/ not part of the “power structure”/ non-“status quo” citizen do?
Start a locally based, locally owned and locally edited alternative newspaper!
And thus, the Pasadena Weekly was born, mothered and fathered by perhaps naïve but highly principled risk-takers who believed that behind the façade of traditional Pasadena was a changing community, and that a new generation of community leadership was emerging.
The phrase “changing community” does not mean that the issues facing the city are necessarily new. Pasadena history includes a segregated public school system, “Jim Crow” city recreational facilities, and a city council elected on a city-wide basis that deprived African-Americans of representation in local government. What it does mean is that a new majority no longer accepts that shameful heritage.
And a “new leadership” should not let us forget that Pasadena has for many generations produced men, women and organizations who deserve to be remembered and honored. I think of Upton Sinclair and Linus Pauling; of Sam Sheets and Marge Wyatt; of church leaders like George Regas and John Burt (All Saints Episcopal), Francis McConnell (First Methodist), Harmon Gehr (Throop Unitarian), Stuart Innerest (First Friends); of the FDR Democratic Club and the American Friends Service Committee. And so many more.
There are, of course no final conflicts or permanent solutions. Many of the tough problems of the past are still with us. The challenge is to face the issues and solve the problems.
So now, 25 years after it began publishing, the Pasadena Weekly is a living part of the city’s history. It reflects what is left, but it provides a non-partisan, non-ideological forum for the discussion of issues. The orientation is local, but the outlook is national and international.
It may challenge us intellectually and politically, but it is also a reliable, objective guide to the cultural and restaurant riches of our city.
Having been present at the inception, I am grateful that Kevin and Joe and the hardworking (and I am sure, underpaid) staff are each week making an indispensible contribution to Pasadena.
Marvin Schachter is an activist who sits on the state board of the AARP.
Pierce O’Donnell and Rick Cole were the visionaries. They pulled the group of younger journalists together to talk about how it might all come together. We found ourselves talking in the startup phase about the lively voicing and independent stance of the alternative weekly format as well as Pasadena itself.
The city was changing. The new downtown was coming into focus, just barely. A city that had been divided between pillars of the establishment and great numbers of the indifferent had begun to gestate a new blend — office workers, shoppers, artists, booksellers.
Our idea was to create a weekly newspaper that covered this emerging world and by doing so tried to define and shape it through journalism, criticism and a sense of newspapering excitement. I was much too young to know what I was doing, and too much of a determined writer to take on so much editing at that point, but I learned a great deal from the group and the experience, and I hope that at least I did my bit to get the first issues respectably out the door.
Steve Coll is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, former managing editor for the Washington Post and author of “Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001.” He is president of the New America Foundation and a staff writer for the New Yorker. Steve was out of the country when we wrote him, so we’ve reprinted his thoughts from our 20th anniversary issue.
Business Manager and Assistant Editor 1984 to 1986
Unlike most wizened vets of the first few months and years of the Pasadena Weekly, I’m still in town. So I still have to tell the stories.
Mostly because no one ever believes it, I’m tired of the Genesis story — how Rick Cole convinced Pierce O’Donnell to fund our beloved rag over breakfast at The Fox’s. And how our first managing editor was Steve Coll, until recently ME of the Washington Post. Joe Rohde illustrating for us — now the main man at Imagineering.
Folks don't buy that. They think Jim “F’in’” Laris was the progenitor, and they’re sticking with it.
I’m even tired of noting how brilliant the staff was. I mean, D.G. Fulford, who walked in our Altadena office door a painter and became one of the greatest daily newspaper columnists I’ve ever read, and went on to publish a wonderful series of books about families. Mel Malmberg, the best arts editor ever in a town that deserves one. Author Greg Critser, his lovely tomes raved over on the front page of The New York Times Book Review. James Vowell, founder of the LA Reader. Danny Pollock, a fantastic police reporter and later my city editor at the Star-News, now a muck-a-muck at Associated Press. We’re talking serious smarts.
