Sunday, June 29, 2008

L.A. Times Roll of Honor, Those Who Left, 64-75

Today, I'm finishing up describing what happened at the hands of the evil Tribune Co. to 75 L.A. Times writers and editors who were at the newspaper at the wrong time -- long after the halcyon years of Otis Chandler, Tom Johnson and Bill Thomas. Without the benevolent protection and enlightened employment policies of these great journalists, they found themselves helpless, in many cases, to protect their livelihoods, and they were swept aside in successive waves of buyouts, induced buyouts and layoffs.

Yet to me, and I believe, as time goes on, to many others, they will be seen as heroes. They were a great group of people, putting out one of the finest newspapers in the country, and it was through no fault of their own that a tide of Chicago disdain and neglect came rolling into Los Angeles with the Tribune purchase and almost immediately set the paper off on a downhill course toward mediocrity. It was resisted for awhile by editors John Carroll and Dean Baquet, but eventually they were swept aside, and then the floodgates of Chicago sewage opened very widely.

Also, at the end here, I have a few comments about two of the most serious losses at the Times during the early Tribune years, those of Bill Boyarsky and Narda Zacchino.

Roll of Honor:

64. Rone Tempest. A foreign correspondent in the dangerous corners of the Middle East, then a writer in Northern California, he did many things very well. The Times was lucky to have him. But, as other foreign correspondents have found, Tempest discovered he had a hard time settling into what inherently was a less glamorous job at home.

65. Wendy Thermos. She was one of the reporters who pulled themselves upward by the bootstraps, gradually becoming a stronger writer, only to have her Times career cut short. Very much her own person, modest and unassuming yet having strong willpower. I liked and admired her.

66. Kevin Thomas. A proud movie reviewer for many years, he was suddenly told one day he had to take a buyout. He was not ready for retirement, and genuinely hurt that he was being ushered out the door. Later, he was able to write some reviews for the paper as a freelancer, but he still feels, appropriately, that he was very roughly and unfairly treated. I wonder, as he commands great layoffs at all the papers he now controls, whether Sam Zell ever thinks of the interests of the Kevin Thomases.

67. Mai Tran. One of the paper's first Vietnamese reporters, for a time the only reporter who spoke Vietnamese, she brought fresh perspectives to Orange County coverage. Again, this is the newspaper that once talked diversity, yet many of its most talented ethnic writers no longer have their jobs.

68. Sam Howe Verhovek. He has now reportedly left the New York Times too. For the L.A. Times, he was a national correspondent based in the Northwest, and also worked in other capacities, including, I believe, as the paper's architectural critic, always a difficult post to fill since many editors think little of the assignment.

69. Debora Vrona. An excellent Business reporter, aspiring upward. She is one of many losses of young, vigorous personnel that the paper has sustained.

70. Amy Wallace. For a time, an important writer in both Metro and Calendar.

71. Jenifer Warren. She was one of the most serious losses in the Sacramento bureau and statewide, because she covered the vital prison beat. California prisons had fallen into a terrible mess, overcrowded and often terribly inhumane to the prisoners and under the domination of a rapacious and irresponsible prison guards union. Warren was better at covering this story than anyone else. She has not at all been adequately replaced. She was yet another improving reporter, with her best years ahead.

72. Henry Weinstein. A reporter of reporters, he was one of the greatest Timesmen, but not only on account of his legal reporting and coverage of the death penalty issue, but also because he was an outspoken voice in the staff demanding that the paper always observe the highest ethical standards. It was Weinstein's vehement denunciation of those responsible for the Staples scandal at an open employees meeting that resulted in that blossoming as the issue that finally led to the ouster of Mark Willes and Michael Parks. Highly popular amongst the staff, he was disgusted when Sam Zell went to the Washington Bureau earlier this year and dismissed what its reporters did as inconsequential, Weinstein, as was characteristic with him, said so very plainly. I understand he has now been hired by the new dean of the U.C. Irvine Law School, Erwin Chemerinsky to teach there. They are lucky to have him, and the Times is extremely unlucky to lose him.

73. Robert Welkos. The author with Joel Sappell of the Scientology series, he was an able investigative reporter who worked both in Metro and Calendar. He wrote sensitively about a surgical operation he had had, and was a resilient popular member of the staff.

74 . Nona Yates. Long in the Times library and then a senior researcher in Metro and Business, she, like Tracy Thomas, provided valuable services. Unfailingly helpful. The kind of person a great institution needs.

75. Nora Zamichow. A distinctive writer of crime, military and other stories, she specialized in the long poignant, well-researched articles that used to mark the Times as a newspaper. One of the most eloquent writers in the business, with great moral sensitivity.

