After an icon dies: How the L.A. Times is moving on without the legendary Jonathan Gold

August 13, 2018
Category: Newsletters

What's next? 'I'm hoping it … takes everyone by surprise'

What do you do when the person who personifies your brand is gone?

For the food section of the Los Angeles Times, that person was beloved critic Jonathan Gold, who celebrated the doro wat, sullungtang and toothpick lamb of L.A.’s egalitarian restaurant scene.

One chef called Gold, who died July 21 at age 57, “the ambassador for our city.” Downtown L.A.’s skyscrapers were lit in gold a week later in tribute, on what would have been his 58th birthday. Gold, the first food critic to win a Pulitzer, was the subject of a documentary and even a bot.

Last week, the Times outlined first steps for expanded coverage, which included a return to reporting and writing for editor Amy Scattergood, the promotion of Jenn Harris to acting editor and the addition of assistant business editor Andrea Chang to write on restaurants and the business of food.

But replacing an icon? That’s a trickier matter, says Scattergood, whose route to the food section included stops at Yale Divinity School, the Iowa Writers Workshop and the Cordon Bleu.

“I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t think anyone does,” Scattergood says. “I think it will take time. Nobody had predicted Jonathan.”

That’s true. Gold was a former music writer who began his Counter Intelligence column in 1986, starting at LA Weekly before moving to the Times. The section has also included reporters who made their name in sports or business before blossoming in food coverage, Scattergood says. Gold’s impact was so strong, his critiques so respected, that both Harris and Chang have eaten at at least 95 restaurants from Gold’s annual list of the city’s top 101.

In the statement last week, the L.A. Times said thinking about strengthening the food section began before Gold’s death. The paper, under new local ownership, will be on the hunt for a permanent food editor, restaurant critics and authoritative voices for the section, new executive editor Norm Pearlstine and deputy managing editor Kimi Yoshino told the staff.

The L.A. Times is not the only newsroom expanding its Southern California food coverage. On Friday, The New York Times named its first ever California-based restaurant critic. Tejal Rao will work from Los Angeles.

For the L.A. Times's post-Gold future, Scattergood says, “I’m hoping it will be something that takes everyone by surprise, because it will be more interesting that way. And sometimes that’s how innovation happens, by accident.”

Quick hits

A UNITED FRONT: At least 128 U.S. newspaper editorial boards have committed to run editorials on Thursday to fight what they call President Trump's "dirty war against the free press,"  the Boston Globe's editorial page deputy managing editor, Marjorie Pritchard, told me Sunday morning. ‘‘Our words will differ. But at least we can agree that such attacks are alarming,’’ said the appeal to newspapers, which is spearheaded by the Globe. Participating newspapers include dailies such as the Houston Chronicle, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Miami Herald and Denver Post, as well as small weekly papers with circulations as low as 4,000. "The majority are from smaller markets, all enthusiastic about standing up to Trump's assault on journalism," Pritchard told CNN. (h/t Marcela Garcia)

PAYDAY: How a freelance writer and a producer turned the 8,900-word “McScam” article from The Daily Beast into a $350,000 payday — $1 million if the now-Ben Affleck/Matt Damon project is made. By Vulture’s Chris Lee.

AHORA, NO: In a cost-cutting move, new Austin American-Statesman owner GateHouse Media says the 200-plus employees of the Austin American-Statesman are eligible for severance packages. GateHouse is also cutting the paper’s 14-year-old, award-winning Spanish-language weekly newspaper, “Ahora Sí,” the American-Statesman’s Gary Dinges reports. (h/t Rick Edmonds)

AAJA CHIEF: Michelle Ye Hee Lee has been named the new president of the Asian American Journalists Association. Lee, a reporter on the national desk of The Washington Post, assumed the leadership at the AAJA convention in Houston.

GOOD WRITING: The L.A. Times has announced the return of its Column One feature, which had spotlighted some of the paper's best writing during its heyday. Steve Padilla, a writing coach and current enterprise editor on the paper's Foreign/National desk, has been promoted to run the effort. Disclosure: I've been following Padilla's writing and editing tips, some of which I've reprinted here, since he edited pieces of mine a lifetime ago for Hispanic Link, a pioneering newsletter and syndication service.

HIRED: Caitlin Ostroff, who we profiled in a drive she joined to help college newspapers nationwide, will become a data reporter for McClatchy, based at the Miami Herald. She tweets that her hire, coincidentally, came weeks after her dad got a phone call asking him if he wanted to renew his Herald subscription. Not unless you give my daughter a job, Steve Ostroff responded. (He has since renewed.)

SWITCHING TEAMS: Natalie Weiner, formerly of Bleacher Report, is joining SB Nation as a staff writer covering the NFL and general sports.

AND THEN THERE WAS ONE: Fort Wayne, Indiana, has a population of 264,000. The News-Sentinel, which traces its origins to 1833, now has one reporter, after the other seven journalists were let go on Friday, among them Tom Davis. "I have three kids I'm trying to put through college," Davis told CBS affiliate wane.com. The News-Sentinel moved online last year and has a page in the daily Journal Gazette, with which it shares a joint operating agreement. The survivor? Conservative columnist Kevin Leininger. Under the JOA, Davis said, the News-Sentinel is required to stay in business for its status as the conservative voice of Fort Wayne. (h/t Will Bunch).

CORRECTION OF THE DAY: How do you tell readers that you forget the Jumble one day? Here's what The Dallas Morning News did on Friday. (h/t Ren LaForme)

We asked, you answered: Whose Twitter handle is it anyway? 

The demand by the Roanoke paper that its former Virginia Tech reporter, Andy Bitter, should give it his Twitter account stirred my inbox last week. Here are a few responses, edited for brevity:

From Bridget Reed Morawsky:

"I find it interesting that they would sue over the handle, primarily because (if I recall) Twitter’s (terms of service) prohibit handle exchange for financial reasons — I can’t imagine that a lawsuit could compel it. Additionally, this seems to come down to un-savvy editors/shot callers at papers blurring the lines between work accounts and personal accounts.

"If they wanted to maintain their 'right' to a VT account, they should have instructed the reporter to primarily tweet from an account originated by Roanoke’s social team. Also, probably besides the point — where is Roanoke getting the money to fund such a frivolous and seemingly destined-to-fail lawsuit? That’s my two cents."  

From Phil de Haan:

"At first I thought Andy's handle (@andybitterVT) pointed back to his employer (I mistook the VT at the end for an RT and thus as a pointer to the Roanoke Times). If his handle was andybitterRT, then I think the Roanoke Times would have a case. Since it's not, I don't know that they have much of an argument. 

"Interesting scenario, though. Makes me wonder if people follow a person or a paper? I know for me, it's the person. What outlet they work for is less important to me than their style, their access, etc."

From Teri Sprackland:

"It would be like claiming a columnist's name and continuing the column after she left."

From Dave Reyburn:

"It’s not like the handle is a form of intellectual property they could leverage independently of the reporter. Sounds like a bowl of sour grapes."

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