No, what I want people to know is that it was the funniest office in the world. Constant stream-of-consciousness jokes and puns and tall tales from longtime Editor Pam Fisher, staff writers Joe Mullich, D.G.Fulford and David Geary and others were so hilarious every second of the day that it was exhausting. I, who admire humor over every other virtue, was in workplace heaven. It couldn’t last, but it was a giddy time. I still can hear Pam calling out from her office every time I would take a few days off: “Larry Wilson, if that IS your real name, thank GOD you’re back.” The only reason I was indispensable was that I was a very good audience.
As a start-up, we had huge problems. But the laughs made the mid-’80s beautiful years.
Larry Wilson is Public Editor of the Pasadena Star-News and the San Gabriel Valley Newspaper Group.
Arts Editor and Contributor 1984 to 1986
Rick Cole and Steve Coll asked me to be the founding arts editor of Pasadena: The Weekly (as it was then called). Pasadena was on the brink of redevelopment and redefining itself; we would be on hand to complement, kibitz and offer constructive criticism.
We spent about two months preparing for the first issue, and then suddenly we were a full-fledged publication. We had a mission, a voice and all the clichés of a start-up — a newspaper and a soap opera in one fluorescent-lit office on North Lake Avenue. We were young, friends and frazzled, a revolving cast of characters at desks lined up in rows, where we wrote our deathless copy on typewriters and sent it to the hard-partying typesetters in the back. Reporters and ad people fought for space while the designer and publisher refereed; on Wednesday night it was all hands on deck as we glued down strips of copy and photos, cut out letters to cover up over typos and took the precious boards to the press in Glendale for the overnight miracle that was Thursday publication.
I lived about six blocks away and worked nearly non-stop for nine months. Not to complain: I had to attend arts events for the LA Olympics (Pina Bausch and peat moss at the Civic!) and eat at every restaurant in town (back in 1984, that was easy). I hired Steve Hochman, a fellow Oxy grad, to cover music; he later wrote for Rolling Stone. The lovely Erica Wayne contributes to the PW (as it is now called) to this day. Barb Lamprecht went on to write scholarly architectural books and to practice architecture. Sue Horton, SC journalism prof and LA Times editor, pops into my life from time to time. Larry Wilson moved from business to editorial and never looked back. I’ve lost track of some people, but my best friends — Greg Critser, Antoinette Mongelli, Pam Fisher — are all from the intense few months that I was there.
Amazing to think the little paper that thought it could has kept its rabble-rousing independent spirit for 25 years. We were all that age when it started.
Mel Malmberg has written for Walt Disney Imagineering and is a contributor to “Hometown Pasadena” and “Eat: LA,” both the books and the blogs.
Associate Editor 1984 to 1985
The Weekly in the early days was a madhouse of ambition, snobbery, creativity and some sloth. The latter was my domain.
Although I learned a lot about the (continuing) importance of community journalism, the best thing to come out of the Weekly for me was that I met my one-day wife there. She worked in marketing and I was a crime beat (or, as we soft-pedaled it, “public safety”) reporter. We were not supposed to fraternize because of some bullshit Chinese wall between edit and advertising. We broke that rule in spades. We continue to do so.
I was fortunate to be hired by two interesting people — the now-famous Steve Coll (“Ghost Wars”), and the ever-perspicacious Rick Cole (at the time a Pasadena City Councilman). I am indebted to both. I might have ended up an academic were it not for them.
Greg Critser has published articles in USA Today, The New York Times and other national publications. He is the author of the books “Generation Rx: How Prescription Drugs Are Altering American Lives, Minds, and Bodies” and “Welcome to Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World.”
D. G. Fulford
Features Writer 1985 to 1988
I began working at the Weekly in 1985 as the world’s oldest intern. I was 36. I had answered Editor David Geary’s ad for “A Few Good Pens.” David asked me if I wanted to sit and cut up the calendar section and Scotch tape it together or get my feet wet going on City Beat with him.
Of course I chose going with David, and on our first afternoon out together I watched him rake a poor preschool teacher over the coals — someone from All Saints, for God’s sake — and then we pulled into Monahan’s for a few between-story Bloody Marys. It was at this point — the Bloody Mary point — that I knew journalism was the life for me.
The Altadena/Pasadena Weekly was my perfect place: I still have the big, wooden desk owned by the first editor of The Altadenan: TheNewspaper with the Mountain Behind It.
