By: Randy Dotinga
Maybe he should have bought an ad. For more than a week after announcing that he planned to start a new daily newspaper in Los Angeles, the city’s former mayor, Richard Riordan, was still waiting for the Los Angeles Times to write a single word about it.
The story made national news, but L.A.’s top newspaper remained silent until Friday, giving Riordan and his compatriots more ammunition to blast away at their prospective rival.
In an interview with E&P Thursday, Riordan charged that the Times “has a death wish for the city of Los Angeles, and they seem to have a hatred of our city. They hide the good things, and they put the bad things on the front page.”
Before the Times story ran Friday, Riordan had just one word for its blackout on his plans: “Amateurish.”
But Martha Goldstein, vice president of communications for the Times, explained, “We compete with a number of well-funded newspapers in Southern California, and the prospect of one more is part of the landscape here.” The L.A. Daily News is now the paper’s prime competitor in the city.
Riordan and his so-far-unpaid staff members are critics of the Times‘ focus on international and national news. Indeed, the Times does face special challenges in covering local issues, said Larry Pryor, professor of journalism at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School. “They’ve tried everything to get down to the local level, and all of those efforts have failed,” he said. “I don’t think that Riordan’s going to be able to crack that nut if the Tribune Co. [which owns the L.A. Times], with all its resources, can’t see how to do it.”
Pryor added that Riordan’s paper will face huge challenges, especially in distribution. The city of Los Angeles, for one thing, is physically larger than New York, San Francisco, Washington, and Boston combined.
Riordan, 71, served as L.A.’s mayor from 1993 to 2001, and frequently tangled with the Times. He lost the Republican primary election for governor in March, clobbered by a neophyte in one of California’s biggest political upsets.
In mid-April, the wealthy Riordan rose from defeat and announced he is creating a broadsheet that will compete directly against the Times. He told E&P he is aiming for a summer startup, and he previously said that his paper might have to be published weekly or semiweekly at first.
“If he’s really serious, he’ll raise $100 million and be prepared to lose it all,” said Rick Orlov, a veteran columnist at the L.A. Daily News who broke the story of Riordan’s plans.
Two young free-lance writers, Matt Welch and Ken Layne (who run a media-commentary Web site at http://www.laexaminer.com), said they are helping the ex-mayor with the paper. “There will be a premium placed on writers who are fun and make you smile and chortle,” said Welch, who hopes to work with a bunch of “eclectic weirdos.”
Riordan, too, cited “humor” as a part of the paper’s style.
Layne scoffs at the skeptics. “There’s a love of monopoly in the journalism establishment,” he said, “and this distrust of any ruffians having the nerve to start a newspaper.”