Wednesday, October 17, 2007

New Monthly L.A. Times Magazine A Success

The again renamed, new monthly version of the Los Angeles Times Magazine, unveiled Sunday is a distinct improvement over some of its misbegotten predecessors, because, for once, the newspaper has taken care to see that something it did in the magazine field was done with sufficient attention to turn out right.

The magazine's Baja California-focused articles, under the aegis of "Consulting Editor" Lennie Laguire, first of all chose a subject of wide interest to Southern Californians. Second, this was about an activity pioneered by the late great Times columnist Jack Smith, who built his own seaside home in Baja and wrote about it frequently, and, third, the newspaper's advertising staff succeeded in selling enough advertising to allow for a 94-page product.

Under the unlamented editor Rick Wartzman, the weekly predecessor, West Magazine, was often so thin it looked like a throw-away. Wartzman, too, as everyone soon realized, was no magazine editor.

By contrast, Laguire has proved, throughout her career, to be an inventive editor. And why shouldn't I say so? After all, in 1998, Laguire was the first editor to suggest that I write a weekly consumer column, and I've always been proud the way that it turned out under the editorship of Tim Rutten.

I keep hoping that the L.A. Times will turn once again into a newspaper for all of California, and this is a step forward, although the "Baja" features of the first monthly did not deal with the downsides of American ownership of Mexican property, (and there are some downsides). Still, I thought it was a good product, and we can only hope it will continue to be.

Southern California, like New York City, has many offspring. Many residents of the Los Angeles-Orange County metropolitan area own second homes in nearby resort areas, and Baja California is just one of these, so there is plenty of ground to explore here. And since California is the finest place to live in the world, there are many aspects to this, and many ways to write about it.

It's good to see the Times doing something new, quite well. I haven't been an enthusiast for the newspaper's glitzy new Image section, which with its fixation on Hollywood celebrities and even cheesecake, has more seemed a forbiddingly-sexed version of a Chicagoan's fantasies about Southern California than a homegrown product.

There also now are promises that the Calendar section Thursday will be split, and in addition to the regular Calendar, there will be a new Guide section that day that will incorporate some of the TV listings the newspaper lost when it did in the popular weekly TV Guide.

Even so shortsighted an exponent of bad journalism as the Times' Chicago-import publisher David Hiller has admitted publicly that the Times angered many readers when it dropped the TV Guide. We'll have to see how satisfactory a replacement the new Guide will be.

The monthly magazine, by the way, follows a certain trend in American newspapers back toward magazines. The New York Times magazine has always been good, but now the new Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal is beginning a weekly magazine, and there's also word, I think, of a magazine for the New York Post.

There should be advertising for all these products, but, more than that, they represent a realization on the part of newspaper editors that they should give their readers an extra dimension of news, which a good magazine represents.

Altogether, there has been too much pessimism about the future of newspapers. They have a very long life yet, when they are imaginatively edited, and we saw evidence of that last Sunday with Laguire's L.A. Times Magazine. Perhaps it was influenced also by John Montorio, who has been promoted to become a Times managing editor, and perhaps had some say over the recreation of the magazine.

Montorio was reportedly disappointed at Wartzman's product. He can be proud of Laguire's.

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I'm off today on my annual visit to Hanover, N.H., for my Dartmouth College mini-reunion. On Friday night, my class of 1960 will join other surviving classes in marching under class flags through the small town to the splendid Dartmouth Green. A huge bonfire built by the students will follow the singing of College songs. Northern New England, despite a warm fall, may be past peak color, but I always enjoy my class meeting, seeing old friends, our tailgate party and a class dinner. Seldom however, am I enticed to see the Dartmouth football team, which has fallen on ill days. I'll probably spend Saturday afternoon watching NBC's showing of the USC-Notre Dame game.

After that, I've purchased a ticket next week to take VIA Rail's transcontinental train across Canada to Vancouver. This will be a cool trip. There may even be some snow, and, if I can borrow a lap top on the train, there ought to be no break in this blog, which, according to my "Site Meter" has been doing quite well in attracting readers of late.

As readers of this blog know, I love train travel, and back in 1969 took Canadian Pacific's train, the Canadian, from Toronto to Lake Louise. That followed a more southerly route than I'll be taking next week through Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton and Jasper National Park, the old Canadian National route.

The cost of crossing Canada in a sleeper, a train which like the Sunset Limited here, departs three days a week, is about $1,400. That will get me a tiny bedroom, actually, use of a dome car to view the scenery and all meals free. This contrasts with today's $109 fare on a Southwestern Airlines flight to Manchester, N.H. But I'm ready to say that train travel to me is at least 14 times more attractive than going by plane.

(Later, from MANCHESTER, N.H.) Also, as I've noted before, the airlines are suffering under deregulation. Competition has brought inadequate fares. The $109 I paid today to fly oneway across the country is actually less than the $275 roundtrip I paid for my first flight home from Dartmouth 57 years ago. And this doesn't even include inflation. If inflation is taken into account, today's fare is far, far below what I paid as a Freshman in college. That's just not right. If we are going to have airlines with food and decent service, we're going to have to set higher fares for the airlines. And another advantage of that would be, it would relieve overcrowding. Right now, we have an air travel system that isn't working well for either the companies, or, in terms of service, for the public. My flight across the country today from Burbank, to Phoenix, to Manchester, was on time. Southwest is an efficient airline, much better than mainstream United or American. But the only food we got in six hours of flying were cheese and crackers, chocolate chip cookies and some dried food chips. I would have been happy to pay more, if it included food.

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