I went from that office to the Old Town one to the downtown one and then it was over. I worked with Larry Wilson, Pam Fisher, Joe Mullich, Julie Jaskol, Brian Lewis, Danny Pollock, Ted Soqui and Gary McCarthy. This was the best time I ever had in my life and I will love these people forever.
Our alcoholic ride down the Centennial Parade route is a perfect picture of the Weekly as I knew it.
And then there’s this: Larry suffered a loss in his family. We were at the Old Town office, in our semi-cubicles, passing a condolence card around.
“I’m so sorry, Larry.”
“Please know I am thinking of you …”
“We hold you in our hearts, Lar.”
“Words cannot begin to say…”
And then the card got to Ted, who had either come in late or just didn’t get it.
“Don’t party too hard,” wrote Soqui.
Long live Pasadena Weekly. Amen.
A member of Harper Collins Speakers’ Bureau and former newspaper columnist, D.G. Fulford is author of several bestselling books, including “Designated Daughter: The Bonus Years with Mom” (written with her mother, Phyllis Greene), and “To Our Children’s Children: Preserving Family Histories for Generations to Come” (written with her brother, Bob Greene).
Managing Editor 1997
I was managing editor for exactly one year, and what I remember most was Thursday mornings. We went to press on Wednesday nights and, no matter how late we worked putting the paper to bed, Thursday morning always had that minty-fresh clean slate feeling. That’s when I had time to chat with colleagues, catch up on email and throw out the remnants of that bean-and-cheese burrito that had been decomposing on my credenza for the past 72 hours.
The only thing better than Thursday mornings was the rest of the week. Creative energy is contagious, so the office was always humming with ideas and possibilities. A dozen years later, I continue to enjoy an unexpected employee bonus: lasting friendships with Jim Laris and many Pasadena Weekly staff members and freelancers.
Paula Johnson wrote the “Book Buzz” and “Rose City Ramblings” columns before joining the PW staff. Today she’s a marketing communications consultant in Pasadena who co-produces The Joke Gym open mic night in Arcadia and edits The Rose City Sisters flash fiction blog.
Vice President Editor and Publisher 1985 to 1987
After serving as founding editor of the Los Angeles Reader, the alternative weekly that I helped start in November 1978, I wanted also to serve as publisher of the paper. But the Reader owners turned me down.
In February 1985, I was hired as vice president, editor and publisher of the Pasadena Weekly.
On May 19, 1986, I wrote a letter to Pierce O’Donnell, chairman of the board, telling him how well I thought things were going.
On circulation: “We know from our demographic studies that the Greater Pasadena area is desirable. We know from our circulation audit that we are truly reaching the people we claim to reach.”
Editorial: “One reason why the circulation numbers look so good is that our editorial department is providing something that people in Greater Pasadena want to read. We have a superior editorial product that is literally second only to the Los Angeles Times.”
I suspect the above remarks have continued to apply for another 23 years.
In 1988, I got hired as the publisher of the Los Angeles Reader and, in early 1989, I bought it from the Chicago Reader creators. Seven years later, I got an offer and sold the paper.
My wife and I now live in Yucaipa, where I have worked for several Inland Empire newspapers over the last seven years. I now operate my own book-editing company, which can be found at editingcompany.com.
I began working at the Weekly in 1985 as the world’s oldest intern. I was 36. I had answered Editor David Geary’s ad for “A Few Good Pens.” David asked me if I wanted to sit and cut up the calendar section and Scotch tape it together or get my feet wet going on City Beat with him.
Illustrator 1989 to Present
I first walked into the old PW office on El Molino around the beginning of 1989. I had been a freelance illustrator for more than 10 years and was getting a fair amount of work, but at that time I was, well, bored and disgusted with the work I was doing. You might say I was going through an existential crisis: illustration, which is basically an exercise in not growing up, had somehow stopped being fun.
When I sat down with then-editor Dan Hutson, who must have wondered what a guy employed by agencies and studios was doing there, I told him I needed to flex my creative muscles (and maybe save my creative soul). If he was willing to give me the venue and some creative room, I’d give them some terrific work — and we’d work out all the rest to everyone’s satisfaction.
