Readers of this blog know that at the beginning of the year I wrote the autopsy on the eviscerated L.A. Weekly. Some critics, however, thought I had prematurely performed last rites as in mid-August the not-so-smart corporate owners of the Village Voice Media chain made a decision that kinda sorta looked smart.
A few weeks after they dumped editor Laurie Ochoa (who had done her best to stave off the barbarian owners), it was announced that she would be replaced by veteran newspaper editor Drex Heikes. He had put in an honorable two decades at the L.A. Times and had spent the last few years as a key figure in turning the Las Vegas Sun into a very interesting paper. Indeed, Heikes helped lead the Sun to a Pulitzer last year for its crack coverage of workplace deaths on a high-profile Strip construction project.
The hiring of Heikes raised hopes among some that the Weekly would be resurrected into a respectable hard news vehicle. Others thought that Heikes, who lives in L.A. and had been commuting to Vegas, was just plain tired and was taking the Weekly job as a form of retirement. The real test would be how he stood up to News Editor and well-known whackadoo Jill Stewart who was NOT accountable to the previous editor and who has driven the paper’s news coverage into the sewer.
Heikes — with whom I have had a friendly professional relationship while he was at the Sun– has MUCH higher standards than Stewart and in a real world situation would inevitably be incompatible with her. If she really had to answer to him or to adhere to what has been his traditional standards, she’d be a dead duck. Heikes was a guy who had spent a career devoted to strict journalism standards — two words that should never be found in the same sentence with the words Jill Stewart.
OR… OR…. Heikes would have to pull back and lower his standards to hers in order to survive. I have NO idea how this is playing out internally and didn’t know which option would dominate. Heikes, the editor. Or Heikes, the retiree.
There was one very bad sign during the first few weeks of Heikes’ tenure this summer. A few weeks after he took over, the Weekly published one of its sleaziest and most laughed-at cover stories of all times. Read it at your own risk. Even regular readers of the rag trashed it in the comments section. But one could give Heikes some slack and write it off to something that had already been in the pipeline before he was hired. Further, it seemed to have been a piece that was imposed upon the Weekly by the corporate chain.
But this afternoon comes another bad omen. Long-time staff writer Steve Mikulan has apparently been pushed out. This is something that editor Heikes has to now take ownership of.
Mikulan was the last standing writer at the Weekly who could cover the city in any sort of rational way. He was calm and cool professional with a high skill set that ranged from theater reviewing to monitoring and reporting on city and national politics to aptly covering high-profile criminal and celebrity trials. Indeed, he’s the only guy who made the Weekly’s metro blog readable (the rest of it is dominated by a turbo-charged tabloid anti-city bias infused by Stewart and her ill-talented cronies). Staff Writer Christine Pelisek still does consistently good crime reporting but does not dabble with politics. Stewart now has a total monopoly on metro politics and that is nothing short of a sin for a paper that lacks credibility.
Bottom line: the Weekly just axed its last credible politics writer. I don’t know who initiated or executed the order but it is one totally compatible with Jill Stewart’s skewed view of reporting.
I like Drex Heikes very much. But that’s two strikes against him in two short months. Doesn’t look good. And this blog is completely open to Drex or anyone else who wants to explain why the Weekly would do something so patently stupid as getting rid of Mikulan.
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