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Riordan’s fourth estate sending prototype to press

Tonight, if all goes according to plan, prototype copies of the Los Angeles Examiner, a new weekly tabloid former mayor Richard Riordan hopes to begin publishing June 5, will roll off the presses.

Over the next month or so, according to Ken Layne, who edited the prototype, the 52-page Los Angeles-focused exemplar will be circulated to prospective advertisers and investors.

Layne, who along with Matt Welch operates the laexaminer. com Web site, an interactive local news digest, said attracting investors is critical. “I really don’t know if Riordan is prepared to go forward alone,” said Layne. “Just looking at his past business involvement, you can see that he almost always has partners. I think he’s more comfortable spreading the risk -- and profits.”

The Examiner’s prototype, which has about 20 color pages, was put together by Layne, Welch and former New Times Los Angeles production designer Erich Almendral, under the direction of former McKinsey and Co. consultant Tim DeRoche with advice from veteran newspaper and television journalist Jim Bellows.

Layne was discreetly hazy on who had been paid what, but Monday he described his prototype co-workers as paid consultants. “For somebody who has money,” he said, “producing this has been a very minor expense.”

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The Examiner, according to Layne, is envisioned as a 70- to 80-page tabloid that will be published every Thursday. Each week’s issue will begin with an “Economist-style week in review,” said Layne, “then go right in a newsy opinion section with regular and guest columnists.” The prototype has pieces by Lynda Obst, Billy Crystal, James Q. Wilson, Joel Kotkin, Jill Stewart, Cathy Seipp, Bill Boyarsky, Susan Estrich, Gene Lichtenstein and Andy Klein. There will also be sections devoted to business and economics, books, theater, events, dining, music, travel and sports. “We’re going to be very big on sports, and we’re also going to have a big gossip section right in the middle,” said Layne. “We’ll probably also do weddings.”

The Examiner will not compete with The Times or the L.A. Weekly on listings. “They’re incredibly expensive to do,” said Layne and “trying to compete in that area is one of the things that killed New Times.”

If the prototype is successful, Layne said, the Examiner will begin hiring staff in about six weeks. About 15 journalists and an equal number of business people could be employed. No decision on an editor has been made, though Layne is interested in either that spot or the managing editor’s job. “Once the thing is built, we’ll try to bring somebody in as executive editor,” he said. “Jim Bellows has been involved from the start, and we’ll certainly want to ask him to take some formal title.”

While Layne said the project has been propelled by the opening in the market created by the closure of New Times Los Angeles, there will be important differences between the Examiner and other alternative weeklies. For one thing, there will be no adult advertising. “Without the hooker ads, we can be in all sorts of places other alternative weeklies can’t go,” he said. “We can be in nice hotel lobbies or mail copies to people in selected ZIP Codes without having them scream about what’s turning up in their mailboxes. We hope to be available in supermarkets I can’t afford, like Gelson’s.”

The Examiner isn’t the only alternative tabloid queuing up to fill the void left by New Times. Monday, the Silver Lake Press announced it will relaunch itself as the biweekly Los Angeles Press and, beginning Feb. 19, will distribute 40,000 free copies to 400 drop-off points from Pasadena to La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles.

*

Change, as purveyors of corporate realpolitik constantly remind us, is painful.

Seldom has that pain been expressed quite as publicly as it was Monday in Paris, where the International Herald Tribune’s chief executive and publisher, Peter C. Goldmark Jr., was fired by the New York Times.

Since last year, when it bought the Washington Post’s 50% interest in the Herald Tribune, the Times has been moving to transform the beloved -- but unprofitable -- expatriate icon into its own international edition. The Paris-based paper’s news staff now reports to the Times’ executive editor, Howell Raines, and its editorial page is supervised by Gail Collins, the Times’ editorial page editor.

Monday, Goldmark, who supported the Times’ purchase but argued strongly for maintaining the Herald Trib’s independence, was replaced by Herald Trib President and Chief Operating Officer Richard Wooldridge, who will report directly to Janet L. Robinson, the New York company’s vice president for newspaper operations.

Takeover complete.

But Goldmark, a veteran newspaper executive widely admired for his skill and candor, chose not to go quietly into the institutional night.

In a lengthy statement read to his staff, he said, “I was not ready to go, but the New York Times asked me to go.... There is a code in the corporate world. Under that code you are expected to leave it murky as to whether you are resigning or being fired; you are supposed to go quietly; you are supposed to say everything is OK; and you often pick up a nice fat check at the door.

“But on this and other issues of importance to me, the New York Times and I did not see eye to eye, so I am going to break that code today. Believe me, I will pay dearly for this, both financially and in other coin.

“But I gain something beyond price that is also very important. And that is the freedom to talk frankly and clearly, with you here this morning and elsewhere, and to say some things that should be said....

“I am the last publisher of the IHT as an independent newspaper with its own voice ..... There are many issues on which the New York Times and I have disagreed over the past few months, but this is the fundamental one: the end of the IHT as an independent newspaper, with its own voice and its own international outlook.

“This is a great loss. The world needs more independent voices, not fewer....

“What is going forward is the global New York Times. Is it nevertheless important that the global New York Times succeed? Again, the answer is yes. It is too important to fail. The stakes are very high. In the largest sense, we all need the New York Times to succeed because independent journalism is the oxygen of democracy....”

Goldmark could not be reached for comment. But, following his remarks, the full text of his 2 1/2-page statement was distributed to the Herald Trib’s staff. Later in the day, he also e-mailed copies to close friends, along with an unusually emotional personal note:

“I made the attached statement today to the staff here at the IHT,” he wrote. “It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. You are among the friends I care enough about to want you to hear it from me. The press, but particularly the [New York Times] will almost certainly downplay and marginalize it.” (Tuesday’s national edition of the Times carried a 10-paragraph account of the reorganization on the bottom of Page 14 in its business section; the story quoted briefly from Goldmark’s statement.)

“I have been pretty good at dodging bullets, but sometimes you run out of wriggle room and you gotta decide what you really stand for, and what you’re going to do,” he wrote in his note.

“This is a lonely, lonely moment. But brother, does it feel like the right thing to do. And that’s what counts now. It will hurt my family financially, and it will hurt my future job prospects ... who wants to hire a guy who tells the truth?”


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