He decided to humor the weirdo. The experiment apparently worked, and the relationship gradually blossomed into something more professionally rewarding than I could ever have anticipated. I’ve worked with the PW ever since (with a couple of sabbaticals), hatching scads of covers and interior illustrations and interacting with a memorable succession of editors, art directors and general characters, including Bill Evans, Jim Laris, Jodi Barr, Richard Garcia, Michael Swank and now Kevin, Joe and Joel (apologies to the many fine folks I’ve probably left out). I’ve helped to introduce lots of Restaurant Guides, Best Ofs and Rose Parade issues and participated in some mind-boggling stories.
Everybody here has always allowed me — often, encouraged me — to push the envelope a bit. We once created a cover that was controversial enough that some newsdealers put out the issue UPSIDE DOWN! (Kevin, I’ll never forget the “high five” you e-mailed me after that one!)
I’m honestly convinced that I have had the continuing privilege to work with some of the last of the real journalists, and you guys and gals have never ceased to educate and amaze me. I came to the PW to find out that doing art for a living could still be fun. You’ve proven it to me time and time again. Thanks for giving my creative muscles the key to the gym!
1996 to 1998 and 2003 to 2005
In my 15 years of working at many publications throughout Los Angeles County, time has gone by at rocket speed. It seems like yesterday that I was working on the big 20th Anniversary PW issue. Now we are already at 25!
My first stint as art director was from 1996 to 1998 (I was still only in my 20s!). Back then, pages were still sent to the printer on paste boards, assembled with laser prints and a waxer — such a foreign concept today!
It was a time when our publication grew alongside Pasadena. We had our first issue with more than 100 pages — our Best of Pasadena “Superman” issue. A lot of blood, sweat and tears were shed during the many late nights spent assembling the paper, and by the time we got to Twin Palms or DeLacey’s Club 41 after the issue was out, we knew all the hard work was well worth it.
I became art director again in the age of computers-only — a time when we had some great subjects on the cover, and some controversial ones, too. It was a time when we brought in more outside artists and photographers to contribute to our paper, resulting in images like JC Matsuura’s fantastic portrait of horse racing artist Fred Stone.
Thank you for all the great times on DeLacey Avenue!
Richard Garcia produces Horse Racing and Entertainment Monthly and is a production artist for Mountain Views News. Yes, his photo is from the 1980s.
Contributor and Arts Editor
1984 to 1986
It was original publisher Ed Matys who came up with “Sports Guy.” Steve Coll, with whom I’d shared an apartment for a couple of years while we were Oxy students, had given me the chance to write for the Pasadena Weekly, suggesting a regular local sports column — not the standard high school football reports, but a real dig into the athletic life of the community.
I’d been trying to launch a career in documentary film production and had done part-time work reporting for a news-radio syndicator — but actual journalism, not so much. This was a couple of months before the inaugural edition went out and I dove into it with naïve glee, looking for the stories that weren’t being told. A racewalking grandmother? The PCC baseball player who moonlighted as a Dodgers batboy? A program to provide athletic footwear for kids who couldn’t afford their own? All perfect fodder.
Ed started calling me “Sports Guy” and it stuck as a byline. My first and still only pseudonym. The peak may have been a cover story for which Sports Guy took on full Phillip Marlowesque character (with a nod to the Firesign Theatre’s Nick Danger) to investigate the panic brewing about the traffic, business and security impact the impending 1984 L.A. Olympics would have (none, it turned out).
Mel Malmberg let me fulfill a life-long dream to get paid for telling people my opinions about music. But even then I couldn’t imagine that, after succeeding her as arts editor, it would lead to an actual career doing that very thing. But by the summer of ’85 I was writing for the Los Angeles Times’ pop music department, as I would until last summer.
I never took a journalism class in college. The Weekly was my j-school, giving me literally hands-on experience with every aspect of newspaper writing, editing and production in a time before it was all done electronically (cut-and-paste was actually cutting and pasting). Mostly, though, it was a great experience in teamwork, a motley crew (not Crüe) of characters building something from nearly nothing. Sports Guy loves teamwork.