In closing out this series, I should also mention as great losses both Bill Boyarsky and Narda Zacchino. Both left the paper very early in the Tribune years when, after distinguished careers, they were left through bureaucratic shuffles with little to do. The Tribune Co. was never high on independent voices, and they were two of the best.

Boyarsky was an inspirational city editor. In fact, not since Bill Thomas was city editor in the 1960s do I think the City desk was any more distinguished than when Boyarsky and Tim Rutten were running it. It was their decision to pursue the Rampart scandal at the Los Angeles Police Department with major continuing coverage. But Boyarsky reached the highest point of a long professional life that had started at the Oakland Tribune (no relation to the Tribune Co.) and the Associated Press bureau in Sacramento, when he was called upon by the retired publisher, Otis Chandler, to deliver the message Chandler had prepared expressing revulsion at the regime of Mark Willes and Kathryn Downing and their roles in the Staples scandal. Though he knew this could get him into trouble, Boyarsky did not hesitate, and his reading of the Chandler letter to a crowded City Room was one of the greatest nights in the history of the paper. When Tribune overseers arrived, they ignored a University of Oregon citation to the Times staff for standing up heroically in the cause of journalistic independence in the Staples matter, and they quickly let Boyarsky know that, with the unpopular Miriam Pawel named as Metro editor, he would have little to do. Boyarsky left quietly, but has had a distinguished retirement as a teacher at USC, an author of a biography on Jesse Unruh, a member of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission and a writer for LAObserved and Truth.dig.

Narda Zacchino held many ranking positions at the Times before being foolishly passed over for editor of the paper in 1996 and subsequently being farmed out as an editor-at-large dealing with readers. Much at the Times might have been different had Zacchino been editor under Willes instead of Michael Parks, since, I believe, she might have been able to influence Willes in more constructive directions, and the Staples scandal and subsequent sale to the evil Tribune Co. would have been unlikely to occur. Zacchino spent six years as an editor of the San Francisco Chronicle upon leaving the Times, and is now the author of a book on the death in Afghanistan of Pat Tillman, the former professional football player.


One of the more repulsive statements of this year's presidential campaign was made against John McCain today on CBS's Face The Nation show by the retired Gen. Wesley Clark, when he denigrated McCain's military record and heroism in the Vietnam war. Clark, an ambitious man, was undoubtedly trying to curry favor with Barack Obama when he spoke with such prejudice and venom. Obama ought to cut him off at his knees.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Ken.

You've reminded us here on the 3rd floor of what is disappearing before our eyes.

And from the eyes of millions of readers.

Your personal notes about these individuals is accurate (and kind!).


And the name Ken Reich should be added to the list...civil rights, earthquake threat, Olympics' politics...oh well.

Lots of us also never figured out "Extensity," by the way.

6/29/2008 11:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You were a soldier to the end. May you rest in peace!

A loyal reader

6/30/2008 12:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ken was an excellent reporter, and a good guy to work with. Rest In Peace.

6/30/2008 1:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rest in Peace Ken......

6/30/2008 1:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a shame this post was footnoted with a bogus talking point...

6/30/2008 1:22 PM  
Anonymous Jim Caccavo said...

I had the pleasure of working at the TIMES as a photographer from 1972-1973. It was a real family atmosphere with Otis Chandler often visiting to have coffee and chat with staff. There was a strong sense of pride and caring. I regretted leaving to work on assignment for Newsweek, but considering what has happened to so many good people at the LOS ANGELES TIMES since then, perhaps I made the right choice.

Thank you, Ken, for your noble effort,
rest in peace.

James Caccavo
Los Angeles

6/30/2008 1:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rest in Peace, Ken. It was a pleasure working with you during your final years at The Times -- an experience I won't soon forget.
-Shelby (LAT)

6/30/2008 2:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had the honor,I think, to be on the receiving end of one of those "now see here, my good man!" comments as a fledgling night city editor. I had had the "audacity" to question some of Ken's prose. Later, when I was a part of the first wave to be told by my beloved Times that my services were no longer needed, Ken offered to intervene in my behalf. "This is a major injustice!" I told him thanks, but no thanks. Subsequently, Ken helped me make it through a major period of depression with his frequent calls and e-mails. He was instrumental in helping me decide to become a high school English teacher for "at-risk kids." Later, at a meeting of the OFS group, he encouraged me to go into the financial services field. Today, I am in business with my entire family and writing a monthly "financial secrets" column with my wife, Nelle. I am so glad that I attended the OFS luncheon last Wednesday after a year's absence and was able to visit with Ken. He continued to be optimistic and encouraging. Together we lamented what was happening and even talked about strategy and (this is not a commercial) how I might be able to help those journalists who had been cut loose. Ken always had an idea. I may not have really been a "good man" when he said those words to me early on, but Ken definitely was one.

7/01/2008 12:44 PM  
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