L.A. Times media critic James Rainey today slams Jill Stewart and the L.A. Weekly, but neglects to tell you why he might be so upset — namely, they questioned his own journalism style a while back. In this post I explain why, show how Rainey contacted only anti-Stewart sources — and publish a reaction from a staff writer who works for Stewart and disagrees with Rainey.
Rainey labels my friend Jill “bombastic” and takes some shots at staff writer Patrick Range McDonald — although Rainey’s shots are sometimes fairly garbled. For example, Rainey tells us that a McDonald-penned piece on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa “employed more semantic spin than Kobe Bryant puts on a jump shot.” Well, gee. I didn’t know Kobe put any semantic spin on a jump shot. I guess you learn something new every day.
I doubt it’s coincidence that Rainey contacted only sources who slam Stewart. Calling Jill “highly ideological” is the highly ideological Marc Cooper. An unnamed writer says Stewart supports “gotcha, pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey journalism.” (The writer doesn’t want to be quoted because — get this! — he still wants to be able to work for Jill! Will pin the tail on the donkey for cash!) Rainey also unsuccessfully tries to get a quote from Laurie Ochoa, who is thought to be anti-Stewart.
Who didn’t Rainey try to contact? I’ll tell you who: Jill Stewart or Patrick Range McDonald. As Jill says:
I wanted to tell my colleagues and friends in journalism and blogging that James Rainey of the Los Angeles Times did not contact me for his take-down attempt column about me today, published during the very same week in which news-side stories I assigned and edited blew the Times out of the water at the Los Angeles Press Club awards. These awards, announced five days ago, were judged entirely by journalists in other major cities around the nation to avoid local favoritism. And then yesterday, a young reporter who won a major award for a piece that I assigned and edited beat The New York Times and was in Washington, D.C., collecting his award.
It’s hard to imagine that James wrote this attack without being bothered by a piece we at the Weekly wrote about James and his frequent use of blind sources while covering his bosses. I am the editor who assigned and edited the piece about James Rainey by Luke Y. Thompson. Luke’s report on Jim was a classic Weekly story, assigned and edited by me, tough but factual, and filled with excellent sourcing.
There’s much more to Jill’s response, which she sent around this morning by e-mail (while I was still at work). It’s now up at the L.A. Weekly, so you should read the whole thing here.
I decided to add value by seeing if Rainey had tried to contact McDonald either. I had an idea that he hadn’t . . . and I was right. Here’s what McDonald sent me:
The Rainey/LA Times piece is unfortunate, especially the take down of Jill Stewart. I actually think the LA Times, Marc Cooper, and others have no idea what to make of the L.A. Weekly’s brand of journalism, which is very aggressive and distinctly non-ideological. In fact, Jill and I are always making sure we stay free of left or right-wing ideology…because we believe it can interfere with the search for some kind of larger truth.
For example, if you’re a left-wing, pro-union writer, you probably won’t write about how some union is screwing over its members. You’ll be afraid of making the labor movement as a whole look bad, and you’ll avoid telling the unvarnished truth, contribute to the bad treatment of those union members, and practice, in my book, bad journalism.
From Day One, in May, 2007, I came into this job thinking that ideology must be avoided in my writing. Jill never pushed that line of thought on me. And she has never pushed her own politics on me, and I’ve never pushed them on her–and I’m an out gay man with liberal sympathies.
Also, many of the stories I wrote did not come from Jill but from my own brain and interests. My Prop. 8 coverage, which won an honorable mention at the LA Press Club awards, started because the issue is important to me, and Jill let me run with it.
I had also been wanting to write a piece about Villaraigosa for months, especially because many reporters were vaguely writing about or hinting at the mayor’s poor work ethic, but no one actually checked it out for sure and nailed it down.
When I got his schedule, saw some amazing stuff that no one else had written about, and told Jill about it, she again let me run with it. That piece won a second place award from the LA Press Club. I was also only one of four LA-area journalists nominated for the LA Press Club “journalist of the year” award. And I know that a similar process takes place with Christine Pelisek, who won several first place awards from the LA Press Club.
I think the way these stories were developed also prove that Jill is not, in any way, pushing her own political agenda.
But we work hard, we rock the boat hard, and it was only a matter of time that someone pushed back. Comes with the territory. I’ll read Rainey’s piece again to see if I can learn anything from it, anything that may be valid and I need to be aware of. I didn’t see that on the first read, though.
In my mind, the fact that someone in the Times is writing that piece obviously shows we are making the right people nervous and doing the right kind of journalism. Despite the problems I have with the piece, the article is a weird kind of compliment.
Lastly, what’s very odd about the piece is that Rainey seemed to be trying to give us a taste of our own medicine, which is fine with me. But we always try to give people the opportunity to explain their sides of things. I met with Chief Bratton, for example, and talked with him for 45 minutes. I also talked and met with other high-ranking folks at the LAPD to understand what they were doing with their crime stats. With Villaraigosa, I tried to talk with mayor about his work schedule and only got as far as his spokesman, Matt Szabo. Rainey never contacted me, and, from what I understand, he never contacted Jill Stewart. Rainey, as a result, practiced the kind of “hit piece” journalism he so earnestly complains about.
I’ve been a journalist since 1992. I’ve worked for a lot of different editors at a lot of different papers and magazines, including the Village Voice in the mid-1990s as a research intern, where I also had a couple of pieces published. Jill is tied with only one other person as the most supportive, dedicated, and intelligent editor I’ve ever worked with. It’s a pure delight to work for her.
I tried contacting Luke Thompson, who wrote the piece on Rainey for the Weekly. If he responds, I’ll publish what he has to say. He’s also a reader here, so you may end up seeing a comment from him. (Marc Cooper has been known to show up in the comments too.)
I’m sending an e-mail to Rainey as well, and I’ll publish any response of his here.
That’s how it’s done, by the way, Mr. Rainey. You give the other guy a chance to respond, and give his (or her) comments full and fair prominence. Heck, I know that — and I’m not even a “professional journalist”!
UPDATE: Stewart appears in the comments below, here. Marc Cooper also appears in the comments below.