Steve Hochman has covered pop music and entertainment for 25 years for the Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone and many other publications. He writes the weekly global music column Around the World for AOL’s Spinner.com (spinner.com/category/around-the-world/) and is the pop music critic for the “The California Report,” which airs locally on KPCC 89.3-FM.
Bookkeeper, Sales Rep and ccasional Columnist
1997 to present
I remember little Kevin Uhrich when he was a freelancer — so cute in his short pants and sideways baseball cap — typing out feature length stories and city blurbs with only his index fingers flying on the keyboard.
I came to the weekly circa 1997, during the LA Times buyout. Initially the bookkeeper, later classified ad rep and finally infrequent guest opinion writer — I would have taken a job as a human newspaper rack to hang out in such a FUN workplace. In fact, as the bookkeeper, I was convinced that Jim Laris kept the whole operation running for the sole purpose of keeping his 20 favorite drinking buddies in beer money.
The comedic genius that was “Cigar Smoke” was definitely my favorite part of the Weekly! When Laris sold the paper to the Times, it became a non-smoking venue. “Fuck” left the building. Getting fuckered-up during “Best Of” ballot-counting parties was out. While that may have improved the accuracy of the count, it left little of the mirth and merriment that made me love the place.
I left the paper in 1999 to head an internet start-up company and am currently working on a master’s in anthropology at San Diego State University. My time at PW taught me that it was OK to be a little sideways after lunch, and that Jim Laris was the best boss on the planet.
Photographer 1999 to Present
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Joe and Kevin asked me to give about 300.
It’s been 10 years since I started shooting photos for the PW, and
over that time it’s the people I remember most.
There was the little girl holding in her ever-so-tiny fingers a family portrait that included her father, incarcerated by over-zealous police. The way she connected to that image inspired a cover photo.
(Vol 17 No. 32: “The High Cost
There was the pregnant teen with little else but hope, looking to the future.
(Vol 17 No. 3: “Finding A Way”)
Another young girl, lost in blissful sleep on a chair most would find uncomfortable, sleeping in her mother’s office because the family was forced to live on the streets in a van.
(Vol 16 No. 44: “Dispossessed”)
A young and very talented artist who paints bold colors to produce a new ethnic identity.
(Vol 16 No. 15: “Colors of life”)
The former gangbanger taking street kids and channeling their energy into productive efforts.
(Vol 26 No. 5: “Fighting for Peace”)
And kids themselves, pushed to look outside their own existence to see the harsh realities and the possibilities of a diverse world around them.
(Vol 17 No. 19: “Walking on the Edge”)
For 10 years the PW has pushed me to do what I consider some of my best work. Again it is the people, including the talented reporters, editors and production staff, who force me to look beyond my own sensibilities to see the image at the heart of a story.
It’s been 10 years of demons, 10 years of dreamers, 10 years of people pinched into the edges of society, 10 years of hope. Here’s to 10 more.
Editor, Times Community News
1994 to 2000
First off, I could never understand why my bosses at the Los Angeles Times wanted to buy the Pasadena Weekly. The funky alternative weekly with a lot of soul owned by Jim Laris didn’t fit the traditional community newspaper model that we normally sought, where City Council meetings and AYSO scores are reported in nearly equal measure. It was way too edgy.
In other areas of Southern California, we teamed up local products with the Times to create a more attractive subscription package for readers. I didn’t see how we could deliver the Weekly with the Times without watering down the alternative paper or pissing off a lot of Times subscribers. It was like delivering wingtip shoes with Rainbow scandals. You’re not going to get too many happy customers.
But this was 1998, when cash still flowed freely in the newspaper business, and the staid Los Angeles Times found itself the owner of an alternative weekly. Now what?
I argued to basically leave the paper alone. We could tune it up journalistically with sharper story focus and better writing and editing (if memory serves, I think one of our key freelancers was a stripper), but let’s not impose a series of corporate rules that would kill its spirit.
Well, an elephant can’t play jacks, and we couldn’t run an alternative weekly. First, we banned any F-bombs or any other word that couldn’t appear in the Times. That was the basic theme: the Pasadena Weekly journalism (and advertising, for that matter) had to be up to the Times’ standards. I’d argue that it often times wasn’t a higher standard. Just a different standard. And this didn’t make sense for an alternative weekly.
