With all the ragging on CityBeat’s terrible film section over the past month and a half, perhaps I should feel schadenfreude over the news that it has now folded. I don’t. I think L.A. needs more than one alt-weekly, and even though the ‘Beat was barely up to the job in its last year or so, it had the best shot, and as such its demise says a lot about the future of print.
Here’s why: the owners of CityBeat owned their own printing presses, and they generally paid their staff somewhere between Jack and Shit. This being L.A., they still found writers who’d submit stuff just to keep their names out there (myself included). And somehow, they STILL went under. Granted, word is that new publisher Will Swaim had finally started to show a profit, but it was too little too late.
Was it the economy, or was it the incredibly stupid move by management to fire Steve Appleford as editor/head/writer/photographer? (Firing a guy who does almost everything, and replacing him with, for example, someone who had never been an editor before…surely not the best business plan). After Steve left, the paper never recovered. An expensive “relaunch” gave the paper cosmetic changes that were all reversed a few months later, and Rebecca Schoenkopf, whose strength as a writer is first-person pieces, became editor and wrote a cover story that was just a bullet-point piece of bits of advice her mom gave her. I grant you, I would rather read that than the OC Weekly’s umpteenth report on the Capistrano School District, but it’s still not cover-story material.
When they got rid of Andy Klein, the paper sacrificed much of its credibility and any sense of a decent film section. But let’s not harp on the bad.
Over the years, I wrote many pieces for CityBeat, and most of them were not altered by a single word from what I wrote (sometimes to my own detriment, perhaps!). What other paper would have asked me to write a piece on my homemade alcohol mixers, my ineptitude at movie-based video games, the portrayal of heavy metal in the movies, or the possible exercise benefits of Dance Dance Revolution?
And what other paper in recent memory boasted as heavy-hitting a film critic roster as the ‘Beat had back when they cared? Andy Klein, Wade Major, Amy Nicholson, me, Brent Simon, Annlee Ellingson, Mark Keizer, Paul Birchall…I’ll stack that up against any other company’s roster, including some others I have worked for.
It wasn’t just the film people, either — there was a real camaraderie amongst the whole staff, and the Christmas parties were the best, usually held at a karaoke bar in K-Town. It was a paper I would have loved to make a home at, if they would ever have offered even close to a living wage.
By the time of the announcement last week, however, pretty much all the good folks I knew and liked had quit or been let go. Now they’ll scatter to the four winds just like the old New Times LA staff did. I foresaw the paper folding, but not this soon.