Some folks have charitably said that the Times era of ownership served to professionalize the Weekly’s journalism and make it a more mature paper. Maybe so. (And we were big promoters of Kevin Uhrich’s career; it was easy to recognize his talent.) I’m just glad that the Times sold the paper before it succeeded in ripping out the soul of the Weekly.
Pasadena should rejoice.
William Lobdell, author of “Losing My Religion,” was editor of Times Community News from 1994 to 2000. He’s now co-publisher of the newportmesadailyvoice.com.
Reporter 1999 to 2003
Back in the summer of ’99, a friend who knew my passion for writing hard news suggested that I visit the PW. They were looking for reporters and my friend, having grown tired of my constant complaining about my “hybrid” reporter gig — you know, file clerk, office manager and occasional writer — said, “Go check it out.”
I worked up my nerve and called “The Editor.”
“Natalie,” he growled. “Izzit OK if I call you Naaaaaaat? Good. Why don’t you come in? Bring some of your stuff.”
I gathered my clips — and my courage — and met a guy who changed my writing life forever.
I went on to cover cops and City Council, parking meters and public works. I wrote about saving our schools and saving the Raymond Theater.
And then it was Sept. 11, and all hell broke loose. My mother called from her Louisiana home. “Baby?” she said. “Turn on the TV. You’re gonna have a long day.”
My then 14-year-old son’s first day of high school was on Sept. 11. And I won’t lie — I was scared. I wanted to stay home and shield him from the horror.
But even at that tender age my son knew, just as my mom and all my PW colleagues knew that my place was in the newsroom at the PW, giving our readers a closer look at history being made, one story at a time.
Natalie Dunbar works as a Web site product manager.
Reporter 2000 to 2002
Of all the offenses I’ve been accused of committing as a reporter — misquoting sources, elevating molehills to mountains — causing the 9/11 terrorist attack while writing for the Pasadena Weekly tops the stack.
It was 2000 and I was on the alternative politics beat. I covered the lawless Libertarians and the Kool-Aid-drinking Greens, who appeared to be gaining momentum in a largely colorless election year.
My foray into terrorism began on Aug. 14, 2000, as I shadowed a protester demonstrating outside of the Democratic National Convention, held at the Staples Center.
I followed as thousands of anarchists, peaceniks and 20-foot-tall paper-mache “Republicrat” puppets marched through the streets of downtown Los Angeles. My source held a sign calling Al Gore an “Oxy Moron” for hypocritically posing as an environmentalist despite oil tycoon status, thanks to investments in Occidental Petroleum.
I wrote about the protesters’ mistrust in rich white men seeking power. This was not a partisan crowd.
“Out-of-touch Republicrats” earned a spot in the Pasadena Weekly’s annual Turkey Awards for our November of 2000 Thanksgiving issue. “In the process of exhorting the status quo, they successfully drowned out third-party voices from most public debates,” it read.
“Because of these shameless apologists for the failures of Republicans and Democrats, Green Party candidates Ralph Nader, Medea Benjamin and Krista Lieberg-Wong, Libertarians Bob New, Jerry Douglas and Ted Brown and Natural Law candidate Marion R. Hospidar didn’t stand a chance.”
When the Twin Towers dropped 10 months later in New York, a reader claimed it was our naïve Turkey Award that boosted President Dubya into office, hence triggering their fall.
This paved my wanton path to Portland, Ore., where in 2002 I was blamed for more bad news. A reader held me responsible for the passage of Measure 36, Oregon’s same-sex marriage ban, based on my article questioning the effectiveness of a local gay rights group.
I can still be spotted in Portland, plucking the petals off roses and drowning kittens in the Willamette River.
Jaymee R. Cuti writes news and sarcasm in Portland, Ore.
Editor and Publisher 1988
I had a small role to play in the history of Pasadena Weekly, but I like to think it was crucial. In late 1987 the then-owners of the Weekly planned to shut the paper down. I became intrigued by the thought of saving it.
I owned (and still own) Los Angeles Downtown News, and I had an ongoing fantasy about building a chain of newspapers. Also, not only did I live in Pasadena, which felt like a natural link, but it seemed a simple matter to put the paper in the black.
However, I had no capital to purchase the paper. Downtown News had been started on $1,400, borrowed on a credit card. It had funded its own growth, but it had no extra capital.
Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan (long before he began his political life) heard that I was looking for a financial partner. He told me he’d never interfere with how I ran the paper, and he never did.
It only took a month or so to put PW in the black, which was gratifying. However, running a newspaper is soul-nourishing work; running two newspapers is insanity. Five months into the project it became clear I had to choose. Either choice would have been a good one; I sold the Pasadena Weekly.
I have watched PW grow over the years, and I always get a secret little rush from knowing I contributed to its existence.
Sue Laris is editor and publisher of the Los Angeles Downtown News.
Art Director 2005 to 2007
It’s a typical Wednesday. Deadline day. The paper is due to the printer at noon.
11:59 a.m.: Deputy Editor Joe Piasecki storms through the door of the art department and exclaims, “Hold off sending the pages! We have one last correction. I promise, this is the last one.”
Leslie Lamm, our sales manager, frantically rushes in. “Wait. One of our clients has a change on an ad! This is our biggest client. Can we make this one exception?”
Noon: Publisher Dale Tiffany calls my extension to check in. “Agnes, has the paper been shipped yet?”
Yvonne Guerrero, my advertising graphics manager, is saying, “We need to troubleshoot these two pages. They’re not processing correctly.”
This was my life at the Pasadena Weekly, where we also produced
two monthlies in addition to our weekly paper.
But what I remember most is the people I came to know, love and respect during my three years there. Whether they know it or not, they touched me in their own unique way.
There was Dale, who trusted that I could take on the art director position despite my young age. (I could have singlehandedly brought down the company!) I am forever grateful for that trust.
There was Kevin. He was like my guardian. He was so protective and supportive of me, like a father who would stare down your date when he picks you up at your house for the first time.
If Kevin was my guardian, Joe would be that persistent brother who would bug you to do his laundry for him and even offer to pay you. You just cannot say no to Joe because he is so passionate and you see that in him and you want to support him.
André Coleman was the cool kid at school you would want to hang out with all the time. We talked a lot of smack to each other, which was very fun.
As for Yvonne, words cannot express how thankful I was to have her with me. She was my right hand. Without her, my job would have been much harder. Naturally, she is also now my best friend. Yvonne, you should call me more often. I just called you my best friend.
Last but not least there was Leslie, who taught me how to turn any negative into a positive and was also really tough, a trait that I appreciated and admired.
There are many others I would love to mention, but Joe gave me a 300-word limit and I’m way over. So Jake, Jackie, Fred, Maricela and Carla, blame Joe.
Working at Pasadena Weekly has taught me one very valuable lesson. Business is about relationships. And I enjoyed every one of you who were there with me every step of the way.
Agnes Carrera is editorial art director for the Modern Luxury magazine chain.
Deputy Editor/Whipping Boy 2001 to present
Though mostly coincidence, it seems only fitting that my last issue as a full-time Weekly staffer would be one celebrating Pasadena and the significant role the PW has played in shaping its truly world-class character.
The work has been fulfilling and exciting — more than a ringside seat to history, a chance to interact with visionaries, leaders, thinkers and doers of all kinds, both local and global and too numerous to list.
But the rewards that come with the awesome challenge of creating a tool to help people understand and engage with the world (and, ultimately, better live their lives) are matched only by the good fortune of knowing the people on my team. I’ve found a family here in the eight years since Kevin Uhrich decided in one Dr. Frankenstein moment that a kid who wasn’t yet old enough to drink was worth giving a shot, first in the paper and later at the bar.
In a week I begin a year as an Annenberg Fellow with USC’s Specialized Journalism Program, where other dedicated people will be expecting me to continue a body of work that began here.
Jake Armstrong, an outstanding reporter and friend who gets the mission and will serve it well, takes over my desk Monday, but I doubt I’ll be able to stay too far away for too long. If you know a good story, write firstname.lastname@example.org.